Don’t call it a cover band cop-out.
Tribute bands, often doppelgänger presentations of endearing acts, keep plugging in successfully. Have a mug like Paul McCartney’s and you can shake your mop top and hit the same notes? Then you might just rack up admirable ticket sales and have audiences flicking their lighters for encores.
A weekend of several lauded rock tributes kicks off early Jan. 28. Zoso, a Led Zeppelin act that sounds just like that well-worn cassette in your old high school Camaro, rambles into town for its first three-night stand at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. The venue seats about 1,000.
“We have about 15 markets now where we’re doing two nights,” said Zoso lead vocalist Matt Jernigan, a former Los Angeles resident who’s been calling St. Simons Island home since 2003. “For the past two years, we’ve done two nights and sold them out. So it was (the venue’s) idea to add a third. This will be our first three-nighter.”
That’s better than some touring original hit makers. Zoso performs between 140 and 150 shows annually all over the globe, and expects more in 2016.
“It’s so expensive to see some of these older classic rock bands,” said Atlantan Mekenzie Jackson, who does her best Stevie Nicks in Rumours, a Fleetwood Mac tribute playing Jan. 30 at Smith’s Olde Bar. “People who can’t afford to see it still want to see the real thing. So we made it a point that we sound and look just like Fleetwood Mac.”
Jackson and her bandmates, a conglomeration of Atlanta musicians, launched Rumours in late April of last year, with the band’s debut show at the Star Bar in Little Five Points. Like the landslide Jackson sings about onstage, the band took off almost immediately.
Among its successes are playing the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, S.C., twice and scoring a sold-out show at the Georgia Theatre in Athens earlier this month.
Although Jackson, who also performs original music, never planned to Mac out for a living, she said she’s been studying Nicks since her tender years, a direct result of being raised by Fleetwood Mac fans. She recalls walking around the house at age 5 and singing like Nicks, her father befuddled by the resemblance.
“The coolest thing about it, hands down, is sharing the love you have for this band with other people who love it just as much as you do,” she said. “And it’s really cool to have people come up after shows and say, ‘I saw Fleetwood Mac in 1977, and you guys just nail it.’ … That’s awesome for us.”
Similar to the bands they portray, top-shelf tributes have long-lasting potential. Zoso has been serving up Zep sets for 20 years, with no plans of scaling the stairway to heaven anytime soon.
Unlike Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, who coincidentally is said to have been sighted in recent years on Sea Island, near St. Simons, Jernigan still reaches the vocal stratosphere. He credits physical conditioning, endurance, clean living and singing from the diaphragm as reasons for his staying power.
“I think it’s more of a physical thing that you can endure over a period of time,” he said. “Age will eventually catch up with you, no matter what. So far, I’ve been fortunate to evade that. As long as there’s an audience, we’ll keep at it.”
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