A co-founder of Dark Star Orchestra, the DC-based singer will play a solo show on Friday


Although he’s been playing in bands for most of his life, and enjoys bringing new people together to form new bands, John Kadlecik is best known as lead guitarist for Dark Star Orchestra.

The Grateful Dead tribute band was started in 1997 with DSO known for playing the well-documented set lists of the legendary band. It quickly developed a cult following and the group spent a decade performing in front of die-hard Deadheads.

Kadlecik’s playing would get him noticed by The Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, who asked him to join their new band, Furthur. Over the past 20 years, the guitarist has been part of the Golden Gate Wingmen, Phil Lesh & Friends and joined forces with Melvin Seals to form The Mix.

More recently, the musician has toured some of his originals as The John Kadlecik Band and playing some solo gigs.

“I call it adventure gigging, where you play in a place like Alaska or the big island of Hawaii or Costa Rica,” Kadlecik said. “Still, I think I’ve played with something like 64 different bands over the last 10 years, and I started a handful of them.”

Since last March, he’s spent most of the pandemic only picking up his guitar when the full craving arose. 

“This time has definitely been interesting,” he said. “Not a whole lot of live performance, and when it gets back to some sort of normalcy, I expect I’ll have to do a lot of makeup shows, so I honestly took a couple of months and laid low, barley playing.”

Not that fans need worry that Kadlecik is getting bored with his instrument and performing. He’s just been catching up on stuff he’s had to ignore the last two decades because of his performance schedule. 

“I’m committed to doing this for life and I’m going to make music until I can’t anymore,” he said. “Not to wax too poetic, but the medium of music is time itself when played live. You catch this wave and bring as many people as possible in at the same time.”

When he started to play more regularly at the beginning of 2021, he admitted it took a little time to get his muscles and calluses back to where they needed to be for his brand of guitar playing. But he knew he wanted to get back on stage, and he’s started to book a few shows.

On Friday, April 2, Kadlecik will be performing at the Birchmere, kicking off Easter weekend live on stage.

“When I do my solo shows, I go out without a set list; one of the advantages of playing solo is I don’t have to rehearse anybody,” he said. “I have my own songs that I am evolving over time and some are on the cutting edge of some technology that I am still getting under my fingers, but for the most part, it’s a big of a free-for-all.”

With any show, he noted he likes to play a bit of his original tunes—especially B-sides, and some material from his DSO days. 

“I like to play a show that feels like an improvised story over the course of a set, though I don’t necessarily know what it’s going to be going into it,” Kadlecik said. “I’ll solicit the audience for requests, and sometimes that’s the way I can have an improvisation jam.”

Thanks to the equipment he brings to his gigs, he shared that he can produce any rock ensemble sound out of his guitar—from drums and bass to flutes and trumpets. That helps him get the sound he wants for each song. 

“The cool thing about the solo show is I don’t have to sustain a whole band and crew on the road so the overhead is much lower,” Kadlecik said. “That means I can make it work with smaller crowds, and that’s what we have to prepare for in this new COVID way of touring.” 

He expects to play some outdoor shows with some of his bands later this spring and summer and is looking forward to being back in front of live crowds.

Kadlecik will also soon be part of a regional all-star band playing a benefit for Dark Star Orchestra guitarist Robbie Eaton, who fractured the ulna and radius in his left wrist and is facing $75,000 in medical bills. The date for the fundraiser will be announced at a later date and Kadlecik noted fans can stay up on the latest by visiting

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