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But even without a true financial incentive, tribute bands continue to pop up across North Texas. And as the number of cover/tribute bands has grown, so too has the number of venues that choose to book them. House of Blues, Lakewood Bar and Grill, Lee Harvey's and the Barley House are four of the more well-known establishments that consistently book tribute bands, but other locations across North Texas are beginning to see the benefits of booking bands that play absolutely no original material. In fact, many see a clear advantage in booking a tribute band instead of an original act.
"Tribute bands can draw well, and they create a great live music experience at a low ticket price," says Brian Lowe, marketing manager at the House of Blues, sounding like he's promoting the upcoming Destroyer and Judas Rising tribute bill at HOB this month.
At other venues, things are not as clear-cut or centered on the bottom line. Seth Smith at Lee Harvey's books original, cover and tribute acts for about the same percentage of time.
"The fact is," he says, "I just don't see that much of a difference between original, cover and tribute acts. I just want the caliber of the band to be good."
Amongst tribute bands, the issue of quality is sternly debated. Members of one act can be quite critical of another, sometimes ridiculing the other band's authenticity. If a tribute band dares to stray from the confines of its chosen artist, then that band basically falls into the lowly (but better-paid) ranks of a cover band.
Much like any other genre of music, the tribute/cover band circuit seems to have its own subdivisions and parenthetical offshoots. Acts that sound, but don't look the part, are happy to be called cover bands. Others that attempt to replicate the entire look and sound of a band in an effort to, at least for a moment, transport the audience (at a greatly reduced price) to a show by the original act are adamant about being referred to as tribute bands.
One thing both cover and tribute bands are certain about, though, is the talent of the musicians involved. Acts that play original music sometimes take a derisive tone when talking about cover and tribute bands, claiming that playing original music is somehow superior than mimicking a favored artist. To the great number of musicians who painstakingly learn every note and every move of their beloved band, this criticism is unwarranted.
"It does irritate me when someone looks down on a player just because he's in a cover band," Rhyner says. "In most cases, that is no reflection on a guy's talent. There are plenty of guys in cover bands—tons of them—who can blow anybody in any original band away."
In the end, it all comes down to what brings folks into a bar, or what makes people dance at a wedding, a class reunion or the party for the second vice president of some corporation.
"I do know this," Rhyner says. "People get into the cover band/tribute thing because they want to play. If you want to play in the path of least resistance by doing music that's well-known, then it's because Dallas has never been a good market for original music."