Yet, when you find yourself within earshot of live music in our area, chances are you’re seldom hearing an original tune. In today’s live music market, it’s all about the covers.
“I watched the whole scene change over four decades from original music to – more and more – moving toward covers and tributes,” says music promoter Jim Ocean, who is contracted through the city of Concord to curate the wildly popular Music & Market series in Todos Santos Plaza.
“The civic sponsored series – especially in suburban areas – really lean more and more that way,” Ocean adds. “The Clayton series and others, that’s all they book … and even the Martinez scene is made up of cover bands – nearly all of them.”
The reality is that most people don’t seem to want to listen to and digest the work of an artist they don’t know, especially when the alternative is being entertained by a good performance of familiar material.
“It’s comfort food,” says Ocean. “People come to a thing like (Music & Market) where they can all kinda feel together around songs that they all know. So (audience members) don’t have to try really hard. You don’t have to focus too much. You kinda just sit there and talk with your friends. ‘Oh yeah, they’re playing this one …’ ”
“Most times audience members will sing along with a Johnny Cash song beginning to end,” shares John Paul Hodge, an outlaw country artist from Concord, “and then turn away for conversation the moment I begin to perform a song they don’t recognize, whether it’s an original or not.”
Hodge doesn’t fault the audience or take it personally, adding that he appreciates connecting with them however he can.
“Subconsciously, we find comfort in a familiar song and its memory connects us to a feeling we had ‘back then,’ so now we’re all emotionally connected to the performance. Even the performer, who must love it too, right?”
Tom Davis plays bass and manages much of the booking for both of his bands. The UnOriginals is a rock cover band, while Radiokeys offers mostly original rock music. He generally finds it easier to book gigs for the cover band, and those shows are generally more lucrative.
Ultimately, though, Davis finds playing original music more satisfying as an artist.
“When a crowd likes a song you wrote, there are few things better,” says Davis, who points out that performing crowd-pleasers can be gratifying, too. “It’s fulfilling as an entertainer. The audience tends to know the songs I’m playing when performing with the cover band, and it’s gratifying in a different way.”
Others are more openly opposed to our local music stages being dominated by covers.
“I love Tom Petty more than possibly any other songwriter ever, but I’d rather watch somebody play an original song about their cat than hear one more person ever play ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance,’ ” says Vince Lay, who hosts an Open Mic Night at Vinnie’s Bar & Grill at 9 p.m. Mondays.
While the stage is open to anyone who wants to perform whatever they’d like, Lay strongly encourages original tunes. It’s one of the few places where original music still feels welcomed.
Lay also hosted last year’s Singer-Songwriter Saturday series in Todos Santos Plaza, which featured exclusively original music. The live music showcase will be returning this spring, albeit on the first Sunday of the month, and will again feature multiple acts each day– all playing entirely original music.