Dallas Observer Music Awards

How Daniel Lumpkin and Steve Townley Became Tribute Band Megafans

The Dallas/Fort Worth music scene has an unusually strong subculture of tribute bands with an even more unorthodox subculture: dedicated tribute band fans.

The bands themselves aren't just background noise for private parties or corporate events or openers for bigger acts to keep the crowds entertained while the main talent does whatever bizarre superstitious ritual to please the rock gods before they take the stage. They headline their own shows at the big rooms aand tour the country because they can attract raucous crowds who are eager to experience the next best thing to the real thing live and in person.

"The tribute fans are awesome," said Mike Mroz, the lead guitarist/Angus Young of Back in Black. "They're just great. They come up and want to share their stories that have with AC/DC. I've heard a million stories about Brian Johnson and when they've seen them and that's cool because we're big fans too."

Daniel Lumpkin of Dallas has been following the exploits of Rhymin' N Stealin', the Beastie Boys tribute group consisting of Kyle Smith as Ad Rock, Jason Cockburn as Mike D and Josh Martin as the late MCA, since literally the very beginning of the group's four year reign starting with their fabled first show at a billiards bar in 2009 on Halloween night.

"I had no idea there was such a thing as a Beastie Boys tribute band," Lumpkin said. "I thought they were just joking around like it was just a karaoke thing and I was like, 'Oh my God, they're really really good,' and it happened to be their first show."

Steve Townley of Dallas, a self-described super fan of the AC/DC tribute group Back in Black, was also among the first to see the group perform at Tree's in Deep Ellum "many, many moons ago."

"The music was great," Townley said. "[Lead singer Darren Caperna's] ability to do both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I've never heard anybody else do them as well as he can. He does Bon Scott better than Brian Johnson does Bon Scott."

Both have since become regulars at their respective bands' local shows and even an integral part of the groups' live performance process. Townley will often jump up on stage during a show and help the band perform the backup vocals when Back in Black plays Thunderstruck.

"95 percent of the time, I'll go up and sing the background, the 'Ahhhh, ahhhh, ah ah ah, Thun-der,'" Townley said with a laugh. "Of course, I can't sing for shit and by then, I'm usually feeling no pain."

Smith said Lumpkin can actually save a show if they can spot him in the crowd. Martin actually bestowed Lumpkin with his own band nickname, T-Prompt.

"If we ever forget any of the lyrics to any Beastie Boys song, all we have to do is look down at Dan and he'll be mouthing the lyrics to the songs," Smith said. "He's like our teleprompter."

Of course, they occasionally get weird looks from people who aren't familiar with the high caliber antics of their favorite tribute bands as they rave about what the uninitiated might assume is just a desperate attempt to achieve fanboy glory.

"Some people are kind of like, 'Well they're not writing their own stuff' or 'They're just standing on the shoulders of giants,'" Lumpkin said. "I'm like, 'Hold on, I get what you're saying and there's truth to that, but come and see them.' The energy they put into the live performances blows away any original band I've seen and that includes some of the big arena shows."

Townley said he actually enjoys going to see a band that he knows is not only going to play music that he loves but can also put the kind of energy you expect a musician to put into their shows for people who paid to see them.

"I lived in Austin while I was working on my graduate degree and I actually got turned off by I'll call it 'local bands,'" Townley said. "There were one or two that played at a hard rock bar and you go in there and see them once and they're OK but you don't know the songs. You kind of like them a little bit but there's nothing you'd make a point to see. The vast majority of them were just, oh, you'd realize why they're a local band. They're really not that good. The difference between them and these guys is that they really are that good."

Lumpkin also noted that high quality tribute groups can also fill a void that the ravages of time and life create, especially in the wake of tragic moments such as last year's passing of the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch.

"I'm never going to see Queen live," he said. "I'm never going to see the Beatles live. I'm never going to see Led Zeppelin live but if there's a good tribute band, then that's the second best thing and with Adam Yauch's death, the Beastie Boys fall into that category and that makes me want to support Rhymin' N Stealin' that much more."

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.