Tribute bands tap into built-in audience by performing favorite tunes across Dayton region

Every tribute band starts with an original band. Without AC/DC, Pink Floyd and The Beatles, there would be no Power/Load, Have a Cigar or Come Together.

These are just a few Dayton, Ohio-based tributes dedicated to playing other bands’ music. Since it’s often impossible to get some bands back together (two Beatles are dead), and because of soaring ticket prices for national touring acts (i.e. Taylor Swift), tributes are often a viable alternative.

They provide the experience of seeing the real thing for a fraction of the cost, so long as the audience suspends some disbelief. But do tributes affect original local music?

Some tributes prefer kitschy aesthetics over the music, especially once they drift into wig territory, which can be seen as, and ultimately is, a cheap gimmick. But save for Come Together’s rooftop-specific gigs and dry-cleaned suits, Dayton’s premier tribute to the Beatles focuses on the music.

Come Together is the closest a Dayton audience can get to see The Beatles, but one of the many chances to see “The Beatles.”

Seth Gilliam, the bassist for Come Together, is the de facto Paul McCartney on account of the viola bass. For all intents and purposes, he is McCartney — though he does sing some Lennon tunes.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Gilliam is also Cliff Williams in Power/Load, David Gilmour in Have a Cigar and recently took over as Bob Dylan in The Last Waltz tribute, Such a Night.

Seth Gilliam & The Fake News, Gilliam’s alternative band, played one show in 2023.

Such a Night and Power/Load are annual events, whereas Have a Cigar is still in its rehearsal phase — its first official show is at the State Theater in Springfield on July 12. Come Together started as a yearly event at Yellow Cab Tavern, though recently ramped up its schedule to play three surrounding cities.

When a band plays music already established in the cultural consciousness, The Beatles being a prime example, the response is always incredible. Even local cover bands, such as The Big Wazu, do well playing popular classic rock songs unapologetically loud.

That’s not to say that every tribute and cover band will pack out houses, but those bands inherently attract listeners by fortuitously tapping into built-in audiences.

Take the local indie rock group Seth Canan & The Carriers who recently played a face-melting 90-minute set at Oregon Express. The room wasn’t full, but the band played as if it were. After their shredding and cymbal-crashing finale, they got off stage and the audience called out for more. The Carriers finished their set with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and the room objectively loved it.

It should be noted that Canan also plays the role of Angus Young in the AC/DC tribute, Power/Load, and has incorporated those schoolboy mannerisms into his guitar-playing outside of that.

Canan and Gilliam are just two examples of exceptional musicians in both tributes and original bands.

Patrick Himes, a respected and ubiquitous local producer at Reel Love Recording Company, is often preoccupied on the road with the national touring tribute, The Black Jacket Symphony.

Drummer Brian Hoeflich has played on myriad Dayton bands’ records as a session musician, while also playing in Come Together, This Must Be the Party (a Talking Heads tribute) and Green Dayton (a self-evident tribute to 1990s Green Day). He also plays with Louisville, Ky. musician Kyle Eldridge, among other acts.

One might blame the cohabitating of several bands — which certainly isn’t specific to Hoeflich — as the downfall of some projects. But, as Hoeflich points out, that might be more attributed to a band’s lack of direction.

“I think that one thing that original bands tend to be really bad at is coming up with what it is specifically they want,” Hoeflich said. “The magic between someone writing amazing songs, performing them for their friends… nothing can ever change that. No cover band or tribute band is going to take that away.”

Dayton music has its success stories — Ohio Players, The Breeders and Guided By Voices being a few examples — and continues to produce worthy talent. But as more musicians decide to go the tribute route, it begs the question: where does that leave the status of new Dayton music?

“Booking tribute acts is a safer bet in terms of ticket sales,” Libby Ballengee, a local booker and promoter, said in a text. “However, I keep these shows to a minimum because I prefer to support original artists. […] So, if we want to have more bands that we are proud of as a community, we have to support the original acts that no one has heard of, too.”

To pull off convincing tributes, musicians must have the skillsets — or, in some cases, the wigs. To be in fruitful bands, musicians must commit, despite the odds stacked against them. But as the Dayton music scene has proved, with most tributes having members in other projects, these roles are not mutually exclusive.

“If there weren’t so many good bands in Dayton, there wouldn’t be so many good tributes,” Gilliam said.

Not every original deserves a tribute but every tribute starts with an original — and some of them play around Dayton eight days a week.

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