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Musicians Say Go Ahead, Judge A Tribute Band By Its Cover

Amanda Von Holtum is used to defying expectations. From 8-to-4, Monday through Friday, she works in human resources at Buckley Air Force Base. But on nights and weekends, she takes on the role of Steve Perry.

"I'm sure when I walk up on stage there's some kind of, 'OK, well let's see what she can do,'" Von Holtum said.

That's a day in the life for a member of a cover band. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, for cover bands though, sometimes that flattery doesn't always get them a lot of respect.

Von Holtum is working the stage as the vocalist for Denver's Journey cover band, Eclipse – and they aren't alone in the Colorado cover scene. Many cover acts were gathered together for Left Hand Brewing's annual Mile High Tribute Band Competition, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Hey, Lady! took second at this year's Mile High Tribute Band Competition.

"We get the - 'Huh, what do you mean you only play B-52s?' - a lot," said Deb Britton, who performs in the Boulder-based B-52s tribute band, Hey, Lady!

"I think most people, they know 'Love Shack' or they know 'Rock Lobster,'" Britton said. "Until people hear us and see us and see what fun we have onstage, I think they don't really realize how many B-52s songs they know and they're familiar with. Plus, it's just fun."

It doesn't hurt that they've got some pretty fanatic fans, including Sam Telfair, who arrived for the Longmont show in a platinum and pink wig and fishnet stockings as his alter-ego Samantha-Donna Ciccone.

"They're the real deal," said Telfair, a Madonna impersonator from Denver, of Hey, Lady! "I think that there are a lot of good cover bands here and they play very well and they sound just like them, but when you cover bands like the B-52s you have the image that goes along with them and I think you have responsibility for that."

As a professional impersonator, Telfair should know. The trick?

"Watching a lot of You Tube videos and being kind of compulsively obsessed with them," he said. "Like, I've watched way too many Madonna videos. But at the same time, it's that attention to detail. Because you have fans that have seen the B-52s music videos 100 million times."

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Sam Telfair, also known as Madonna impersonator Samantha-Donna Ciccone, dances to Hey, Lady!

Deb Britton knows this all too well. Decked out in a shiny blue, Wilma Flintstone-style dress and lemon-yellow beehive wig, Britton looks almost exactly like B-52s singer Cindy Wilson in the video for "Song for a Future Generation." Britton's brother and bandmate Steven Blasinsky's Fred Schneider voice is so spot on, even the real Fred Schneider is a fan.

In 2011, Schneider posted on Facebook:

"Hey, Lady! is my fave B-52s tribute band. Steve does a great job singing in my style. So refreshing to hear a good tribute rather than listen to someone who thinks they sound like me, but really just sound obnoxious with a sinus problem! Go Hey, Lady!"

Click Play to compare Steven Blasinsky with the real Fred Schneider

For a cover band, it probably doesn't get any better than that, unless you're the Denver-based Dirty Femmes.

"Every now and then the lead singer from the Violent Femmes, Gordon Gano, plays with us," said Jen Korte, the tribute act's frontwoman.

Even without their inspiration onstage next to them, Korte says the Dirty Femmes are living the dream. They've gone on vacation with Gano and they have an upcoming show at Red Rocks, as part of Film on the Rocks, featuring both their cover act and their original music band, Jen Korte and The Loss.

"A lot of musicians are like, 'I don't wanna' play covers, I don't wanna' be in a cover band.' But at the same time, a lot of it is the work and the process and putting your own self outside of your comfort zone," she said. "I would never have picked up an electric guitar and learned how to play leads the way that I do now, which influences my personal music. So, for me, it's a win-win situation."

In the end, Eclipse frontwoman Amanda Von Holtum said it's not about the money or the acclaim. Tribute bands are just fans, playing for other fans – or even surprised coworkers.

"They love it," Von Holtum said. "They've come out to see me several times. They think it's awesome. I have an alter ego so to speak. When I'm at work I'm very professional and you know very serious… but they admire that I can go from one thing to another."

Maybe that's the lesson of a cover band. It's that rare mix of devotion, tribute and hard work. Sure, you didn't write the songs, but that doesn't mean you can fake it.

"We practice a lot," Von Holtum said. "We want to sound like the product as much as possible so we're very meticulous on harmonies, guitar solos, drum fills, keyboard parts… because a true Journey fan is gonna' know what you're missing."

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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