Playing the hits has never gone out of style.
One of the 90’s biggest claims to fame was the supposed demise of the cover band. A new era of popular music opened up stages and venues to a whole new movement of sound that was broader in scope than anything to come before it, completely embracing the loud, the out-there, the fringe and the just-plain-weird, that had been performing exclusively in basements, community centres and church halls for far too long. This new-found appreciation for original music drove out many of the weekend warriors who had, for the past decade or more, defined what live music meant to an entire generation of club-goers and bar flies. But despite what many would like to believe, tribute acts didn’t die. In fact, they never really left.
A quick look around Fredericton’s live music landscape shows how cover bands have not only come out of the shadows once again – but they’ve cultivated a whole new following, strengthened by the very music fans and musicians who once claimed victory over set-lists of Eagles, America and Paul Simon.
So, why the resurgence?
“Nostalgia,” says Darren O’Donnell, founder of Pretty in Pink, Fredericton’s most in-demand tribute act, faithfully reproducing the hits of the 1980s with a cast of cream-of-the-crop musicians. “The more accurately a song is reproduced, the better the connection to what that song meant to someone,” he said. “Plus, if everyone knows a cover song, there are those moments when you hear a band playing the song that you anticipate a certain nuance. And when that part of the song is played and the band nails the nuance, you’re like, ‘fuck yeah’.”
While Pretty in Pink have built a strong following through their annual Halloween show, Nightmare on George Street, and have become a highly sought-after group for special occasion performances, no examination of Fredericton’s tribute scene would be complete without mentioning Dub Antenna. Approaching the ten-year mark in a Wednesday night residency that has helped draw a mid-week crowd to Wilser’s Room, at times rivaling numbers previously only associated with a Saturday night at The Capital, Dub Antenna have effectively cultivated a strong reggae fan-base, some 3200km away from the sandy beaches of Kingston, performing their own mix of covers and originals. More recent acts like Sugar Bomb and Just a Little Light have also found great appreciation for their blend of the past’s most popular jams.
But while the past decade has solidified the rebirth of cover band popularity with indie music lovers, a different world has always existed, just a few doors down.
When it comes to cover bands, tribute acts, or whatever the proper term is these days, Dolan’s Pub has remained the exception to the rebirth-rule since opening their doors two decades ago. As far as they’re concerned, tribute acts never died.
“All live music is good of course,” says Barry Hughes, co-owner of Dolan’s Pub, “and live music has been in Dolan’s business plan since it opened 20 years ago. It started out with duos, trios and larger groups playing traditional, Celtic-oriented tunes and then slowly has changed over the years to full, four and five-piece bands playing classic tunes from various genres along with a large percentage of their sets dedicated to current popular tunes on the charts.”
“I think Fredericton is fortunate to have these venues that host live music that can satisfy all tastes.” – Barry Hughes
“Cover bands are absolutely essential for our pub and customers come in and want to recognize the music they hear,” said Hughes. “They want to dance and sing along to tunes they’re familiar with – tunes they know the words too. It adds to the vibe and energy of the room when you have a full band with excellent production, up on a stage performing a popular tune and the entire bar is standing on their feet waving their arms, jumping up and down and collectively singing the chorus of that tune. It’s a fabulous moment and people remember that. They can’t wait to come back the next day.”
Like The Capital Complex, Dolan’s Pub is an established stop on the live music-touring circuit, catering specifically to a completely unique demographic, who come out each week to hear their favourite tunes played live. After all, nostalgia is a big part of rock and roll.
“The bands that play at Dolan’s are professional in many ways, but also keep changing up their set list to stay current and our customers realize this and appreciate it,” said Hughes. “We could not hire a band that performs original music on our regular weekend nights. I think everybody would certainly appreciate the band and their hard work, but would slowly leave the premises on the hunt for recognized tunes. Our neighbour bar, The Capital Complex, host bands performing their own tunes and they do very well and their customers appreciate that. I think Fredericton is fortunate to have these venues that host live music that can satisfy all tastes.”
And the fun is spreading. Recent years have seen the infectious allure of “paying tribute” spread from classic party favourites to all genres and popularity levels. Events like The Capital Complex’s annual Christmas Cover Shows have taken the theme 180 degrees, often welcoming bands paying tribute to the lesser known and the obscure. No longer is the concept bound by chart-toppers and nostalgia. In fact, it’s not uncommon for bands performing at these annual shows to play an entire set of music few will recognize – and have a damn fine time doing it.
Check out these upcoming events:
Sunday Punch | December 11-13, 2014 | Dolan’s Pub | More Info
The Capital’s Annual Christmas Cover Show (part 1) | December 18, 2014 | Doors at 10:00pm – show at 10:45pm | $8 at the door or $6 with two non-perishable food items.
The Capital’s Annual Christmas Cover Show (part 2) | December 19, 2014 | Doors at 10:00pm – show at 10:45pm | $8 at the door or $6 with two non-perishable food items.
Christmas Eve Special: Reggae Night with Dub Antenna | December 24, 2014 | Wiler’s Room | Doors at 10:00pm – show at 10:30pm | $5 at the door
A Punky Reggae New Year’s Eve Party featuring the 20 Year Strong Ensemble (Dub Antenna and Friends) | December 31, 2014 | Boyce Farmer’s Market | More Info
Frostival Snow Ball featuring Pretty in Pink | February 14, 2015 | Boyce Farmers Market | More Info
Rumours of a Metal Monday edition of the Christmas Cover Show have been circulating. Stay tuned.