Breaking Into the Cover Band Circuit

For a band that has just started, scoring a gig for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics is a formidable achievement. But when the details come in to question, it seems the chance for The Phonix to win musical gold could turn into wishful thinking.

With rumors floating around the Fir building's Jazz program, The Courier had to find out if it was really true; were The Phonix going to be sandwiched between Nelly Furtado and Hedley for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies?

“I wish there was more to tell.” According to the bandleader, Reuben Avery, “Everything for the Olympics seems to be very last minute. I guess this is no different.” Avery was contacted by Rob Steel of Steel productions; “when he was talking to me originally it was at the Plaza of Nations, but I couldn’t find anything about it online.”

Without much more to go on than faith, the members of The Phonix are hopeful that the call to play in the big leagues comes through, but it's hard out here for a pimp.

Avery started The Phonix, a 10 piece funk band, in June 2009 to essentially be a “cover” band that could play casinos and  corporate gigs, with hopes that eventually they could begin writing original music. “It’s kind of a learning experience I’ve put onto myself. I was transcribing all the material, I had no idea how a funk chart worked. I was very ill-versed in even just pop music before all this.”

It hasn't been easy for the members of this funk juggernaut. The very thing that makes them stand out in a crowd—having a 5 piece horn section that plays nearly a dozen Tower of Power songs—also prevents them from getting many gigs. “A 10 piece band isn’t viable in a lot of cases, financially or just in terms of the space we need.” Their last gig at the Railway Club was evidence of that; the band barely managed  to fit on stage.

The world of corporate cover bands is a tough nut to crack. Although the gigs are pro and the pay is good, a new band must first pay their dues. Often this means playing for free, or next to it. As counterintuitive as that may seem to someone who wants to be a professional musician, the fact is music agents want to see a band perform before they will even think about hiring them. This means playing the “showcase”, a free performance that is supposed to be “great exposure.” But, as Avery says, “people die from exposure.”

Although The Phonix doesn't have any trouble getting people up and dancing, they  haven't yet been able to get the casino agents out to see a show, which would hopefully lead to a sweet casino gig. As far as agents go, Avery says “some respond, some don’t. it’s hard to get people on the phone.”

They have managed to obtain a weekly gig at El Barrio, a Hastings street restaurant that is beginning to feature live music regularly. They see it as “a glorified rehearsal space, with an audience and a little bit of pressure, but not much.” It does offer a  chance to hone their live sound without going out of pocket.

With graduation in sight, Avery and his band mates are trying to secure a musical future.  If you want to cheer them on in their quest for gold, drop in to El Barrio, 2270 East Hastings St., January 17, 23, 31, and February 7. Be prepared to bust a funky dance move.Don't forget your dancing shoes

//Mike Kennedy

Arts Editor

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