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Attitude, fashion and nostalgia: behind the art of the tribute band

24K Magic performs in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Wednesday.
24K Magic singer Evan Saucedo and bassist Tommy Gruber jump step as they perform in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Flashy costumes, chart-topping hits and an attitude that demands attention all contribute to the success of a tribute band.

Through the ages, music has resonated with the masses, captivating audiences and inspiring musicians, and thus there is a market for those who can replicate the sights and sounds of our favorite artists.

The Hangar in Costa Mesa has booked 23 bands at the venue during the course of the Orange County Fair, which runs through Aug. 15. All but one of the scheduled acts is a tribute band.

Music lovers are descending upon the Orange County fairgrounds to catch a piece of the action. Terry Moore, director of communications for the Orange County Fair, said 10 of the concerts slated to take place in the Hangar had sold out as of Friday afternoon.

A backdrop is projected of the Golden Gate Bridge as Journey tribute band DSB, (Don't Stop Believin') play "Lights."
A backdrop is projected of the Golden Gate Bridge as Journey tribute band DSB, (Don’t Stop Believin’) play hit song “Lights” during a performance in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

What is behind the art of the tribute band? Is there a secret ingredient that allows them to connect with an audience in a way that makes people get off the couch and see a live performance?

The answer, in large part, is nostalgia.

Don’t Stop Believin’, a Journey tribute band also known as DSB, came through the Hangar on Thursday night, attempting to tap into those feelings not only with music, but also via an oral history of the songs they were about to play. They provided information such as the album or year in which the songs came out.

There were also various visual effects, including Armed Forces imagery during the song “Faithfully.”

Lead vocalist Juan Del Castillo and guitarist Miles Schon of Journey tribute band DSB play to a sold-out show in the Hangar.
Lead vocalist Juan Del Castillo and guitarist Miles Schon of Journey tribute band DSB play to a sold-out show in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The nostalgia comes in so many different ways,” Juan Del Castillo, the lead singer for Don’t Stop Believin’ said. “You can walk somewhere and smell something, and it takes you right back to that moment. We’re satisfying the audio version of that, where people hear the music, and they can remember where they were.”

Don’t Stop Believin’ has been touring for 12 years with minimal personnel changes. Danny Berglund (drummer), Tony Love (bass), Henry O’Neill (keys) and Miles Schon (guitar) are also in the group.

While some place great importance on looks, like an Elvis Presley impersonator — “Thank you. Thank you, very much” — others make reproducing the sound their greatest point of emphasis.

“There are some bands that do it, but there’s kind of a debate as to what makes you a tribute band if you’re not dressing like it,” Del Castillo said. “Ultimately, the music is what survives, and I feel like we do a great job of representing the recordings that are out there in a live setting.”

Tony Love, bassist for Journey tribute band DSB, performs to a sold-out show in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair.
Tony Love, bassist for Journey tribute band DSB, performs to a sold-out show in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Concertgoers at the 24K Magic show revealed what they were looking to get out of the experience in watching the Bruno Mars tribute band at work on Wednesday night.

“If they can connect with the audience 100% and make the audience have fun, get up out of their seats and dance, that’s huge,” Joshua Hernandez, 37, of Orange said. “Now, what made them good was, of course, style is one, and the fact that they were interacting, getting the crowd to liven up.”

A great deal of that was attitude for 24K Magic, with lead singer Evan Saucedo taking the stage in a ballcap, jewelry, sunglasses and a wig to complete the transformation for his starring role.

Audience engagement was a strong suit for Saucedo. He challenged the crowd to dance and sing along at times, and at others, he struck convincing poses. The band also performed choreographed routines.

24K Magic singer Evan Saucedo sings to a sold-out venue as Pedro Talarico, Julian Davis, and Tommy Gruber play behind him.
24K Magic singer Evan Saucedo sings to a sold-out venue as Pedro Talarico, Julian Davis, and Tommy Gruber, from left, play behind him in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“They want to see it’s not just a person who knows the songs,” Saucedo said. “They want to see that you can emulate that artist, and I think that’s the big difference. I’ve seen other tribute bands, and they sound great, but the step above is you’ve got to look great. You’ve got to act the part.”

Fellow band members Julian Davis (horns), Pedro Talarico (guitar), Tommy Gruber (bass) and Danny Alfaro (drummer) also sported gorilla masks while performing “The Lazy Song,” a nod to the original music video.

“That felt so accurate,” said Riverside 17-year-old Aaron McElmeel, who was doing backflips behind the seating area throughout the night.

The Hangar can house a crowd of more than 1,700 people (including standing room), but those watching the show spilled several rows back from the mouth of the venue to a nearby ice cream stand.

Evan Saucedo, singer with 24K Magic, performs in the Hangar at the O.C. Fair and Events Center on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

With an arsenal of hits at their disposal, 24K Magic had an all-night dance party going, with the fans feeding off the energy of the band.

Having been formed in 2019, the 24K Magic band members have had a shorter time together, but they stuck with each other and recaptured their own chemistry after a break brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We couldn’t get with each other, we couldn’t practice, we couldn’t do anything,” said Davis, who served as the band’s rapper in addition to his duties as a trumpet player. “It’s so refreshing and really just glorious to come back together and honestly see that we didn’t really miss a beat.”

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