Niagara Cover Bands -- Giving The People What They Want
By Furella Gutta
2022 hasn’t started off on the right foot for the entertainment industry. With the continuing threat of the Omicron COVID variant, bar closures have put a strain on business owners as well as entertainers and have prevented us all from getting back to the normalcy we were hoping for at the start of this year.
With the constant fluctuation in restrictions implemented the past two years since the pandemic began, there has been little opportunity for working musicians on the Niagara band circuit to depend on bookings without the threat of cancelations. With those latest Ontario restrictions ending February 1st, bars and entertainment venues can once again open – although at half capacity. This means there will be opportunities for Niagara residents to get out again, enjoy live music with local bands, have a few drinks and curb the winter blues.
For those looking to hear some familiar songs, I’ve put together this list of some of the best Niagara has to offer. To decide for yourself, be sure to check them out live when you can.
ROCK OF 80S
Rock of 80s, which has been on the Niagara music scene since 2016, features frontman and bassist Ian Wood, Terry Pracchia on guitar and drummer Kevin Hotte. In addition to playing local bars, Rock of 80s has played a variety of gigs over the years including festivals, camps, resorts, special events and even private shows. Wood says they average about 120-plus shows per year with peak bookings in the summer months.
Wood stresses how much the band takes pride in the quality of their live sound. “The music we perform requires a high level of vocal ability and range, important vocal harmonies, and very strong musicianship to do it well, especially just as three guys,” he said. The band focuses on ‘80s hair band rock but has been known to throw in a few surprise classic rock songs and even a bit of disco from time to time.
The ROCK OF 80s set includes classics from bands like Def Leppard, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Van Halen and Journey. For a band that Wood says must be musically disciplined, it is no wonder their covers hold a strong sound and come off incredibly close to the originals which the crowd absolutely loves.
When asked what makes Rock of 80s stand out among other cover bands in Niagara, Wood mentions that a big part of their show is to have fun with the crowd. He says it is important that the crowd sees them as three guys who are down-to-earth and truly enjoy what they do.
“The compliments from fans mean that much more to us and we take none for granted, especially as we get older,” he said. According to Wood, the band’s mission for the future is to keep rocking with friends, do the odd fun or bigger event now and again, make a few bucks and stay close to home and to their families. He says the band is more than happy to keep doing what they do best – they enjoy playing songs that are a major trip down memory lane for them and everyone who comes out to see them perform.
Vinyl Flux was formed in 2010 and features Joseph Minicucci on guitar, Dennis Ceci on guitar, frontman Rob Cave, Phil Saglimbeni on bass and drummer Max Turavani. With some of its members playing live since the late ‘60s, Minicucci says the band displays a high level of musical proficiency that can only stem from years of experience.
Minicucci says the band’s musical focus is on “the most prolific classic rock bands of our time.” With 100 plus shows per year, the band tends to stick to what he refers to as “the tried-and-true classic rock favourites that fans really want to hear live.” The best compliment the band hears from its fans, Minicucci says, is that Vinyl Flux succeeds in bringing them back to a happier time in their lives. He adds that Vinyl Flux’s mission for the future is to continue to have fun with the band and meticulously perform the very songs that made them want to be musicians at an early age.
HUNGRY HEARTS BAND:
In the midst of the pandemic, Hungry Hearts Band was formed by frontman and guitarist Anthony Savoia, Joseph Minicucci on guitar, Max Turavani on drums and Michael Cocco on bass. The band’s musical focus is to cover the best Bruce Springsteen songs.
With 75 shows a year performed in local nightclubs, festivals, corporate and private events, Minicucci says Hungry Hearts Band is currently the only Springsteen cover band in Southern Ontario. If that wasn’t enough to make them stand out, they are four musicians covering the same songs made famous by the full Springsteen E-street band consisting of 10 musicians. Minicucci says fans have given the band praise for their ability to succeed at their musical delivery of the classics. The Hungry Hearts Band says its mission is to be more than a typical “tribute” band.
“Unlike bands who attempt to impersonate or emulate their source in every respect, from looks to clothing to gestures, the Hungry Hearts Band concentrates on delivering an outstanding musical experience to their audience,” Minicucci says.
The Postmen have been playing together for about 15 years and feature Chris Lortie on fiddle, bassist Phil Martin, Nick Philips on lead acoustics, drummer Dave Moran, Vanessa Lepp on keys, ukulele and guitar, Chris Vander on percussion, guitar and vocals and Dean Jessome on vocals, guitar, ukuele and percussion.
With so many multi-talented members, it is not surprising that each of them contributes vocally to the band, creating what Jessome describes as “a thick and full sound rich with harmony.” In addition to their success as a band, Vander has put out a couple of self-titled albums that can be found on major streaming platforms and Lepp is a chief songwriting partner for the band Sine Language. The band has close to 400 songs in the repertoire that Jessome says they can draw from depending on what the crowd wants to hear and mostly stick to their high-energy alternative Celtic folk sound. This, of course, stemming from their love of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Spirit of the West.
When asked what makes The Postmen stand out, Jessome says “we are not a typical guitar/ bass/ drum/ singer type of band and that was deliberate; there are more than enough of those bands out there and some really good ones at that, which is why it was important to do something else, something different.”
Averaging two or three gigs every two weeks, the band has built up a solid reputation. Jessome explains that most of their gigs come from other shows they’ve played and those requests to play again are the band’s favourite compliments from its fans. He says, “it kind of spreads like a fire purely by word of mouth from people who have seen us before.”
According to Jessome, the band’s mission is to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. It is the band’s goal to ensure that the crowd feels like they are part of every show. “Just because we play cover music doesn’t mean we can’t love the music and make it our own; and, of course, just because it’s acoustic, doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it,” he said.
THE FIGURE FOUR
The Figure Four has been going strong for 23 years with their first gig being Labour Day 1999 in the parking lot at Front 54. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Michael (Mic) Chess recalls that day fondly and admits Labour Day has been one of his favourite holidays ever since.
The rest of the band features Gary (Gnu Guy) Borden on guitar and rhythm vocals, Rob (Uncle Bobby) Carroll on bass and soprano vocals and drummer Chris (Burny) Burnett who, Chess says with tongue in cheek, is forbidden from any contact with the mike.
Drawing from what Chess describes as an eclectic mix of songs, as well as their own personal favourites, their focus is generally on playing anything that brings joy to the band, their families, friends and fans.
Chess says the band prides itself on playing all requests and says, “it’s such a rush to fly by the seat of your pants at every show.” He adds there is no better way for the band to stay fresh and offer a truly unique experience to the crowd at every show.
With the band generally playing about four to six times a month, they have developed quite the following. Chess recalls they have been met with many compliments over the years, with his favourite referring to the band as “the faces of fun.” The band’s mission according to Chess is to “make the best of our time together and to gain and share joy from the good things in life like music, friendship, community and tequila.”
PINK FLOYD NIAGARA
For psychedelic rock fans, Pink Floyd Niagara’s large-scale production is just the ticket. Formed in 2007 the band features band leader Larry Swiercz on keyboards and vocals; technical director Eric Price on guitar, keyboards, vocals, percussion and computer; business administrator Allan Colavecchia on drums; Phil Martin on bass and vocals; Mark Christopher on guitar and vocals; Stan Szymkow on saxophone; vocalist Sue Ethier and vocalist Tina Calzonetti-Vaillancourt.
Price says the band goes all out to show reverence to Pink Floyd through every detail of every show. They play two to three gigs a year at select venues that can accommodate the stage size, lighting and sound requirements needed to perform on such a large scale.
“As we are now well into our run with the band we have literally had tens of thousands of people who have watched the band and the praise is effusive,” he says. “Pink Floyd fans are notorious for being sticklers with regard to accuracy of the material and we pass the test. One of the last gigs we played before COVID we had almost 4,000 people in attendance. We have many fans who have seen the band many times. Many praise our top-notch musicianship and our high production values.”
When asked about the band’s objective, Price says “we do not do this for the money; we do it for the love of Pink Floyd music. We love doing it right.” Price refers to the band as a “labour of love” not a money-maker. Pink Floyd Niagara states its mission is to provide their audience with more than just a show. They want to create an ultimate experience the crowd will not soon forget.
Simply Hip formed 10 years ago as a cover band and decided to switch gears two years ago by becoming a Tragically Hip tribute band.
The band features guitarist Mike Woods, guitarist Tony Finnucci, Greg Johnson on bass, Ben McVie on vocals and drummer Mike Hvilivitzky, who says they started with the simple goal of getting together and letting off a little steam.He says “we decided to take the approach that it is all about the live show. No costumes or gimmicks; just focus on the music.”
Simply Hip is more than happy to play all the greats from such an iconic Canadian band but have been known to put their own spin on things in order to make the show more fun for the fans. They’ve received many compliments on their ability to come up with their own rendition of a Hip classic that really works and gets the crowd going.
Hvilivitzky says the band is made up of longtime friends who genuinely love to play; no egos getting in the way, and just having a great time together on stage. He says the band just wants to play and “it’s never been about money; in fact, it’s about that fantastic feeling to get up there and do what you love with the people you love doing it with.”
Prior to COVID, the band had played about a dozen shows. Hvilivitzky says he and his Simply Hip bandmates are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get out there and hit the stage again.
Their colleagues in the Niagara music scene along with their fans are hoping for the same.