Calgary tribute bands branching out, going grunge

Tribute artists aren’t a new concept, Elvis Presley impersonators have become so widespread they’ve become clichéd, while KISS has spawned a variety of imitators, including Mini Kiss, a band consisting of midgets who dress up and perform KISS songs.

Typically, tribute acts tend to be high on theatrics and are upbeat, lively experiences.

Local musician Johnny Kapplehoff has been a member of Calgary’s tribute scene, last performing in a Guns ‘n Roses act, is looking to start up a new tribute band in Calgary centered around Nirvana.

The Seattle grunge band, notable for tunes such as “Rape Me” and for the suicide of heroin addicted lead singer Kurt Cobain, isn’t exactly known for wanting to rock and roll all night and party every day.

Kapplehoff’s motivations for starting a Nirvana tribute band are partially financially motivated.

“Nirvana is great because you have three people and no stage production,” he says. “Guns ‘n Roses, you have five guys instead of three. KISS tribute, huge production.”

Nirvana tributes have seen success elsewhere. Nearvana, a southern California based outfit, has been recognised by the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation and has met with Kurt Cobain’s grandfather, Leland Cobain.

Nevermind, another U.S.-based tribute group, has toured internationally and has been performing since 1991, while the real Nirvana was still active.

Kapplehoff says that there is a very simple reason why a Nirvana tribute band would be appealing.

“I think it transfers into a good tribute act because a lot of people want to see that. You can’t see Nirvana. So this is the next best thing.”

The ability to catch a favorite band live, be it due to being passed over when a band is on tour or, in the case of a Nirvana tribute, because the principal members of the group are dead.

It’s more than just hearing someone else play well known music. Look and believability are key to having a great tribute act.

Produced by: Trevor Presiloski

“Your friend phones you up and says ‘Do you wanna go to the bar and see a band?’ he doesn’t say ‘Do you wanna go listen to a band?” talent agent Gary Jamigar says.

Jamigar, who runs a local talent agency consisting solely of tribute acts, has seen attitudes become increasingly positive towards tribute acts.

“It’s starting to come around. Bands are starting to give the tribute bands some money,” he says.

Kapplehoff views tribute band artists as putting in a lot of work.

“The amount of work that goes into an original band is so much more than a cover band or a tribute band,” says Kapplehoff.

Kapplehoff has cut his teeth in Calgary’s music scene for over 20 years and enjoys performing original music.

However, he acknowledges that tribute bands are potentially far more lucrative than cover bands and that they let musicians such as himself be able to earn some money while having fun.

“If you see a sign outside a bar that says ‘Joe’s Cover Band’ and another one that says ‘Nirvana tribute’, which one are you more likely to go check out and see?”