Satisfied? A Look into the Cottage Industry of the Tribute Band

click to enlarge "Mick? You look so young." - Courtesy
"Mick? You look so young."

To be a rock star has become one of the most enviable positions in the pantheon of modern occupations: to be seen or beheld, rather, as a hedonistic troubadour, stopping in town for one night only to communally achieve satisfaction via rock 'n' roll and starry-eyed fantasy. So much so that the term has been reassigned and recast and now functions not as a literal designation of occupation, but a figurative state of being exceptional at one's real job or function.

It's serendipitous that Keith Richards was recently quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, "Nine-to-fivers would all like the freedom I have. They have given me license," that the drudgery of our menial existence gives him license to be as brash, brazen and shameless as we all would be, if were we in his snakeskin boots. And he's not altogether wrong.

We are frequently encouraged to "party like a rock star." It's become a clichéd phrase in pop culture, an attempt to democratize the balls-to-the-wall lifestyle that we are led to assume all rock stars lead, and to partake in a bit of it ourselves. With the arrival of the leading Rolling Stones tribute band (a very important distinction from "cover band") Satisfaction, I sought out one of San Antonio's premiere tribute artists to help illuminate the intricacies, role-switching and identifying that goes along with pretending to be someone you aren't.

Vic Vaga has been performing as Rod Stewart for over a decade. "It started as a Halloween joke, man. I got tired of being called Rod Stewart when I was in college. I started doing it every Halloween and winning contests and, eventually, I got spotted by an agent. Then I went to a lookalike convention in the mid-2000s and I just saw the potential for that business and I said, 'Why not?'"

Vaga was even a fixture in a Las Vegas Strip production — where the real money is for tribute performers. "I've done shows in Mexico City, Canada, all over the United States. I guess the pinnacle of my involvement has been my success in Vegas ... It's a million-dollar market. The people that are elder, who grew up with this kind of stuff, relish the memories that a good tribute artist can bring. If the person out there is really good and knows what they're doing, they can take people back quite a ways."

With respect to Vic's privacy, I can say that just for him to show up at your party, by himself, you are looking to shell out over a grand, and for his full band and the full Rod experience, you're looking at five figures. This is what Vic does. He travels the world, not "impersonating" Rod Stewart — he doesn't fake the accent or sign autographs as Stewart — but as Vic Vaga: Rod Stewart tribute artist, and fans pay serious money to just touch the idea of the hem of Rod's garment. "This business is the business of manipulation and manipulating all the senses ... what they hear and what they see, if you can do both, you're in business."

It would appear that it's the access, whether real or imagined, that folks get off on. Sort of like when you think there may be a celebrity in the room and you get all awkward, muster all your courage and give them a good once-over, only to discover it's just another Average Joe, but then you still tell your friends you ran into David Hasselhoff at Dunkin' Donuts. Right?

On the flipside, often not making much more than gas and taco money is a San Antonio/Austin punk "face," Jeff Smith. Mostly known as the singer and rabble rouser for local I-35 legends The Hickoids, about "six shows in the course of ten years," and three times in this, "banner year for the band," Smith has manned the stern of Cock in My Pocket, a Stooges cover band. "I don't even really look at what we do as a tribute, I kinda just consider us a Stooges cover band. To me a 'tribute band' kind of implies a more or less impersonation ... Y'know I've got people handing me peanut butter and stuff, wanting me to do some re-enactment ... I would rather just keep the music credible and have fun with it that way."

With the growing number of cover and tribute bands (San Antonio itself lays claim to Tool, Pantera, System of a Down, KISS, The Smiths and Morrissey, The Cure and Disturbed, to name just a few off the top of my head) it leads one to ponder: as the profile of imitators, tribute artists and cover bands reaches greater prominence will the hierarchy of fame and celebrity further fracture, creating cottage industries for folks that want to taste just a morsel of the success enjoyed by the real rock stars? And maybe more interestingly, if this is the case, who are the real rock stars?

Satisfaction: The International Rolling Stones Show

$10-$50, 7pm Thu, Dec. 3, Sam's Burger Joint, 330 E. Grayson St., (210) 223-2830,


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