Austin Tribute Bands Find Fame to the Tune of Their Favorite Songs
Four premier groups discuss their success, ardent fans and playing the music of their idols
By Darcie Duttweiler
After participating in a Talking Heads “hoot” night at Momo’s on West Sixth Street in 2010 with several different bands and musicians, it took almost a year for the official tribute band HeartByrne to formally take shape. Formed by Andy Harn, Evan Bozarth, Dustin Bozarth and Josh Pearson, the band went through several iterations before locking its current lineup, which also features Grego Loboz, Casey Byars, Erin Stein and Tricky Jones.
While the chemistry and friendship are very apparent during their performances, the love of Talking Heads and David Byrne is ultimately the touchpoint that holds the band together and comes through in their showmanship.
“Once we actually played the music and felt this sort of shared connection and joy from the people who came to these gigs, it was just a very infectious feeling,” Evan says.
With regular gigs at Antone’s Nightclub, Scoot Inn and 3Ten, including their last five New Year’s Eve parties, as well as the band’s annual SunByrne boat party, there are plenty of ways for even the most casual Byrne fan to catch the live version of their favorite songs, which are more numerous than one might think and span over several different decades and genres of music.
“I think they have such a wide range with so many years of so many different hit songs that it’s like in our subconscious as pop culture in America,” Pearson says.
The band is looking forward to finally celebrating its 10th anniversary properly with a huge party at the historic Paramount Theatre on April 2 with special cameos by Kevin Russell (ShinyRibs) and Walker Lukens that will benefit The Other Ones Foundation, a nonprofit that offers aid to people experiencing homelessness.
There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to the formation of DeadEye as well as HeartByrne. Started by Joseph Faulhaber, who also performed with the Bozarth Bros in his band the Trim at the Talking Heads “hoot” night in 2010, the two bands are longtime friends and have mostly played together in some iteration or another. But it was a fateful Stubb’s Bar-B-Q show of Chicago-based Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra with Shadd Scott that sent Faulhaber back down memory lane to his first Dead concert at the tender age of 17 and gave him the realization that no one was doing something similar in Austin.
So with simply a word-of-mouth approach, the two musicians played a packed show at the Whip In, where everyone had “a hell of a time.” That was enough to get DeadEye off the ground. Now, with permanent bandmates Trevor Nealon, Lee Braverman and Keither Perkins, the band frequently performs at Antone’s, Parish, The Far Out and the Belmont, and they throw a yearly bash for Jerry Garcia’s birthday – in addition to their weekly Dead Club rehearsals, where they are constantly exploring the thousands of Grateful Dead live tapes and developing their skills as purveyors of what they consider to be sacred music.
The Grateful Dead are known as being the ultimate jam band. According to Faulhaber, the band never played the two songs the same live, and his band strives to achieve that same mentality, by having shows flow organically and feeding off the crowd’s energy. They play the songs, but they never regurgitate them, and with a large catalog of around 250 songs, it’s very easy to go to multiple DeadEye shows and have very different experiences.
“The Grateful Dead was so focused on being a live band, and that’s a big part of their longevity. As artists they’re able to get on stage and express themselves in a different way every night, so playing the same songs as the Grateful Dead gives us room to be exploratory and take chances and try different ideas but still sound like Grateful Dead music,” Faulhaber explains.
No big tour is currently in the works for DeadEye, but the band plans to continue performing around Austin and be “there for the people the music is so important to.”
If you had ever gone to a Motown Night at The Highball or, more recently, at The Far Out Lounge, then you’ve seen the PDA Band’s predecessor, the Matchmaker Band play an energetic ’70s show. While that band is still successfully performing its catalog of retro soul and funk jams around town and at weddings, founder and guitarist Amos Traystman saw a need for a younger-focusing band to play newer songs for brides yearning to recapture the high-energy boy band bops of their middle school and high school days. Hence, PDA Band was born in 2016.
While originally starting out as exclusively a ’90s and ’00s boy band, PDA Band quickly evolved to include a roster of headlining vocalists who take turns crooning danceable tunes from Boyz II Men to Lizzo. Featuring Anthony Hubbard (aka He-Yoncé), Miggy Milla, Johnny Scott (aka Vegas) and Drew Davis (Traystman’s wife), the eight-piece band, which also includes Zack Morgan, Chris Mead and Josh Arredondo, prefers to be known as a “party band,” rather than a cover or tribute band.
And for a good reason … PDA Band is incredible at whipping up a crowd into an upbeat frenzy. The audience will vacillate between belting out all the words to “Gangsta’s Paradise” or do all the dance moves to “Bye, Bye, Bye,” along with the band during their high-energy performances at Icenhauer’s on Sundays, which also sometimes includes a full-blown traffic-stopping dance to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” from Hubbard.
“Because it’s a party band, it’s all about the interaction with the crowd, so it gets really wild and super fun,” Traystman says. “And then, with the boy band covers, they hit all of the boy band choreography, and the band morphs through the different personalities that we have on stage and how they pair up to their favorite stuff.”
At weddings, the band is unparalleled at getting everyone on the dance floor, from brides and grooms to even moms and dads, who tend to also get nostalgic about songs they were forced to listen to on repeat when their kids were teenagers.
“We watch both generations enjoy it equally when they’re on the dance floor, which is a really cool experience,” Traystman says.
Although Stephanie Bergara always loved to sing since childhood, the start of her professional singing career — and the creation of Bidi Bidi Banda — was born on a lark. Tasked with helping to promote Pachanga Festival in 2014 as part of her job for Giant Noise, Bergara needed a lively band to kick off the festival in style. Thinking she could essentially kill two birds with one stone, she realized she could easily perform the songs she loved to sing as a girl and even sang in the same range as one of her idols: the “Queen of Tejano music,” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.
“Next thing I know, I’m in full Selena costume at Empire Control Room, getting ready to play to a sold-out crowd. It just kind of started out bigger than life, bigger than I even could imagine. It was just supposed to be a one-time thing,” Bergara reminisces.
Throughout the last eight years, Bergara’s band has shifted dramatically, as well as their performances. Now with her full-time bandmates — Rocky Reyna, Luke Salas, Mike Aguilar, Coby Ramirez and Luis Sanchez — Bidi Bidi Banda no longer attempts to simply recreate Selena’s songs and style — Bergara got quickly tired of painting her bleached blonde hair black and painstakingly sewing rhinestones onto jumpsuits. Rather, the bandmates infuse their own personalities and creativity into their songs, and while Bergara sounds an awful lot like Selena, it’s very clear that it is Stephanie on stage.
“We want to capture the spirit without giving a carbon copy of what she did. I always say there would need to be three of me to do what she did with the dancing and the designing her own costumes,” Bergara says.
Much like the trailblazer Selena was, Bergara is also paving the way for future Latina singers. She was the first Latin female singer to headline Blues on the Green in front of 25,000 people, and in 2018 she was the first female-fronted band to win the Best Cover Band Austin Music Awards.
This fall Bergara is looking forward to the band’s first East Coast tour, as well as heading out West again. But it’s the moments when she meets her fans, especially after singing her favorite Selena song “No Queda Mas,” that she treasures the most.
“I talk to so many people who have Selena stories, and stuff like that is always going to be so special to me,” Bergara says. “I think a huge part of our audience comes to the shows to just feel those feelings again. Our shows will tell you that Selena is still as popular as ever.”