Live music, there’s truly nothing like it – that anticipation in the moments before your favourite artist takes to the stage, and the roar of the crowd surrounding you. Praying that your favourite song, the one you have played a million times before through your headphones, makes the setlist. But is that same feeling recreated by tribute bands? Is seeing some similar look-alike or ‘sound-alike’ sufficient enough to curb the earworm that has been wriggling around for months?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to a tribute band. In fact, I think in some cases where the original artist has passed or retired, they can be a great way to commemorate their music and memory. The cringe factor, for me, comes more from impersonators – the kind your mom might hire for a 50th birthday party. A self-confessed tribute band hater, Anne Iredale, puts it nicely: “I don’t want to see a middle-aged ‘Rod Stewart’ trying to hold his stomach in, with enough hair product to blow a hole in the ozone layer the size of Texas”.
Some, like The Bootleg Beatles, have even become popular in their own right
Iredale continues with several apt arguments discussing whether tribute acts are truly necessary when the original artist is still touring and in their prime. Iredale’s blog post recalls a spat when she complained that the ‘Paul McCartney’ of the Beatles’ tribute band was right-handed (the real deal being left-handed), and how the show lost elements of its magic when these faux-versions of Paul McCartney and George Harrison could no longer stand together at “one microphone and do a close harmony”. She makes a good point. Even if a tribute band can match the sound and music quality, most audiences would agree they lose that ‘wow’ factor – the stage presence, or band cohesion that makes an act truly incredible to see live.
However, we cannot deny that tribute bands have been growing in legitimacy over the last few decades. Some, like The Bootleg Beatles, have even become popular in their own right. For some hard-core music enthusiasts, the sound is the only factor that needs to be taken into account when assessing a live show. There is also the argument that tribute bands bring punters to local venues which often cannot compete with the thousand-seat arenas crowds are drawn to.
What other festival has booked the Beatles, the Doors, Green Day, Oasis, Blur, Abba, Queen, and the Killers?
An interesting example to consider is Glastonbudget. An annual three-day music festival in Leicestershire, Glastonbudget began in 2005 as an event for tribute bands like the Ded Hot Chilli Peppers, Oasish, and Coolplay. Attracting only 680 visitors that first year, the festival has since evolved, with more and more tribute acts jumping on the bandwagon and even debuting several local performers.
Although exposure of this festival in the public eye is somewhat lacking to your average music fan, a review of Glastonbudget was published in 2014 by Vice Editor, Ryan Bassil. What he thought would just be a laugh and “a pursuit of two things: good music and a good time” after his gut-wrenching miss of genuine Glastonbury tickets, became a tribute-band-triumph for the harsh critic. Bassil admits that, “it was nothing like Glastonbury”, but for the price and experience, “this festival beats most others for entertainment”. His engaging review leaves us hanging with a rhetorical question: “Let’s be serious – what other festival has booked the Beatles, the Doors, Green Day, Oasis, Blur, Abba, Queen, and the Killers?”
And he’s right. Such an impressive line-up could never be achieved with the real acts. It all comes down to whether you value artists for music authenticity or for the experience. In terms of music, tribute bands – provided they have patience and enthusiasm – can become a very close copy of the original act. But do you get that same feeling in the pit of your stomach? Feeling starstruck for a tribute band is perhaps hard to come by, but who’s to say it’s impossible? Losing legendary artists will always strike a blow for their fans, and maybe tribute bands will become the way forward in protecting and remembering music idols.