When most people go out to hear live music they expect to hear something they recognize—even if they’re not actually listening. That’s what cover bands are for. And there are some very good ones in the area that can emulate a jukebox pretty well.
But if you want to immerse yourself in the live experience of the actual artist, there are some tribute bands that rise to the level of showmanship and performance of the originals. And as more iconic acts retire or adopt a tamer approach with advancing age, tribute bands keep the spirit of the originals alive and thriving.
In January, The Vault in Saginaw celebrated its grand opening with Big Bang Baby, a Chicago-based Stone Temple Pilots tribute. AC/DC doppelgangers Dirty Deeds Detroit also performed, and opener The Savior Machines added their mix of covers and original material to kick things off at 110 Florence St.
The tribute band / local act approach offers something to please both casual and hardcore music fans. It’s also a more immersive experience, jamming the spectacle of an arena performance into a more intimate setting—at a far more reasonable price.
Bay City rock drumming legend Bill Silverthorn is handling the lion's share of booking duties at the venue, now owned by Bill Peters, who also owns Sparkle Pro-Clean in Saginaw.
“Ironically enough,” says Silverthorn, “his main office is butted right up against [the building formerly known as Florence Hall], so when he found it was available, he just [went for] it.” Silverthorn plans to merge his channels of music relationships in Michigan and beyond—including “a really good pipeline of Chicago talent”—to bring a concert experience to Old Town Saginaw on a regular basis.
For now, The Vault is presenting a series of “soft openings,” says Silverthorn. On March 27, Don’t Speak: A Tribute to No Doubt, comes to town, supported by Flint’s Sugar Punk Fairies and Saginaw’s Audrey Burne.
“Our goal is to bring stuff in that you won’t see anywhere else,” he says, adding that opening slots will be booked with regionally based original and cover bands. “Our headliners we want to bring in are bands you haven’t seen anywhere around, including The Machine Shop,” he says, referring to the Flint venue.
The Vault currently holds 440 people, but with plans to refurbish the second floor and open another bar upstairs in the near future, capacity will increase by about 50%. Silverthorn wants to start booking national touring acts along with a mix of tribute bands, original bands, and comedy nights. “Eventually we’re going to be open Thursday through Saturday and some Sundays,” he predicts.
Dirty Deeds Detroit lead singer Andy Lieber came away impressed from his opening night experience. “The stage is spectacular,” says Lieber, who operates Bay City’s Showcase Mitsubishi when not prowling the stage as Bon Scott or Brian Johnson. "It’s one of the coolest rooms I’ve ever played in, from the excellent sound to the stage lighting, and we appreciated being part of their first show.”
Over on Midland Street in Bay City, The Westown Theatre has been an oasis (no pun intended) for tribute acts, courtesy of Karen Ritchey’s Detroit-based Lux Artist Management. With acts that re-create the live shows of Judas Priest, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, and others, Ritchey is making the live, in-your-face, hard rock show attainable on a local level.
“I lived in Saginaw township for six months a few years ago and really loved the area,” says Ritchey. “I made a lot of friends up there, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring music to mid-Michigan. When I reached out to [Westown owner] Jay Samborn, he gave me the reins and said, ‘go for it.’”
During the month of April alone, the Westown will be a hard rock mimic mecca, with Bloodstone (Judas Priest), Black Sabbatical, Revelations (Iron Maiden), Detroit Rock City (KISS), and Dirty Deeds Detroit all appearing.
Ritchey does not deal exclusively in tribute acts, however. When she began working with Kyle Mikolajczyk, her artist roster increased considerably. “He’s in, like, twelve different bands,” says Ritchey, and a quick check indicates she’s hardly exaggerating. Among other projects, Mikolajczyk performs with Pretty Tied Up, the Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute; the aforementioned Bloodstone; and sings and plays bass in Detroit Trouble, an original blues rock outfit playing the Westown with Lapeer’s Frame42 in April.
On the subject of tributes, there have been some magical nights of music dedicated to the art of a particular band or artist. Recently, local artists have presented shows dedicated entirely to the music of Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, and even Todd Rundgren.
While some might accuse Greta Van Fleet of treading in tribute territory due to their rather Zeppelin-esque approach, I’m neutral. Unless, of course, you’d like to form a GVF tribute band with me. Then I’m all in!