Bassist Gary Solomon and some of his New York-based musician pals started playing the music of The Band because it was fun.
Eleven years later, their amusing past-time has turned into a paying gig, touring the country as a five-piece tribute band with a fun, if confusing, name: The THE BAND Band. Get it? They are the band that plays music made famous in the 1960s and 1970s by The Band.
“We really had no intention of playing gigs or touring, but friends started asking us where they could come to hear us,” said Solomon, 60, of Stony Point, New York. “So we got a gig, then another, then an agency. I guess the music really stands up.”
The THE BAND Band is scheduled to play One Longfellow Square in Portland Friday. The show’s theme is the 50th anniversary of the release of “Music From Big Pink,” The Band’s debut album.
Before that, The Band had been the backing group for other musicians. At one point, they were The Hawks, backing up rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. They spent much of 1965 and 1966 touring with Bob Dylan under the billing “Bob Dylan and the Band.” They started writing and recording demos with Dylan at a rented pink house in upstate New York, which band members nicknamed “Big Pink.”
Those sessions lead to The Band’s debut album, which included now-classic rock songs like “The Weight” and “I Shall Be Released,” plus “This Wheel’s On Fire” and “Tears of Rage.” Three of the songs were written or co-written by Dylan. The Band – lead by members Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko – would go on to record 10 albums. Some of their best-known songs include “Up on Cripple Creek,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
The THE BAND Band is a tribute band, but they’re not impersonators, Solomon says. There are no costumes or props. The band members try to play the songs as The Band played them. They also play all the instruments The Band used for their rock-meets-Americana sound, including fiddles, harmonica and horns.
At the Portland show, they’ll play songs from “Music from Big Pink” but mix in songs from other albums, as well, said Solomon, who also works as a recording engineer.
“It’s all about the music and the stories the songs tell,” said Solomon, who has his own The Band stories to tell.
He was a 19-year-old visiting San Francisco in 1976 when he heard The Band was playing a show. He bought a ticket on a Tuesday for a Thursday show. The show turned out to be a farewell (for a while) concert called “The Last Waltz” that was filmed by Martin Scorcese and later released as a documentary.
Solomon has also sat in for a couple of numbers with The Band members Helm and Danko, gigs arranged by mutual friends.
But he says, as far as he knows, none of The Band’s surviving members have come to see The THE BAND Band play. Of course, they already know all the songs.
Solomon says he knows that over the years the tribute band industry has sort of been looked down upon, with people wondering why really good rock musicians would just want to play someone else’s music.
He hopes that his group, along with critically acclaimed groups like Dark Star Orchestra (Grateful Dead music) are changing people’s perceptions.
“When people go see a philharmonic orchestra, they don’t call it a Mozart tribute band,” said Solomon. “We’re playing someone’s music the way it was meant to be played. We never get tired of presenting their music.”
WHERE: One Longfellow Square, 81 State St., Portland
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: $25 in advance, $30 day of show
INFO: 761-1757, onelongfellowsquare.com