Tribute artists aren't impersonators

August 12, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

Keith Sylvester's got the round sunglasses, the dark shoulder-length hair, the soul patch, the bass guitar and most importantly a sound similar to Rush bassist Geddy Lee.

Andrew Baker, 14, of Hedgesville, W.Va., knows Sylvester is not Lee. He saw the rock band Rush in concert at Nissan Pavilion in June.

Still, "It'd be harder to find a closer match," Andrew said of Sylvester's Rush tribute band, Absalom, which debuted at Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill north of Hagerstown on Friday, Aug. 3.

Sylvester, 36, of Falling Waters, W.Va., also is part of the popular Tri-State-area cover band Thique but decided to start a Rush tribute band out of his love for that band's innovative, aggressive music and because tribute bands tend to draw enthusiastic crowds.


"Thique does well because everyone loves (singer) Lana (Spence)," Sylvester said. But people tend to eat and meet while cover bands provide background noise, whereas tribute bands draw people that love that specific music.

Elvis Presley has probably inspired more tribute artists and impersonators than anyone.

"Certainly nobody has become an industry the way he did," said Robert Thompson, who teaches the history of television and pop culture at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

There are cities where you could look up Elvis impersonator as a category in the Yellow Pages, he said.

Chris MacDonald of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will return to The Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown Saturday, Aug. 25, with his tribute act for the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Neither MacDonald, Sylvester nor Charlie Makowski, who performed Jimmy Buffett tunes recently at Kahuna's Bar & Grill on Dual Highway, impersonate or pretend to be the artists to whom they pay tribute.

"Sometimes impersonations seem more like over-the-top representations, caricatures," MacDonald said. He goes for a more subtle approach with his costuming, wearing a suit jacket and two-tone shoes for the early 1950s look, black leather jacket and pants for the 1968 look and a white fringe outfit - not a jumpsuit - for the early 1970s in Las Vegas look.

MacDonald thinks fans like Elvis tribute artists because, well, the real thing is dead. Plus, there's an energy level people enjoy with live performances and memories shared concerning their recollections of Presley and their own childhoods.

"It's interesting to see somebody else's perspective on the music," said Michelle Lucas, 36, of Frederick, Md. Lucas went to Kahuna's, in front of the Grand Venice Hotel, to see Makowski's Jimmy Buffett tribute.

Makowski, of Dundalk, Md., wears a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and removes his sandals during his Jimmy Buffett act.

What he likes about Buffett's music is his philosophy.

"He talks about life, the universe, cosmic things," Makowski said.

While some of Buffett's subject matter is deep, he has fun with his music too, Makowski said.

"It's about the music," said Buffett fan Peggy Overcash, 56, of Hagerstown. Overcash, who attended the Kahuna's concert, said she doesn't even know what Buffett looks like.

If you go ...

WHAT: Chris MacDonald's Memories of Elvis in Concert, 30th anniversary memorial tribute

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: $30 or $35

MORE: For advance tickets, go online to or call the theater box office at 301-790-2000 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

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