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Learning from tribute bands.

Tributes in Mexico. A rainy afternoon with Freddie Mercury, Gaga, and Prince.

A popular form of entertainment in the resort towns of Mexico are tribute bands and singers.

Often they work as the entertainment on cruise ships from Canada and the US, and then when the ship docks for a few days at a port they  perform in local nightclubs.  Some even stay for a few weeks or months and play in the port or venture inland to places like Guadalajara or even Ajijic.

Mexican entertainers have noticed there is a market for tribute bands and singers – mostly, but not completely- with Expat retirees.  The Expat audience likes the familiar lyrics of tribute bands, the songs they grew up with, and t the costumes, choreography and special effects tribute artists often bring with them.

Because Ajijic and Chapala are relatively close to Puerto Vallarta, and have a large Expat population, they are good markets for tribute bands, we get our share.  None if the bands that have been through here are bands I know and love from the states, like Militia Vox and the Juda Priestess Band or the Doors tribute band Peace Frog. But I get to  meet new bands and new people.

We recently had a weekend of tribute artists.  A local concert series, the Concerts on the Lawn produced by a local promoter Steve Balfour, brought Roy Gomez Cruz as  Freddie Mercury,  Maru Prado Conti as Lady Gaga; and Tonny Kenneth as Prince on a rainy afternoon in the outdoor venue.  

Seeing the three tribute artists together here, after years of seeing individual tribute bands in LA gave me a new perspective.  Tribute entertainment is hard work. And you have to be yourself, not just a pale copy of the artist you are paying tribute to.

Militia Vox and her band  Judith Priestess pull it off well, but of course they have a head start because they are not going to ever be Judith Priest – they are females, paying tribute to an all-male band. They are all superb musicians and can play every note exactly like Ian Hill  and Glen Tipton and the rest of the revolving Judith Priest crew played them.  But they don’t.  They  don’t copy the band; they internalize the Judith Priest attitude and vibe and use it to produce awesome music that connects with the audience and blows the roof off of clubs from New York to LA.

Peace Frog, the LA-based Doors tribute band does the same thing.  Band leader Tony Fernandez does not copy Jim Morrison; he brings the magic of Jim Morrison and the Doors to the audience.  He allows them to groove to “Light My Fire” and  and Whiskey Bar” with his own intensity wrapped up in the image of Jim Morrison and the Doors.

Roy Gomez did the same with Freddie Mercury this weekend.  But he did it a while facing a more difficult challenge.  Mercury mesmerized thousands through not only his music, but his total how and his affirmation of the sexuality of much of his audience – something Gaga also does with her salute to the Little Goblins at her concerts.

 But the audiences outside of the clubs in Puerto Vallarta are mostly retired Expats from the US and Canada – a far cry from the young, diverse crowds Mercury entertained – and Gaga entertains now.  So it was  a pleasure to watch Gomez not only present Freddie Mercury, but stroll through the audience flirting, and cajoling and oozing the Freddie Mercury spirt while adding his own twist to it. All of which made me think, why do I enjoy tribute bands so much?  Why does anybody? 

The music is familiar.  The tribute show can  bring back happy memories if we saw the original (and can remember it).  We appreciate (or don’t) the authenticity and artistry of the tribute performers.  And of course, it is an opportunity to suspend belief and just have fun – the reason so many people love to go to the movies (when we had them) and watch romantic comedies.

I would not have see this aspect of the tribute artistry if I had not attend the Royals concert this weekend – not only was it fun, but I learned something. The perfect combo.

Patrick O’Heffernan



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (442 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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