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In Praise of Tribute Bands


Summer in the UK means a number of things, primarily that it's concert season and that the weather will either be blazing sun or intermittent showers.

The BBC recently published an article that takes a look at one of the UK's staple summer activities; the music festival. With many of the big ones now too popular to even dream of getting tickets for, a flurry of tribute festivals have sprung up to fill the void for those who can't, or won't, get tickets. And, as always (and as was portrayed in the article), the opinion is firmly split down the middle.

The BBC, bless them, spoke to bands, festival organisers, and those who aren't too keen on the idea of tribute bands taking some of the limelight.

But is there really any harm in them?

From my point of view, no. I've spent the past three years keeping company with a handful of tribute bands and, out of everything that I've noticed about them, it's their dedication that has shone through. If they didn't believe in the band that they were covering, they wouldn't be doing what they were doing. They're not out there just for the money (although there is big money in this game. Whether anyone I know sees any of it, I don't know). They all work hard, honing their craft during the darker winter months while still playing with other bands. More often than not, they'll use exactly the same equipment as their real life counterparts.

And every one of them has been super friendly. They love seeing people at their shows and interacting with the crowds. They love hearing people sing back to them. I'm sure it's a huge ego boost to see several thousand people singing to you and having people clamouring for photos and autographs as if you genuinely were Dave Grohl or Axl Rose.

But there's a love there that goes beyond what the crowd are giving them. With every show there's a clear exchange of energy between the bands and the crowds. You feel it roll one way and then the other in an unseen call and response. People leave on an incredible high and, if the bands are doing their job right then they can nail their original band's performance and energy with what appears to be zero effort. Sure, they've worked to get to that point, but it pays off when you're there, eyes closed, and unable to distinguish them from the real thing (other than the fact that Dave Grohl may have an English accent!).

However, the BBC didn't speak to the people who actually go to these festivals. There's a myriad of reasons behind attendance. For some, it's a great way to catch up with friends. You get to hang out with people you may not have seen all year, have a few drinks, get something to eat, and listen to great music performed by talented musicians. Many of the festivals are ultra-localised so travel is minimal. There's no sitting in lines of traffic and no walking three miles to find your camp ground. Better for you, and for the environment.

The atmospheres are also far more chilled than a bigger festival. Imagine Glastonbury but with around 1,000 people. You make new friends and see familiar faces and there's no urgency in trying to get your money's worth by running from one stage to the other. There's also less pushing and shoving and, in general, a more relaxed and laid back atmosphere. Always wanted to be on the rail for Guns N' Roses? Chances are that you will be at one of these festivals. Or if you want a more intimate show, you just roll up to one of their off-season shows. Perfect if you're like me and hate large crowds or need a handful of Valium just to get into a stadium show.

Sure, they're not the real thing and we're all going to want to go and see our favourite bands at times. But if you couldn't get tickets, didn't want to brave festival crowds, or if your favourite band's just not touring this year, the tribute bands are as close as you're ever going to get.

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Rachael grew up with a love of music and is the author of Send In The Congregation: Stories from the Foo Fighters Fans