Over the next several weeks, you can wander into any of several Maine venues and here the music of the Eagles, Kiss, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads or Poison.
None of those bands will be there, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the millions of fans who have made tribute bands a major part of the live music business. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017 that tribute bands employed 2.5 million musicians in the U.S.
Some real bands have spawned hundreds of tribute bands, like Kiss, while the legendary Beatles have given birth to more than 20,000 over the years.
Starting Saturday with EagleMania at Aura in Portland, a half-dozen touring tribute bands will come through Maine in the next two months.
Maine musicians have also discovered there’s money to be made, and lots of fan demand, in the tribute band business. Maine acts doing regular tribute band gigs locally and beyond include Pardon Me Doug (Phish), Yellow LedVedder (Pearl Jam) and Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones (Prince).
Fans who go to see tribute bands, and there are lots of them, say for them it’s more about sharing a love of the music with other fans than looking for perfection, or for someone to be exactly the same as the original. But fans wouldn’t go if the music wasn’t good.
“The tribute talent have brilliant moments of their own,” said Teddy Dalton, 46, a special education teacher from Portland. He is a rabid fan of Pearl Jam and the Portland Pearl Jam tribute band Yellow LedVedder. He’s also planning to go see Pink Talking Fish at Aura on Nov. 23.
Why so many tribute bands? The musicians involved say it’s a combination of built-up demand – most of the bands being paid tribute have been around from 20 to 40 years – plus, some bands have stopped touring and others have members who’ve died off.
Dalton said he and other fans often find it challenging to find the time and money to see their favorite band, which might mean traveling far from home. But he says seeing a tribute band in Portland can “provide plenty of bang for the buck at close-to-home places and prices.”
Kiss, after 45 years of rocking, is charging $29.50 to $1,000 per ticket for its upcoming tour. But when the Kiss tribute band Mr. Speed comes to Aura in Portland Dec. 1, with Shot of Poison, advance tickets are $15 for the tributes to two classic rock bands.
“Before I started doing this, I didn’t understand why people did tribute bands, why people went to see them,” said Ford, 29, of Portland, who with his Prince tribute band does 30 to 60 shows a year all over the country. “But I’ve been to a lot of tribute shows, and you see a lot of love from the fans at all of them. When you’re in a tribute band, the fans come out to see you and hear those songs. It’s not like being in a cover band, where you’re just background music.”
Adam Boc, of Shot of Poison, said he did a lot of research into the booming tribute band business before starting his band, reading lots of industry news about the seemingly endless demand for tribute bands.
He also started charting where the tribute bands were and started to notice that some groups – the Eagles, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Journey – seemed to have tribute bands playing their music “every 50 miles or so.” Being based in Massachusetts, Boc noticed that there was not another “good” band doing the music and look of Poison – whose ’80s hits included “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – east of Kansas City. So he started one.
The main difference between a cover band and a tribute band is that a cover band plays a variety of songs by different artists. A tribute band plays the music of just one artist and attempts to emulate the sound, and often the look, of that band.
Shot of Poison’s lead singer, Frank Pupillo, wears cowboy hats that are copies of the hats worn by Poison’s Bret Michaels, custom-made by the same company. The band spends $40 per show putting temporary tattoos on that emulate Michaels’s tatts.
Mr. Speed, whose members have been doing their Kiss act for 24 years, dress in the same character costumes as the original band members do. They also spit blood, breathe fire and have guitars that smoke, just like Kiss. The band has performed at a Kiss tribute band contest, with some 200 other bands, and once performed with Kiss member Ace Frehley.
“We take pride in being the closest representation of Kiss, in look and in sound,” said Rich Kosak of Medina, Ohio, who plays Paul Stanley in Mr. Speed. “A tribute band can provide a lot of entertainment for the money and put on a roller coaster of emotions, reminding you of that first time you saw or heard the band.”
EagleMania, playing Saturday at Aura, doesn’t try to “impersonate” the Eagles other than musically and vocally, said Frank Marino, a founder of the band. The band, with members based in New York and New Jersey, is scheduled to do 160 shows in 2019, in venues ranging from 500 to 5,000 seats. He says the fact that people grew up with Eagles music and know the lyrics to every song makes them eager to see a good band perform live versions of those songs.
While some people might see tribute bands as some lesser version of the original, the millions of people who go see tribute bands and tribute concerts every year would beg to differ. The venues who book tribute bands understand that.
Jennifer DeChant, executive director of the Chocolate Church in Bath, says she’d like to get more tribute bands because they bring in more crowds and often sell out. But because tribute bands are in such demand, her nonprofit arts venue can’t afford too many of them.
“Not every live music act is supposed to change the world or make you feel you need to be cooler than everyone else in the room,” said Mark Curdo, general manager at Aura. “Sometimes just having some fun is OK. Tribute acts are supposed to be fun and make you feel good because that’s music you’ve known and liked for however long.”
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Aura, 121 Center St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $15 to $25.50 in advance; $18 to $28.50 on the day of the show
OVERFLOWING WITH TRIBUTES
The tribute band trend is big right now, with thousands of them across the country and many touring nationally. Here are some of the other tribute acts scheduled to play southern Maine in the coming weeks.
Nov. 15 – Dark Star Orchestra (Grateful Dead) at the State Theatre in Portland
Nov. 23 – Pink Talking Fish (Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish) at Aura in Portland
Dec. 1 – Mr. Speed (Kiss) and Shot of Poison (Poison) at Aura
Dec. 7 – Carpenters’ Christmas (The Carpenters) at Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath
Dec. 8 – Start Making Sense (Talking Heads) at the State Theatre
Dec. 28 – Tusk (Fleetwood Mac) at Aura
For more information, go the venues’ websites: auramaine.com, statetheatreportland.com, chocolatechurcharts.org