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The fascinating world of tribute bands

The fascinating world of tribute bands

I’m fascinated by the subculture of tribute bands. The groups that are serious work hard to replicate whatever act they are paying tribute to, and I’m intrigued by all the different reasons why they do it. It’s not just the bands that are interesting, but also the attendees of the shows, some of whom are fanatical. In the early 2000s, a few indie documentaries concerning the subject were released, but they’ve all been pretty much forgotten. Which is too bad, as the two I’ve seen are both worth checking out.

I first saw Tribute years ago on the Sundance channel, and have watched it a number of times. The film follows five tribute bands, and I found myself mesmerized by their stories. There’s a surprising amount of drama, often reaching Spinal Tap-esque levels of absurdity. In Tribute, we get to know the people who play in these bands, and for many, performing as a member of a famous group in front of an enthusiastic audience is the thing that makes them happiest. A frequent attendee of the gigs put on by Queen tribute act, Sheer Heart Attack, is profiled. His dedication is unwavering because he gets to experience a Queen live show, despite the fact that the Queen he loves no longer exists, and gets to see the band in an up close, personal setting.
Sheer Heart Attack
Tributary – A Study of an American Pop Culture Subculture is the work of Russell Forster. The director first made waves with his 1995 documentary about obsessive collectors of 8-track tapes, So Wrong They’re Right. Tributary was his follow-up film. Forster aims for a scholarly approach here, dividing the bands into categories based on what he believes their motivations are. There are way more groups in Tributary—including the high concept and fabulous Ace’s High, a KISS tribute band whose members all dressed up like Ace Frehley—so you get more bang for your buck. At least you get more Aces…
Brothers E
Brothers E (two ‘70s era Elvis Presley impersonators) in ‘Tributary.’

It doesn’t look like Tribute has ever been released on home video, but Tributary came out in DVD. It’s now out of print, but you might be able to score a copy on Amazon.

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