Under cover

Tribute artists set the record straight, with shows throughout the Tri-State

Tribute artists set the record straight, with shows throughout the Tri-State

January 24, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Screwing up the accent is sinful, explained Mark Benson, "John Lennon" in Beatles tribute band 1964: The Tribute, during a recent phone interview about their upcoming gig in Frederick, Md.

"You can't get up there with the right guitar, the right boots, the right suit, the right haircut and say 'Howdy, we gon' play ya'll some Beatles,'" said Benson, 54, days after 1964's show at Carnegie Hall.

"That's why people don't see tribute bands," he said.

Tribute artists have it hard, no matter how good the sound, no matter how talented the musicians. They get lumped in the same category as cheesy Elvis impersonators. Original bands bray about them eating up gigs. Fans criticize them for not playing their own stuff.

Say what you want, tribute artists are holding their own. Tribute bands say they've transcended house band status and are playing for crowds of thousands and are making a living from touring, just like original bands do.


Soon, three tribute acts will be heading to a theater near you.

1964 has a show Friday, Feb. 1, at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. The Machine ? a Pink Floyd tribute band ? is coming Saturday, Feb. 2, to The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown. Four singers honoring Motown greats will be at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center in Shippensburg, Pa., for a concert Monday, Jan. 28.

"I know there's a stigma to being in a cover band, 'You're taking gigs from original bands' ? all that I've heard for 20 years," said Joe Pascarell, 46, vocalist and guitarist for The Machine. "I'm like, 'If you like live music, give us a shot.'"

Evoking another band's essence

The tribute artist's challenge is having to be a copycat without being a copycat, offering less kitsch and more artistry, frontmen Pascarell and Benson said.

And fans can be fickle.

In some cases it's OK that the tribute band doesn't look like the band they're tributing.

"The Machine look nothing like Pink Floyd," wrote a music reviewer for after attending one of the band's New York shows in 2003, "but that doesn't matter ? they sound exactly like Pink Floyd, and that's what counts."

In other cases, fans want a band that resembles the originals, but they don't necessarily want them to mimic their live shows. Beatles' live shows, for example, hovered around 30 minutes, Benson said.

"We couldn't get away with that," he said.

None of the three upcoming performances will feature a "historic set list" ? a concert in which a tribute band performs a set of songs identical with a set performed live by the original band. This is a practice adopted by Grateful Dead tribute band, Dark Star Orchestra, which recently performed at the Weinberg.

Benson and Pascarell said they'll mix popular tunes with obscure songs, appealing to both the die-hard fans and the casual listener.

Ben Carroll, Chinua Hawk, Chris Cauley and Nadine Zahr ? the four singers in the Motown show at Luhrs ? will perform classics by Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. The singers don't bill themselves as a bona fide tribute band, but as independent original artists coming together to honor Motown greats.

Why be a cover band?

Ask a frontman for any cover band why they decided to form a cover band and you might hear this: "It was not a conscious decision."

In the case of both 1964 and The Machine, members were performers before joining tribute bands. It just so happened the would-be bandmates shared the same musical tastes.

"We all liked Pink Floyd," Pascarell said.

"We all liked the Beatles," Benson said.

1964 and The Machine were formed in the 1980s, when cover bands were in the nether regions of the concert landscape. So to gain a following and to be taken seriously, they really had to perfect their performances.

"Most performers strive to progress, experimenting at live shows, in the studio," Benson said. "Our challenge is not to do that."

"Think of the guy who's been in 'Wicked' or 'Mama Mia!' for the past three years," Benson said. "They can't just break out and do something else. The audience wants you to do it like it's your first time."

Pascarell said it took a while for The Machine to build a following.

"We played for anyone who would have us. No one knew who we were," he said. "We really cut our teeth like that."

The hard work paid off. Pascarell said they now perform for crowds of between 1,000 and 3,000. But there's also more competition.

"Today, you can pick your favorite band, open up the paper and find a cover band for them," Pascarell said.

When asked what he'd like people to know about The Machine before the show, Pascarell said, "As hard as it might be and as ridiculous as it might sound, (try) not to compare us with other tribute bands," he said. "I'd like to think we're quality musicians playing."

If you go ...

1964: The Tribute, a Beatles tribute band

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1.

WHERE: Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick Md.

COST: $20, $25 and $30

MORE: Call the Weinberg Center box office, 301-600-2828, or go to

The Machine, a Pink Floyd tribute band

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2

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

COST: $29

MORE: Call The Maryland Theatre box office, 301-790-2000, or go to

"Influences: The Motown Greats," Ben Carroll, Chinua Hawk, Chris Cauley and Nadine Zahr performing Motown classics

WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28

WHERE: H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center, Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, Pa.

COST: $15 and $25

MORE: Call the Luhrs Center box office, 717-477-7469 (SHOW), or go to

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