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Local tribute bands say they take music, audience seriously
By Matt Arado | Daily Herald Staff

Daniel Burrow, aka "Danno," holds a young fan while playing the role of U2 singer Bono in Elevation, a U2 tribute band.

 

Gurnee resident Don Wilson performs on stage with Mellencougar, a John Mellencamp tribute band.

 

The members of Mellencougar make an effort to re-create John Mellencamp's music faithfully.

 

The members of 25 or 6 to 4: The Chicago Experience try to re-create as faithfully as possible the songs of classic-rock band Chicago.

 

Daniel Burrow says the real members of U2 have been positive about Burrow's tribute band, Elevation.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 3/24/2010 12:00 AM | Updated: 3/24/2010 6:37 AM

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Karaoke is more than a cheesy bar activity. It's also a vehicle for realizing your dreams.

Especially if those dreams involve playing in a tribute band.

Take 38-year-old Gurnee resident Don Wilson. Three-and-a-half years ago, he belted out a karaoke version of John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" at a bar in Waukegan. People came up to him afterward and told him he sounded eerily like the real thing.

Wilson, a rabid Mellencamp fan, decided it might be fun to front a band that specialized in the Indiana rocker's songs.

"Six months later, I was singing on stage at House of Blues," Wilson said. "How cool is that?"

Daniel Burrow can relate. The 42-year-old St. Louis resident had a similar experience when he sang a karaoke version of a U2 song in 2001. People told him he both looked and sounded like Bono, the lead singer of the group.

So Burrow formed a tribute band of his own, Elevation, and in the nine years since he's played venues like Denver's Coors Field and traveled all over the world.

"When I sit back and think about it, I realize how amazing this experience has been," Burrow said.

Tribute bands remain a vital part of today's music scene in the suburbs, especially in the spring and summer months when outdoor festivals are in full swing. Pick any weekend, though, and you're bound to find bands that specialize in the music of the Beatles, or Chicago, or Led Zeppelin, or a slew of other groups.

To some, tribute bands might seem to occupy a lower rung on the rock 'n' roll ladder. But those who play in them ask: What's wrong with getting paid to perform music you love?

"Yeah, there's a stigma attached to the whole tribute band thing," Burrow said. "Of course I would love to make millions doing original songs, but that kind of success happens to so few. With Elevation, I get to play music I believe in and go to places I probably would never get to otherwise."

And a tribute band is a perfect outlet for people like Wilson, who owns a DJ business and likes to play music on the side.

"Honestly, I can't imagine any other kind of band working out as well for me," he said.

Seeing a tribute band isn't the same as the real thing, but the shows work well for fans too. They get a chance to hear songs they love played live - far more frequently and cheaply than they would if they had to wait for bands like U2 to hit town.

Mellencougar's typical show runs about three hours long, and the seven-piece band tries to hit all the styles and sounds that Mellencamp has experimented with during his 35-year career.

"We play some folk, some R&B, some straight-up rock," Wilson said. "We do it all."

Wilson said that while he hasn't received any direct response from Mellencamp about the band, he has gotten a seal of approval almost as good: Toby Myers, Mellencamp's longtime bassist, and Moe Z M.D., Mellencamp's former keyboard player, both play in Mellencougar.

"They really pushed us to take this seriously and play like a real band," Wilson said. "It's just amazing for me to share the stage with them. And they've been so fantastic for us."

In the early days of Burrow's band, Elevation, the group took the notion of "tribute" to almost method-actor lengths.

"We were very hard-core," Burrow said, laughing. "We wanted to replicate U2's songs note for note. Our drummer even used the same drum set that (U2 drummer) Larry Mullen Jr. used."

Over time, the band started to put its own spin on U2's music, but the desire to look like the real thing persisted. Burrow, whose band name is "Danno," said he always tries to mimic whatever style Bono is sporting at the time, and the other band members follow suit.

Getting together for rehearsals is tough for the four members of Elevation, as they live in different cities, and in some cases, different states. (Elevation's bassist is Aurora resident Chris Lambrou.)

"We don't have a lot of time to practice, but we're all professional musicians and we know what we're doing," said Burrow, who taught drumming for 20 years before starting Elevation. "And we take this seriously as a job; each guy knows what he has to do."

Burrow has met the members of U2 several times, and he said they've never been anything but positive about what he does in Elevation.

"Bono once signed my leather jacket in Las Vegas," he said. "That was incredible."

If there's one thing that tribute band members want people to know, it's that they're real musicians with a passion for music.

Elk Grove Village native Nick Krengiel founded and plays in 25 or 6 to 4: The Chicago Experience, which pays tribute to the music of the band Chicago. He said he painstakingly scouted the area for skilled musicians who matched up well with the original band members.

"There's nothing worse than seeing a band ruin songs that you love," Krengiel said. "Chicago has a devoted fan base, and I wanted to make sure we had the very best musicians performing those songs."

Wilson said it comes down to the respect the band has for the original material and for the audience.

"We want to do right on both accounts," he said. "We want to honor the artist we're paying tribute to, and we want to make sure the people paying to see us have an awesome time."

Upcoming shows

Here is a sampling of upcoming tribute-band shows in the city and suburbs. Check Web sites for cover charges and to confirm times.

Alive, a Pearl Jam tribute band, and Downpour, an AC/DC tribute band: Both play Friday, March 26, at Durty Nellie's in Palatine. Doors open at 8 p.m. Go to durtynellies.com.

Kashmir: Led Zeppelin tribute band plays 9:30 p.m. tonight at the Pyramid Club in Addison and 10 p.m. April 3 at Chicago City Limits in Schaumburg. Go to kashmirchicago.com, pyramidclubaddison.com or chicagocitylimits.net.

Elevation: Plays 10 p.m. April 10 at Fado Irish Pub in Chicago. Go to tribute2U2.com or fadoirishpub.com.

Mellencougar: Plays April 23 at Fatman Bowl in Green Oaks and May 7 at Blues Bar in Mount Prospect. Go to mellencougar.net, fatman-bowl.com or blues-bar.com.