I’ve been thinking a lot about cover bands. Cover bands are, of course, music groups that play other people’s music, maybe making some money (not much usually), but above all making people happy, at least momentarily (sometimes helped by alcohol). Having played in a cover rock band when I was much younger, I’ve often wondered why people like them so much. Usually, cover bands play the “covered songs” much worse than the original recordings, and isn’t it just cheaper to set up a speaker and play the originals? I think it has something to do with a liturgical sensibility that all humans share. At root, most of us like ceremony, especially when we know “what is coming” in a ceremony. We experience this each time we attend a graduation ceremony: we know what’s going to happen, and even what a guest speaker (sometimes famous) is going to say “This isn’t the end, this is the beginning!” (cheers and tears following; by the way, you could hire a lot less famous person to say the same thing). But, we want to hear that phrase. That is the way of liturgical sensibilities…
Catholic liturgy has always known this. We go to Mass as celebrant or faithful participant knowing, more or less, what should be coming, and we are happy when it does come. We want to hear “This is my Body!” just like Jesus told the Apostles, and instructed them to tell us; and we feel cheated if the liturgy we attend was unpredictable, too “original”. Sometimes I hear people complain that a Catholic liturgy was boring (usually, due to a ill-prepared homily, which, yes, should be a spark of original insight) but I more often hear complaints that a liturgical ceremony was “too original”, “too spontaneous”.
But back to cover bands, which really are quasi-liturgical (as are many things in life)… Copyright officials go after them because they make money on other people’s creations (again, not much), and “pure artists” (even those playing in a cover band) often despise them because they lack originality and spontaneity, but people generally love them because of our liturgical sensibilities; we want to hear and groove to the live versions of their favorite songs, done “just about right”. While not divine, it is often a kind of uplifting spiritual celebration and ceremony. Go see a cover band and find out, but bring ear plugs!
Recently I saw a cover band called Mike and Joe (a good non-original cover band name) that played at the 2022 Valparaiso, Indiana Popcorn Festival (yes, it’s true). They’re touted as “The Midwest’s most renowned cover band”. I love that, and did enjoy their show. Getting older, I didn’t know all their songs, but the ones I did were as predictable as my liturgical sense demanded them to be. Here’s their version of a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ classic hit: