Ken Lelen

Ken Lelen
Ken Lelen sings great American ragtime, jazz & swing and performs on vintage acoustic guitars for an authentic, back-in-the day sound.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2016  Concert  Schedule

Date         Community   or   Venue   —   Location             Concert Theme
Jan   19     Lincoln Cultural Assn, Philadelphia PA        When Love Was Nifty
Feb   11     Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                     Legendary Love Songs
Feb   11     Pine Run, Doylestown PA                            Torch Song Embers
Mar   26     Maplewood, West Yarmouth MA                  Radio Ramblers
Mar   27     Residence @ Otter Creek, Middlebury VT   Broadway Mementos
Apr     7     Lions Gate, Voorhees NJ                             Sunny Side of Street
Apr   20      Greenwood Mens Club, Worcester MA        Sunny Side of Street
Apr   28      Shannondell—Ashcroft, Audubon PA          Broadway Mementos
May    3      The Oaks, Orangeburg SC                          Legendary Love Songs
May    5      Springmoor, Raleigh NC                            Radio Ramblers
May  22      Chandler Center for the Arts                    When Love Was Nifty
                     2 pm, 71-73 Main Street
                     Randolph VT 05060
                     802-728-9878   —
Jun   13      Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                     Big Band Idols
Jun   17      Lake Prince Woods, Suffolk VA                  She Did It Her Way
Jun   20      Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                           He Did It His Way
Jun   22      Bermuda Village, Advance NC                    He Did It His Way
Aug    7      Oak Crest Village, Parkville MD                   Radio Ramblers
Aug   18     Wilmington Memorial Library                    Big Band Idols
                     2:30 pm, 175 Middlesex Avenue
                     Wilmington MA 01887
                     978-658-2967   —
Aug   19      Havenwood Heritage Hgts, Concord NH    Sunny Side of Street
Sep   24      Mansfield Public Library                           He Did It His Way
                     2:00 pm, 255 Hope Street
                     Mansfield MA 02048
                     508-261-7380   —
Sep   25      Residence @ Otter Creek, Middlebury VT    Big Band Idols
Oct    12      Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                     Broadway Mementos
Oct    19      Heath Village, Hackettstown NJ                  She Did It Her Way
Oct    24      Shannondell—Bradford, Audubon PA         She Did It Her Way
Nov     1      The Arbors, Manchester CT                        Torch Song Embers
Nov   10      Springmoor, Raleigh NC                             Torch Song Embers
Nov   11      The Oaks, Orangeburg SC — Vet's Day       Radio Ramblers
Nov   14      Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                           Torch Song Embers

©  2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Venues Pay Tribute to Safe and Sound
Cover bands offer synchophantic echoes to Baby Boomers
                         © 2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Back in the day, while Brill Building Biggies were making money in doo wop and their West Coast counterparts were packaging folk songs for the penny-loafer tastes of teens, an artist’s rep called The Colonel was happy as a pearl in an oyster converting R& B into record, film and TV deals for his Tupelo protégé.

In time, crowds of copy cats pawed the same path to infamy and fortune. Hard rockers, disco doyennes, folk-rockers, even high lonesome crooners, all learned to exploit the American consumer, who cannot live without music for dancing, sexual swagger or romance.

Regretfully, little has changed in recent years.

Instead, bookers, promoters and musicians redeploy The Colonel’s skills to tout tribute concerts, dozens of which have landed at East Coast venues in the last two years. Given the market's size and appetite for generational torch songs, tribute events will likely grow in number over the next few years.

Culturally acceptable tributes
Recent conversations with musicians, bookers, venue operators and event sponsors indicate these new-fashioned Boomer events serve three functions:

  Replicate old music — by recreating the sound, aroma and emotional core of 50- and 60-year-old popular music;

  Honor old musicians — by cherishing the once visible but now dimmed legions of rockers, folk-song phenoms, singer-songwriters, three-chord cowboys and British invaders;

  Enrich sponsors — by offering themed concerts to enthrall old people, a legendary and esteemed enterprise.

Like their parents in the Greatest Generation, who swooned to Big Band sounds at senior centers for the last 25 years, Woodstock-era doyens want to bathe in musical nostalgia. Indeed, research indicates tribute concerts will help newly minted oldsters get misty-eyed in three ways:

  Cultural acceptance — as Boomers revel in and recompense the eerie talents of ABBA, Dylan, Bowie, Elvis and Beatles impersonators;

  Palpable glow — as Boomers reacquaint themselves with the memorable hits and catch phrases of Beach Boys, Queen, Neil Diamond and Paul Simon songs that lately have been interpolated in TV ads pitched at Millennials;

  Re-experience "cool" — as Boomers once again mouth the clichés of their favorite anti-war anthems.

Far-out. Bad-to-the-bone Boomers are now sufficiently ripened for what Time-Life Records and mainstream media call “the soundtrack of their lives.”

Tributes match Boomer demographics
“For people 55 and up, which matches our demographic, it’s their music,” said Roger Dubord, director of Stone Church Coffeehouse in Bristol RI.

Twice in the last 18 months, the 90-seat club has hosted sold-out tribute shows. The latest, in September 2015, was performed by Gathering Time, a plugged-in cover band that mimics Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers.

Long Island-based folk-rock
tribute trio Gathering Time
The Long Island threesome "harmonizes very well and tries to be as authentic as they can in their renditions” of groups they echo, said Dubord.

Why an emphasis on fidelity to performer tone or music materials that are 50 and 60 years on? "Audiences like the memories and just want to relive their youth," the presenter said.

When tribute performers don't replicate the sound and feel of the original act, fans notice. Presenters said most performers in tribute events are skilled musicians in their 40s and 50s. "They know they're playing to audience tastes," Dubord said.

Clever titles capture vintage essence
Tribute performers who sing the same songs, play the same electric guitars and plug in the same audio equipment often dress the part in an effort to recreate a period milieu. Likewise, venues and producers employ cloying titles to remind people of a singer or group’s vintage essence and attract a paying audience.

Since 2014, the obsequious titles on tribute events and revered vintage rock, soul, country and folk artists they covered have included:

•   Gimme Abbey                          Beatles & Rolling Stones
   Old Friends                              Simon & Garfunkel
   ShBoom                                  Rock ‘n’ Roll Roots
   In The Wind                            Peter Paul & Mary
   Mersey Beat                            British Invasion
   Carnaby Street                        British Invasion
   Heart Like A Wheel                  Linda Ronstadt
   Landslide                                Fleetwood Mac
   Tusk                                       Fleetwood Mac
   Satisfaction                             Rolling Stones
   Splintered Sunlight                  Grateful Dead
   Real Diamond                         Neil Diamond
   Ride This Train                        Johnny Cash
   Boy in Black                            Johnny Cash
   Rave On!                                Buddy Holly
   Wham Bam Band                    David Bowie
   In My Life                              John Lennon
   Lights Out                              Frankie Valli
   Still Surfin’                             Beach Boys
   One Fine Tapestry                   Carole King
   Sweet Dreams                        Patsy Cline
   Bottle of Bread                       Bob Dylan
   Petty Rumors                         Tom Petty
   Second That Emotion              Motown
   Desert Highway                      Eagles
   Seven Bridges Road                Eagles
   Almost Queen                         Queen

Toni Lynn Davis, president of Green Hill Senior Living, and hairy friends Beatlemania Again — at a June, 2015 tribute concert held to draw prospective residents and build good will for the assisted living and skilled nursing facility in West Orange NJ.

Affordable access to vintage rock
Tribute concerts make the music of mid-20th Century America available and affordable to senior concert-goers. Ordinarily, former hippies would gag on a $150 ticket to see Sir Mick, Sir Paul or Sir Elton play in a big-city arena. But they will fork over $15 to $45 to experience classic rock or vintage country performed by the latest faux Fleetwood or pseudo Petty at a local theater, civic center or outdoor festival, East Coast bookers said.

In the last two years tribute events have been sponsored by or occurred at a large assortment of venues, including:

 •   retirement, assisted living & rehab facilities
    civic centers, social clubs & YMCAs
    regional theaters & movie houses
    cultural arts & music centers
    community & senior centers
    bars, brew pubs & wineries
    casinos, hotels & museums
    folk clubs & coffee houses
    summer music festivals
    public libraries
    public gardens
    rock venues

     Venue operators, bookers and musicians said demand for tribute events is rising as rock icons fade into the twilight. Some pop acts have stopped touring. Some no longer try to land gigs. Some are no longer with us.

Carole King, Brill Building royalty since 1960, tours, no longer writes songs. “I don’t feel that there’s a calling for me to do that now,” she told the New York Times in April, 2014. “I feel like I’ve said everything I need to say.”

Some rockers died too young, too soon: Jimi Hendrix in 1970, Janis Joplin in 1970, Jim Morrison in 1971, John Lennon in 1980, Kurt Cobain in 1994.

Some rockers passed away only last month: David Bowie at 69, Glen Frey at 67, Paul Kanter at 74, Maurice White at 74.

Ironically, some older rock stars, blues artists, soul singers and doo wop groups are still touring. A few had to reboot their shows to suit contemporary tastes, while others had to hire new people for key singing parts.

Vintage singers and reconstituted combos still on the road include: Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, Monkees, Gladys Knight, O’Jays, Justin Hayward, Edgar Winter, Santana, Eric Burdon, Tony Funches of the original Platters, Bob Dylan, Commodores, Animals, and Jacksons.

Entertainment value of vintage rock
Luckily, venues can find musicians and music production firms to ape the look and sound of one-hit wonders, rock-stars and folk-rockers for less money than current, top-tier pop stars.

“People want to hear a tribute band at an affordable price and want the music live,” said Meryl Budnick, head of cultural arts for Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, which runs the 408-seat Rosen Performing Arts Center in Wayne NJ.

Folk-singers & songwriters, Rex Fowler & Neal Schulman
have performed as Aztec Two-Step since the early 1970s.
Last May Rosen Pac asked the plugged-in duo Aztec Two-Steo for a Simon & Garfunkel tribute. The two-hour show drew 125 people, most of them 55 years and older, who paid $25 each, Budnick said.

“We hired them to do Simon & Garfunkel because their sound is widely recognizable,” she said. “They did Simon & Garfunkel in their style and played their own songs. They were fabulous, even if we didn’t cover the cost of the band.”

The entertainment value of tribute concerts can be leveraged for charitable fundraising as well, said Jane Millner, who manages community relations and development for St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center in Lawrence NJ. The 166-unit long-term care and rehab facility has used tribute events for 14 years to raise money for patient and resident care.

Last October St. Lawrence Rehab hosted a benefit concert at the 1,800-seat Trenton War Memorial with Beatles tribute group Classical Mystery Tour and the Philly Pops orchestra. Ticket prices were $35 to $90 per person. “We did this instead of a dinner dance to raise money for charity care,” Millner said.

The previous year St. Lawrence Rehab hosted a Four Seasons tribute event. “This year it’s the Beatles,” she said.

Neither Millner nor St. Lawrence's federal Form 990 tax returns for 501(c)3 nonprofits indicated how much money these events earn for the hospital. “We see tributes as something that is entertaining for the community,” she said.

Low-cost tribute concerts
Still, it’s not difficult to find groups to present low-cost tribute concerts, said Gerard Barros, who performs with his wife Diane at libraries, restaurants, chcurches and high school reunions. The Bloomfield NJ musicians pride themselves on playing live renditions of a tribute act’s songs and playing their instruments (keyboards, electric guitars, percussion) live.

Fees for their one-hour library concerts start at $350, Barros said. Fees rise for venues that run longer shows, impose cover charges, pay acts a percentage of the door, and when extra musicians are added to the bandstand.

Diane and Gerard Barros began performing
Carole King tribute concerts five years ago.
Tribute shows from the Barros include Carole King, Dusty Springfield, and the Country Cross-Overs (Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Crosby, Stills & Nash). They’ve also covered Italian-American and Jewish-American acts. Audiences are often in their 60s, Barros said, and know the words to all the songs.

The renown of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which has run more than 850 performances at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in New York since January 2014, has only heightened the allure of Carole King tribute shows by Gerard and Diane Barros.

“We hired them for a Carole King Tribute because, with ‘Beautiful’ on Broadway, it was timely,” said Toni Mathes, program and business manager at Ridgewood Public Library in Ridgewood NJ.

Held in June 2015, the concert was free to patrons and fit within the library’s program budget of $100 to $350, said Mathes. For the program, Diane Barros sang Carole King and period tunes, while Gerard Barros offered an instrumental back-up and brief narrative on music of the 1960s.

It drew “the same crowd we like attract — people 40 to 70 years old,” Mathes said. “They knew Carole King music.”

The Barros, who started Carole King tributes five years ago, said they’d perform them even if “Beautiful” wasn’t on Broadway. “We’ve been doing her music for a long time,” Gerard said, “and the tribute has had a life of its own.”

The musicians recently played a Carole King tribute at an assisted living facility. “It was not an especially good choice by the program person for elderly people,” Barros said.

Meanwhile, Worcester MA Senior Center usually pays $150 to $200 for music programs and performer fees, said program coordinator Suki Lapin. Last July, however, four local sponsors chipped in $850 to cover the performer fee on a concert by Donna Lee and Landslide. Their Fleetwood Mac tribute was offered free to the public.

Donna Lee of Ware MA surrounded by performers
of her Fleetwood Mac tribute band Landslide
“We’re trying to attract Baby Boomers to come to the Senior Center, so the money came from different sponsors who wanted to reach the same target audience,” said Lapin, who identified her four as a health care provider, assisted living and rehab facility, doctor’s express clinic and grocery chain’s flu clinic.

The tribute concert drew 100 people to the facility’s 200-seat theater. “They were fabulous,” Lapin said. "We were hoping for a line of people out the door as the event was free, but at the last minute, the City of Worcester decided it had to re-pave the road in front of our building.”

Tributes cover many genres
“Tribute bands are what's popular right now,” said musician Chuck Broadbent, whose Fabulous Greaseband, a seven-person rock 'n' roll review, has played at East Coast venues for 42 years.

“We started with 1950s doo wop (Bill Haley, girl groups, Dion) and added 1960s pop groups (Turtles, Monkees), then 1970s disco and 1980s classic rock (Bryan Adams), adding more stuff to keep people happy,” he said. “Today, since we play all different groups, we tribute genre, rather than specific groups.”

From the late 1970s through the 1990s, the Hamilton NJ group performed seven days a week at casinos, reunions, music festivals, even at an Inaugural Party for President George H.W. Bush, Broadbent recalled.

“Back in the day we had mailing lists and part-timers to market ourselves,” he said. “We self-booked, kept everything in-house, and made tons of money.”

Chuck Broadbent, far right, and the performers in
his long-time tribute band 
Fabulous Greaseband
It’s harder to get gigs and more expensive to produce them, said Broadbent, who markets the group to corporate parties, night clubs, fundraisers and private clubs. In addition to seven on-stage performers who travel to gigs by car, the Fabulous Greaseband has a two-man production crew that travels by truck. All shows are now night-time events, except car shows, and band fees are well below what they were in the 1970s, Broadbent acknowledged.

“Today, we do a website, Facebook and Twitter so people can find us,” he said, “and we have good word of mouth with party planners, who are easy to work with.”

Vintage rocker’s age and cost
Tribute concerts have grown popular due to the advancing age and high cost of tickets for brand-name, top-tier rockers, said Jo Horton, program coordinator for Burlington County Library System in Westhampton NJ.

“Most of the original singers’ vocal chords can no longer handle their own music,” she said. “You can easily spend $50 to $100 or more, typically $65 for a ticket at a New Jersey casino,” for a rock headliner. As a result, all Burlington County Library concerts, including tribute events, are free to the public.

It recently hosted a "salute to the American West" that honored music of John Denver, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and others at a Sundays on Stage event. A Glen Frey tribute has just been added to the library's Sunday schedule.

Sunday events are presented in a 250-seat auditorium at Burlington County’s main library, which hosts 20 to 25 free concerts a year. Performer fees run $200 to $1,000, Horton said, depending on group size and program.

Still, the Burlington Library reserves its big guns for summertime tributes. Held at a 750-seat amphitheater, each of the 21 free outdoor events planned for 2016 are expected to draw up to 2,500 people. The roster of tribute musicians is formidable.

“The audience loves it because they’ll get top-quality entertainment for free,” Horton said. “Rather than hire local tribute bands, we hire top bands from around the country, since the musicianship is top notch and rivals the originals.”

Depending on group size, program and production complexity, performer fees for the library’s outdoor concerts range from $1,800 to $10,000, according to Horton. “We’re a nonprofit, so this cost is borne by the county and library,” she said.


                    R E F E R E N C E S

•   Aztec Two-Step                               

•   Barros Music                                    

•   Burlington Country Library             

•   Donna Lee Entertainment               

•   Fabulous Greaseband                      

•   Gathering Time                               

•   Green Hill                                        

•   Ridgewood Library                          

•   Rosen Performing Arts Center        

•   St Lawrence Rehab Center              

•   Stone Church Coffeehouse              

•   Tribute Band Directory                    

•   Worcester Senior Center                 


© 2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved