On a typical weekend in Southwest Michigan, you’re bound to see at least one 80’s cover band. About six bands frequent the area and they never fail to draw a crowd. Lansing-based band Starfarm will play Shakespeare's Pub in Kalamazoo Saturday night at 9:30 p.m.
Starfarm actually started out as a variety show—playing 70s, 80s, 90s, and top 40 hits.
“They just sort of watched what people were reacting the most toward and saw that the 80s stuff would always pack the dance floor," says the band's singer Whitney Spotts. "I think it was when they added in the track suits, the visual component—we do full costume—that was sort of when everything really firmed up in that direction.”
Each cover band seems to have its own personality. They play different kinds of songs, wear different costumes, and add their own touches to their shows. Mega 80’s out of Detroit prides itself on its ever-changing experience with music videos and props. Carey Denha is the singer for Mega 80’s. He says it’s no secret that people in their 40s and 50s love 80s music—it’s what they grew up with--but Denha says there’s more to the 80’s popularity.
“It’s a very happy time for a lot of different people. The music’s really upbeat," says Denha. "I think everything’s in a major key and that probably has a lot to do with it."
Spotts says 80s music is also easy to dance to. One thing many cover bands strive for is to play the songs just like the originals. Spotts says though 80s songs are fun, they can be challenging to reproduce.
“The pop songs, you know Cindy Lauper, there’s multiple syth tracks on that, multiple keyboard tracks," she says. "'Like A Prayer,' it’s got backing choir vocals. There’s a lot going on and we don’t cut corners. We really try—we have a rule—we try to replicate a song within 90 percent accuracy. And if we can’t do that then we’re probably not going to play it.”
Dana Mirate plays drums for Starfarm. He says just like any other musicians, members of a cover band are artists.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing cover music," he says. "I mean all the great great jazz musicians, almost all of the songs they play are covers. So I mean if you are a professional musician and you want to get paid, you typically got to bow down to your audience—what they want—or your employer."
The Spazmatics are a commercial 80s nerd band based in two cities. Andrew Blake is the singer for the one out of Chicago. They played a show in Kalamazoo almost every month last year. Blake says it’s great to be an 80’s band now, but the popularity won't last.
"The next thing that will be coming out is a bunch of 90’s bands doing Grunge and the dance songs of the 90’s," Black says. "It’s like anything else, it’s trends.”
When asked if he's worried he'll have to either hang up his sweatbands or change into a flannel shirt in a few years, Blake says the Spazmatics will be fine.
“I mean we’re not afraid of that because that’s what we do," he says. "We were a disco band before this, we still have a disco band. But the thing with the 80s is, it’s a strong decade and it’s a fun decade. And the music that came out of that era is timeless.”