Cover Rock Festival will channel the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles next year |

Cover Rock Festival will channel the likes of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles next year

Ralph Woodson embodied the spirit of Jimi Hendrix as he closed out this summer's Cover Rock Festival.
Ben Koelker | Special to the Daily |

AVON — Less than two months ago, music lovers from throughout the region flocked to the Avon Performance Pavilion, dressed in their best tie-dye T-shirts or most flowing flowered skirts.

The inaugural Cover Rock Festival, Summer of 1969 started out much slower than the Woodstock Festival it intended to partially re-create by presenting cover bands of originals who played in the New York field 47 years ago. An hour into the festival’s opening band, people could easily find a front-row grassy lawn area for their chairs or blankets, while Back to the Garden 1969 belted out renditions of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and other folksy, soulful artists who played at Woodstock.

Though nearly 2,000 people showed during the weekend, according to promoter Tom Dobrez, at times, the crowds seemed a bit thin.

Some may not have seen the psychedelic posters hanging here and there, advertising the weekend. Some may have been off put by the ticket prices of $55 per day, or $89 for two days (add $100 more for the VIP experience), perhaps thinking cover bands tend to be cheap knockoffs of the real thing.

But as it turned out, even the non-headlining bands sounded — and often looked — incredibly authentic.

Collecting feedback

By 2 p.m. on June 25, crowds were dancing to Creedence Revived, one of the more well-attended bands of the weekend. On Sunday, June 26, Purple Haze also was another crowd favorite; as Jimi Hendrix, Ralph Woodson embodied the legend, from his clothing to playing guitar behind his back and with his teeth. The Who Show drew the biggest crowd on June 25, and though the band delivered a solid performance, the lead singer was, at times, off.

Dobrez hired the best of the best, including the sound team, which “did a really good job,” said The Who Show band founder France DiCarlo. Even with a severely bruised rib, DiCarlo superbly banged on the drums like Keith Moon, making the late drummer’s idiosyncrasies come to life. DiCarlo appreciated how Colorado “showed the love,” he said. “People really made you feel warm about it.”

About a month after the festival, Dobrez sent out a survey, which garnered “extremely positive” feedback, he said.

The survey categorized participants into promoters or advocates, those in the middle and those who probably wouldn’t recommend the festival, and Dobrez said 77 percent landed in the favorable, promoter category while about 15 percent fell in the middle.

When he announced his plans to bring the British Invasion — a group of cover bands representing Phase 1 of the invasion, such as the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and the Kinks, as well as Phase 2, such as Pink Floyd, Queen and the Moody Blues — he received responses like, “I can’t wait” and “that’s even better.”

Dobrez hopes to schedule 2017’s British Invasion Cover Rock Festival the last weekend of June at the same venue.

“It’s a terrific facility,” he said, “and there’s a lot of momentum to having it in the same place year to year.”

However, first, the Town Council must approve it, a process that should be wrapped up by late September.

“If it were up to me, it would be coming back next year,” said Jake Wolf, Avon’s pro-tem mayor. “It goes to vote officially, but there are all the same people on the board who voted for this, so I can’t see it not happening.”

In Dobrez’s experience, it takes three years to build a festival, both to iron out the kinks and to grow audiences. But he thought this year’s festival went exceptionally well on all fronts.

“From an executional standpoint, it was pretty remarkable,” he said. “There were very few flaws (from) getting the bands on stage on time to the performances and world-class subcontractors — all that was actually a dream.

“We think we did a great job with the bands, with the shows (keeping people) engaged.”

In addition, by Sunday, a community feel strongly took root, with “strangers” chatting with one another, based on a groovy looking shirt or simply the quality of music. It was as if Woodstock had just begun. Luckily, Dobrez is keeping the spirit alive.

In store for next year

Next year, Dobrez hopes to double the number of people the Cover Rock Festival attracts through a combination of word of mouth, advertising, the highest quality band lineup possible and a couple tweaks.

Though a wandering minstrel, who actually performed out of a converted RV, entertained both kids and adults, and there was a small area for kids to play away from crowds, Dobrez wants to “take entertainment for kids to the next level,” he said, by bringing crafting tables, face painters and entertainers, as well as encompassing Nottingham Park’s playground within the festival borders.

He also wants to provide more shade for people, though in the afternoon, dancers and audience members discovered the best of both worlds: shade and an up-close (even front row) view of the bands, thanks to the pavilion’s roof.

Dobrez is in the process of searching for the best British Invasion cover bands worldwide. He’s looking at the best Kinks cover band in the world right now, as well as the early movers and shakers, Phase 2 Brits, and smaller bands, such as the Yardbirds. He can’t guarantee any particular band at this point because “if we can’t find the right quality of (cover) band, unfortunately, we can’t do them. We target about 15 bands and end up with nine or 10 because of quality,” he said.

In addition, a follow-up survey will significantly impact which bands he seeks. To find bands, Dobrez starts with a dream list of which bands he’d like represented and then begins researching cover bands online.

Once he finds three finalists, he interviews them about why they do what they do, how long they’ve been together and if they have endorsements from the real artists they represent. For example, Carlos Santana is a huge fan of Caravanserai, the Santana cover band that played at this year’s Cover Rock Festival.

The selection process takes nearly a full year, as Dobrez or a partner travel to see each band they intend on choosing.

“The standards we set with Year 1 are what we intend to continue,” he said. “People walked in with their arms crossed and walked out dancing. That’s the level we want to bring.”

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