Mockstars are the new rockstars.
By all accounts Get the Led Out didn't really get the led out until South African-born multi-instrumentalist Andrew Lipke joined the band in 2006. He did so by divine fluke.
Lipke found himself playing keyboard on the recording of angst-filled local artist Kate Gaffney's record a few years back. It was recorded in Fat City.
After a few days, it dawned on Sinclair, Wow, this Lipke kid has chops. "Every idea I threw his way, he hit out of the park."
Lipke has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in music composition from the University of the Arts and has been teaching piano and guitar lessons privately on the Main Line through the Meridee Winters School of Music since he was 19. He's a wunderkind.
Originally Lipke joined the group to fill in on keyboards for three shows. Sinclair and Hammond were so impressed with his performances, they asked him to join on full-time basis shortly after.
He accepted with the provision that his own budding solo career be allowed to remain his priority (Lipke just released his second album, Motherpearl and Dynamite, through Drexel's Mad Dragon Records). Now Sinclair and Hammond maintain they couldn't play a show without him.
"In this band he plays electric, acoustic, keyboard, banjo, he doubles my lead vocal, plays percussion ... " says Sinclair, searching his mind for something he might be forgetting.
"Jawharp," adds Hammond, jokingly.
Lipke doesn't like to use the term "tribute band" either. "It's been such a challenging and interesting musical exercise to be a part of," he says of Get the Led Out. "It's me practicing my craft at the highest levels."
In March of last year Spin magazine ran an article titled "Who Earns What," which listed the salaries of various music industry employees.
As a kid seeking a job in the big ol' coke-fueled orgy called the music biz you could a) own your own indie label for a modest $40,000 a year b) start an indie band for a more princely sum of $45,000 or c) sing in a Led Zeppelin tribute band for a whopping $150,000.
Make no mistake; bands that make it to the top tier of the tribute cake are richly rewarded. The tribute business is big business.
In its upper echelon you'll find Dark Star Orchestra, an act specializing in recreating specific concerts from the Grateful Dead, meticulously logging each show so as to never repeat one in any given city.
"These guys had a publicist, a crew, a tour manager, they sold their own Dark Star Orchestra merchandise. For all intents and purposes they are a real band," says Kurutz, who attended a DSO show for Like a Rolling Stone. "Only they're playing someone else's music."
Kurutz reports that DSO (who made national news last year when Jersey City Councilman Steven Lipski drunkenly emptied his bladder on several of their fans at a D.C. show) can earn upward of a million dollars in a given year. Badfish, a tribute to Sublime, earn as much as $1.4 million in a year.
Dark Star Orchestra is represented by SRO Artists Inc., a full service-booking agency based in Middleton, Wis. SRO signed Get the Led Out to their roster last January. Big things are already beginning to happen. The group plays the Nokia Theater in Times Square in March and are prepping for their first gig at the venerable Electric Factory here in Philly this week.
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