Genes: The power of tribute bands reminds us of the originals (column)
May 28, 2018
I first realized I was a music snob when I said no to an offer to see Paul McCartney and Wings back in the '70s — thinking "Eh, it's not The Beatles." Therefore, not willing to give Paul his due, I said no and thought I was making a statement of my coolness as a music aficionado.
The statement I was really making was "I'm a fool." Like one who adores wine, you can get caught up in the grand judgment of the quality and worthiness of a varietal instead of just enjoying the moment. It's OK to have taste and be discriminating, but don't let it get in the way of you having a good time.
That leads us to the question of tribute bands.
First, in full disclosure, I am a promoter of the annual tribute music festival coming to Avon in a few weeks called Cover Rock. This event brings together some of the highest quality tribute bands from across America to celebrate the greatest music ever made. Two days to remember the first time you heard a song or saw a musician perform live — in what we hope are perfect renditions of those songs or more importantly how you remember them. No liberties to be taken.
The question becomes: To tribute, or not to tribute?
Tributes for a reason
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The reality is that your favorite musicians are disappearing. Many have announced retirements and a few have shockingly left us suddenly. That leaves few options. Some of the foundational bands of the 1970s and '80s are in major tours now and are charging deservedly rather high prices for tickets. Others have unfortunately stopped all musical output for years (you reading this, Peter Gabriel?). Which leave us with just a few options. Watch grainy YouTube videos of old Don Kirshner's Rock Concerts or see a dedicated tribute band recreate the magic. To me, a confessed music snob, there is no shame in choosing the latter.
The way I look at it — and you can quote me on this — tribute bands have been around for 200 years. The best of them are now referred to as Symphony Orchestras. Meaning that Beethoven and Mozart are not around to perform anymore; however, their music is so darn good it needs to be shared and shared from generation to generation. That's why the story of the classic rock era aligns with the classical music one. We still remember Ludwig and Wolfgang because they are routinely performed in the finest concert halls in the world, in loving tribute.
Does this mean new music is doomed if we all support tribute bands? By no means. Just like the blues grew out of the deep South and rap became a thing in the major cities, new music will always seep through, but to us and our generation who rightly considered the flood of music that flowed through and out of the baby boomer generation as the greatest, we must keep it alive.
Most people agree that the music of The Beatles and Rolling Stones will more than likely stand the test of time but only if it keeps flowing in the general consciousness. That's why it will need to be performed live by the next generation and the next and the next.
One of the bands performing at Cover Rock this year is a Doors' concert experience called The Strange Parade. The Jim Morrison part is being played by a millennial. It has to be, right? That is the power of this music and the resonation that it deserves. This music snob is convinced of it.
Tom Genes is a musicologist and organizes the annual Cover Rock Festival in Avon, returning June 22-23 with tributes to America's best rock 'n' roll bands.