Bands, fans pay homage to faves (and raise money for some good causes, too)
Singer-songwriter Megan Johns has attended many past Great Cover Ups, the annual event in which local bands dress up as and cover their favorite acts.
This year, she will make her debut at the 22nd annual Great Cover Up, which opens Saturday at the Highdive in downtown Champaign. It's billed as a four-night extravaganza featuring more than 25 local bands paying tribute to some of their favorite acts.
"It's a fun idea: a theatrical, winter-Halloween masquerade for music lovers, a chance to be silly, entertain, pay homage to and study your favorites," said Johns, who performs Tuesday night. "As an audience member, I always look forward to seeing music I like played live in my hometown by people I know."
So do other people — musicians and non-musicians alike. Ward Gollings, who has organized the Great Cover Up the past two decades, said the event always draws good crowds, with the audiences becoming larger and larger the past five years.
"For one, it is always an incredibly fun night — times four!" he said via email. "The bands really get into it; the crowd really gets into it. The costumes come out, and there are wigs, cameo appearances, collaborations.
"I think the musicians dig it because they don't often have a chance to be crazy, flamboyant and over the top. Or pay extensive homage to other great artists they love and admire."
Of course, the Great Cover Ups have produced many memorable and weird moments. Too many to name, Gollings said, so he hit on just a few from last year's:
"Carnivale Debauche performing Lady Gaga was quite a spectacle. The Palace Flophouse totally blew me away with Bruce Springsteen. Midstress as The Specials was super fun. And Temple of Low Men as Alice in Chains was ridiculously spot on — as they always are!"
Gollings selects the performers, basing his choice on bands that performed in the previous year's Cover Up.
"Meaning that of 20-plus bands you typically have 12, 13 or 14 who are ready, willing and able to do it again the following year," he said. "Some bands break up, or graduate, or move or whatever. So that leaves about eight to 10 slots that I need to fill.
"Sometimes there is a new local band I really like a bunch, and I invite them into the fold. Other times a band will simply drop in my lap when someone approaches me on the street. The bands themselves each pick who they plan to cover, and they all tell me their choice so that no one does the same thing in the same year."
Gollings wouldn't release the acts to be covered this year, saying that information is "always a bit of a secret.
"That is part of the allure at the shows, too, guessing who a band is doing as they set their gear up on stage and get into costume and strike those first few notes," he said.
In past Cover Ups, musician Angie Heaton performed as Ozzy Osbourne, the Go-Gos, Fleetwood Mac, Joan Jett, Liz Phair and Dolly Parton. She's not on the schedule this year but plans to go.
"I can't wait to see Kayla Brown" on Sunday night, she said. "I've always loved the Cover Up, watching and performing. It's fun to get to cover your favorite bands for a great cause. I think it's great that this tradition has lasted so many years."
Dave Landis conceived of the idea, making the first Great Cover Up a benefit for the Muscular Dystrophy Association — his wife worked for the organization at the time.
Landis, who did all the graphic design work for The Didjits, kingpins of the local music scene at the time, invited them to be the headline act. Other bands that performed at the first Great Cover Up were Poster Children, Hot Glue Gun, 16 Tons, Ward and Honcho Overload.
"In the second year we added a seventh band, Hardvark, and it was again an overwhelming success," Gollings said. "After that, though, Dave moved to Milwaukee. So I basically took the torch and have been organizing it alone for the last 20 years."
After proceeds from the first nine Great Cover Ups went to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Gollings decided to spread the wealth to other local charities.
The recipients this year will be C-U At Home's One Winter Night; the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center; and the Prairie Rivers Network.
If you go
What: The 22nd annual Great Cover Up, a four-night extravaganza featuring more than 25 local bands, each masquerading as a "tribute" band to benefit local charities
When: Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Jan. 24; doors open at 8 each night
Where: Highdive, 51 E. Main St., C
Admission: $7 at the door (no advance tickets); three-night pass $15; four-night pass $20
The Keylocks, 8:25 to 8:45 p.m.
Jim Hewitt, 9 to 9:20 p.m.
Lonely Trailer, 9:35 to 9:55 p.m.
The Duke Of Uke, 10:10 to 10:30 p.m.
Acme Principle, 10:45 to 11:05 p.m.
Brother Embassy, 11:20 to 11:40 p.m.
Carnivale Debauche, 11:55 p.m. to 12:20 a.m.
Amy Mitchell Band, 12:35 to 1 a.m.
Beeson Brothers, 9 to 9:20 p.m.
Coco Butter Kids, 9:35 to 9:55 p.m.
Sugar Prophets, 10:10 to 10:30 p.m.
Scathe, 10:45 to 11:05 p.m.
Kayla Brown, 11:20 to 11:40 p.m.
Mike Ingram, 11:55 p.m. to 12:20 a.m.
Curb Service, 12:35 to 1 a.m.
Morgan Orion, 9 to 9:20 p.m.
Megan Johns (below), 9:35 to 9:55 p.m.
Electric Bitters, 10:10 to 10:30 p.m.
The Stars They Beckon, 10:45 to 11:05 p.m.
The Chemicals, 11:20 to 11:40 p.m.
Evil Tents, 11:55 p.m. to 12:20 a.m.
That's No Moon, 12:35 to 1 a.m.
Lady Pilots, 9 to 9:20 p.m.
Anna Karenina/Anna Karina, 9:35 to 9:55 p.m.
Isaac Arms, 10:10 to 10:30 p.m.
Sonny Stubble, 10:45 to 11:05 p.m.
Grandkids, 11:20 to 11:40 p.m.
Scurvine, 11:55 p.m. to 12:20 a.m.
The Dirty Feathers, 12:35 to 1 a.m.