Uncovering the cover band

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 at 7:21 PM

Cover bands are a phenomenon all too common in the musician world, but little spotlight ever lands on the art of imitation outside of smoky bars and private parties. As musicians both seasoned and amateur opt to cover music within sets, or for entire sets, there remains something special about this age-old music practice that keeps it alive in the modern music industry. 

In the world of covering music, few words are as appropriate as “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” from “The Sound of Music” and “Do Re Mi.” The scale gone iconic tune is one of the first songs to learn for young children. This is where covering begins. And to learn the process of playing music, one must learn how to do other musicians’ work. Then, the musician has the adequate knowledge to hopefully create like no one has before.  

Musician Joe Frisina of Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania has been playing music for over 29 years. He’s currently involved with Joe and Keith, The Dave Callaghan Quartet, JD Jazz, and Joe and Meggan, all cover bands, as well as original groups Cats A Bear and Too Big Power. Frisina plays guitar and sings. 

He explained the importance of playing cover songs: “Covering the music is essential in perfecting your craft and developing your own style as a musician. There’s so much to learn from old recordings, legends and heroes from every genre.” 

Jade Hannold, a musician from Meadville, Pennsylvania, has been playing music for 36 years. He began playing drums at age 10 and has been a member of bands such as the Rodger Montgomery Blues Band, The Happy Hours (both cover bands) and Good Seed. 

Hannold found himself covering music in high school with a band, as well as in his orchestra classes and marching band in middle and early high school, which he points out, “is all cover music, whether it be Bach or a Christmas piece.” 

As far as musicianship goes, Hannold has found that practicing exactly what you’re hearing is key in covering music. He reinforces the importance of staying consistent. “It forces you to play along with the beat and music. You may stumble and fall behind, but eventually, you’ll get it. You get tighter.” 

For many musicians, covering music is not only a way to hone their craft, but it’s also the first opportunity to play gigs and gain live experience. In every corner of a bar or outdoor stage, the musician will be able to familiarize the ways in which their instrument reverberates and carries through the acoustics of the setting. It is playing gigs that teach musicians live sound mixing and how to work a crowd, as well as putting some money in their pockets. 

“Covers get listeners and prospective musicians interested in music,” Frisina said. “Those are the first songs we learn to play and when working for pay, most establishments are looking for the familiarity of classic rock, country music and top 40.”

What cover bands offer is a unique experience: the audience hears their favorite songs in a new interpretation. They can find familiarity in the lyrics and comfort in the melody, while still discovering the surprising nuances of what the individual musician is bringing along. The musician acts as a conduit for whatever memories and stories are shared between the artist, crowd, and themselves through that rendition. 

Engaging with a live band in your community is a space where that intimate connection between musician and listener occurs, attendees partaking in an ancient tradition. Whether it be centuries old folk canticles such as “Scarborough Fair” or one of over 2,200 different versions of The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” covering music is here to stay. 

Every musician has their favorite songs to play and everyone has their favorite songs to hear, so when the two overlap, a collective energy is created. For Frisina, his favorite songs to cover “are the ones that generate the most positive and enthusiastic response from listeners.” He further explained that “It depends on the crowd” and that he gets “a lot of good reactions from ‘Sultans of Swing’ and ‘Hotel California,’ but you never know who is going to be energized by what.” 

Hannold describes Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and “Are You Experienced?” as his favorite songs to cover.

“I feel the music, I really relate and groove to it,” he said. “I was raised on that stuff. Before I could read or write or anything, my parents would listen to Hendrix, and I would sit right in front of the speakers and it never bothered me.” 

When a musician can connect to the music deeply, the delivery of that energy and memory can transfer into the crowd, making for the kind of moment that keeps people interested in live music. Memories resurface as a new one is created in that moment of connection. 

When asked why they play music, Frisina chalked it up to craziness and the desire to create a connection that transcends typical communication.  

“I play music because I’m crazy...or is it insane? In reality, I knew early on that music was going to be a driving force in my life. Every kid wants to be a rock star or guitar god, but that is replaced with a deeper, less superficial appreciation for what music does for players, listeners, communities, cultures and even nature. It’s also a very human thing that can connect very different people who may not even speak the same language. It’s a lot like love.” 

Hannold treasures music as an outlet and a form of therapy from life’s headaches and hardships. 

“Why do I play music?” Hannold asked, pausing before starting up again. “It balances out my soul [and] it makes me feel good. It makes me feel alive. It comes naturally to me. I sit down and it happens. It’s music therapy: I forget about my problems, pains, and I just feel good.” 

Whether you’re a musician yourself or a casual listener, when you see that local cover band posting about their next gig on Facebook, check them out. When you find yourself in a crowded bar or just passing a musician playing on a street, listen. Perhaps there is a memory to be brought back and a connection waiting to be discovered. 

Livia Homerski can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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