January 30

Music writers debate the merits of tribute bands

On one hand, why bother with copy cats, and on the other, their homages can be a ton of fun.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Aimsel Ponti aponti@pressherald.com
News Assistant

EDITOR’S NOTE: Aimsel Ponti and Bob Keyes are on the same page when it comes to many things musical. But the mitts are off when it comes to the issue of whether tribute bands have merit. Ponti says heck yes and Keyes thinks they’re cheesier than Wisconsin. Both writers make their points below and invite you to decide for yourselves.

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Badfish is a Sublime tribute band that plays in Portland at least once a year, always drawing a good-sized crowd.

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Geno Marchello of the tribute band 2U, above, and Matt Ryan of Bruce in the USA, below. What do you think? Are tribute bands fun, as Aimsel Ponti says, or derivative, as Bob Keyes believes?

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NOT SURE YET how you feel about touring tribute bands? Well, there are a half-dozen of them coming to the area in the next few months, so you can check several out for yourself.

THURSDAY – Bruce in the USA, 9 p.m., Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland. $12 to $30. Bruce Springsteen tribute show.

MARCH 7 – The Machine, 8 p.m., State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland. $20/$23. Pink Floyd tribute show.

MARCH 15 – Start Making Sense and HmfO, 9 p.m., Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland. $10/$15. Talking Heads tribute show, with a Hall and Oates tribute show as the opener.

APRIL 4 – Brit Floyd Discovery, 7:30 p.m., Cumberland County Civic Center, 45 Spring St., Portland. $29.50 to $39.50. Pink Floyd tribute show, including lights and laser display.

JULY 5 – Badfish! A Tribute to Sublime, 8 p.m., Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Boulevard, Hampton Beach, N.H., $19 to $24. Sublime tribute show.

JULY 18 – The Fab Four, 8 p.m., Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach, N.H. $20 to $40. Beatles tribute.


I love Bruce Springsteen. When I got my first decent record player – as in an LP record player with an arm and a needle and a spinning platter – the first album I played was “Born to Run.” I was in my teens, and just discovering what rock ’n’ roll was all about. I remember dropping the needle into the groove, hearing the initial hiss of vinyl crackle in the speakers of my bedroom and then that piano and harmonica.

When I got my first CD player, “Born to Run” christened it.

When I loaded up my first digital music player, Bruce had the honors.

So why, after a lifetime of loving Springsteen and seeing him perform live many times, would I want to go hear someone play the music of Springsteen when I can see the real thing? I would rather spend a few hundred bucks on tickets, gas and a hotel in Boston than spend a fraction of that sum to hear something that is unoriginal and derivative.

I have no doubt that Matt Ryan does a fabulous job with Springsteen’s material, and I actually think I might enjoy the show on some level. This has nothing to do with the musician, his band or their ability to make a living.

But to me, music is about originality, expression and intent.

I value my time and my money, and I choose to spend both on artists who stir an emotional, visceral response. Hearing a tribute band is kind of like going to an art gallery and looking at a reproduction of a painting. It may be a high-quality reproduction, but it’s a reproduction nonetheless.

You can put a mat and frame on it and make it look museum-quality, but it’s still unoriginal.

I admit there are gray areas in this debate. As my colleague Aimsel Ponti points out, there is a big difference between tribute bands and cover bands. I actually tolerate some cover bands more than tribute bands, because they are interpreting another artist’s material in their own way, as opposed to a tribute band, which attempts to remind me of the original.

I have a lot of respect for the Beatles night that Portland musician Spencer Albee organizes every year.

He brings together working musicians to interpret the music of a band that changed the course of music history. They play this music with reverence and for fun and out of respect, then go back to their regular bands to play original music.

I also have tolerance for my friend Dennis Bailey and the Bob Band, which plays the music of Bob Dylan. Bailey may look a little like an early-’70s Bob, but he does not attempt to mimic Dylan. He does not affect Dylan’s accent or stage mannerisms. He loves Dylan as a writer and musician, and takes the time to learn obscure Dylan tunes that most casual fans do not know.

In my book, that is very different from the kind of tribute bands we are debating here.

(Continued on page 2)

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