Entertainment » Vol 63

Paying tribute to Worcester’s tribute bands

Jason Savio

Elvis is alive, and he’s playing at a bar in Worcester. If you want to hear the croon of the King, the heavy power chords of AC/DC or the laid-back vibes of Sublime at a live concert, you still can, thanks to local tribute bands. The music of these legendary artists lives on in our own backyard through these dedicated acts, which are garnering large crowds in Central Mass.

“A lot of people when they go out like to hear songs they know,” said Jamie Mazzaferro, bassist in the Sublime tribute band Second Hand Smoke.

The members of Second Hand Smoke — along with other tribute bands like the Elvis-focused Fellowship of the King, AC/DC-powered Back in Black and Police tribute Invisible Sun — are making their way onstage with songs by well-loved bands. To be a tribute band, you need to love the music of the group you’re covering, and all of these musicians carry that adoration like a badge of honor.

Dan Fontaine is a die-hard Elvis fan and lead singer in Fellowship of the King. When he’s not working as a music minister at Hill Crest Church in Auburn, he’s channeling his inner Elvis.

“One of the things that we tell the guys in our band is grow to appreciate the music, love the music, love the musician and listen to it on a consistent basis,” said Fontaine. “I feel like if you love what you’re doing and you really feel like you’re paying tribute to something, then you have nowhere to go but up.”

And up is exactly where Fellowship and other such bands are going. Tribute bands are taking over local establishments and playing at places like Vincent’s and Bull Mansion.

But the members of these bands also want you to know they aren’t parodies. When you think of tribute bands, you’re likely to conjure up images of over-the-top costumes and hairdos that are meant to look like the artist they’re covering. Members of Fellowship of the King stress that they aren’t your typical Elvis impersonators and take their music seriously. That hasn’t stopped them, however, from having some fun, as each band member wears a getup that represents a different era of Elvis’ career. The rest of the musicians on the local tribute scene have sworn off the stage attire.

One of those who won’t be dressing up or, in his case, be putting on a gravity-defying wig, is Jason Paulino, the singer in Journey-inspired The Great Escape. Paulino and his group have been belting out “Separate Ways” for 10 years now, bringing up the critical question: Do you ever get tired of playing someone else’s song over and over again?

The short answer from Paulino is yes.

“We started out as a tribute band, but everybody started getting bored, so we started throwing other cover songs in there to keep the crowd from leaving,” said Paulino, who refers to his band as a cover band that “caters” to Journey.

Brian Chaffee, keyboardist and vocalist in the Police tribute band Invisible Sun, said that it’s not just a concern with the audience, but with the band itself.

“Probably the biggest challenge for us is finding our own interesting take on the songs,” Chaffee said. “You want to stay true to what people love about them, but you also have to keep it fresh, (so) maybe you lean toward an alternate take or a live version. When a cover act plays the same song (of) the same studio version every time, I get over it real quick.”

Bob Moon, guitarist in Fellowship of the King, doesn’t mind playing the same songs all the time, as long as the band plays them well and people continue to enjoy them.

“The Rolling Stones play the same songs every night for 100 years, and how do they do it? I think it’s just the fact that they play something that sounds great and its rock and roll,” said Moon. “The more second nature it is, the easier it is and the more fun you have with it — the more you don’t have to worry about remembering the chords, and I kind of like that. And then you’re just playing, and you’re in that groove, you’re in that pocket, and there’s no better feeling than that.”

Whether or not they are locked in to covering just one band or peppering in some variety, all the local groups share the same goal: to sound as similar to the artist they’re covering as they can. Sometimes that is easier said than done.

Miguel Goncalves, bassist in the long running AC/DC tribute band Back in Black, talked specifics.

“The overall sound of any band is hard to replicate,” said Goncalves. “The technical stuff is very important — guitar tones need to be perfect. We stay true by replicating their instruments and amplification and hope to get the true sound.”

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