Yes! The answer is an emphatic "YES!" This past weekend, J-Fell Presents and the overwhelming talent that Jason Fellman has assembled put on an epic performance. This year, Harefest V must be considered the premiere concert event of the year; not just locally, but nationwide.
Where else could you see 13 bands ranging from Heart to Metallica over a two day period, and pay less than $150 for not one, but two people to attend? That was the case as over 3000 people per day converged on Pat's Acres in Canby, Oregon (the new venue replacing the back lot of the Wild Hare Saloon due to such a large crowd) to be rocked long and hard.
Okay, so the "real" bands were not in attendance, but if you have checked the lineups in most of the bands that I am about to talk about (in their Tribute form), you will see that they often lack all of their original members. Additionally, Tribute bands really do try harder. As a long time attendee of the concert scene starting back in the 70s, I have seen some VERY disappointing and lackluster performances from the actual bands. What makes the Tribute scene so amazing is that these people truly love what they do, and they are genuinely appreciative of the people who come to see them play. Ask yourself this, how many times have you sipped a beverage and talked about what you just saw with the members of Van Halen?
Oh, I imagine you could purchase some special package ticket deal and the band would zip past you in some reception room. But at pretty much every show that I have attended in the Tribute scene, I have had the pleasure of meeting many of the band members and actually having normal conversations.
But, back to the show. Day one kicked off with the Unchained boys coming on strong with perhaps the best Van Halen Tribute look, sound, and feel (basically all the good stuff from the 80s Van Halen heyday minus DLR forgetting the words or stumbling around in a drunken stupor). Brad "Shreddy Van Halen" Halleck wins the "Best Smile" award as he becomes the guitar legend from my youth. The entire band put on an excellent show and got the crowd primed for what was to be a night of the "hard stuff". The easiest way to describe an Unchained show is a party for your ears that leaves you feeling good, but wanting just a bit more.
Lovedrive wins the "Lazarus Award". This it a Scorpions Tribute band that vanished from the scene for a few years, but has come back stronger than ever and are not afraid to pull out the deep tracks that will have you rushing home after and pulling out your old Scorps collection and skipping all the hits just to hear those amazing non-radio songs that the band pumped out. Additionally, when they take the stage, you are almost positive that Klaus Meine is up there belting out the tunes. Vocally, this is a band that is an example of perfection. Toss in the fact that they absolutely shred their set with an obvious love of their material, and Lovedrive is a band to add to your "Must See" list. From start to finish, they had the crowd in a frenzy.
Crazy Train followed with Tim Tugg allowing the spirit of Ozzy to take over his body for an hour. This is a band with perhaps the most amazing bass player on the Tribute scene in Rickey Lepinski. They took the stage as darkness fell, and it was fitting as their sound seeped into the night and drew the crowd closer to the stage. The spot on sound of these guys was a treat as always with Dan Bates putting forth some of the slickest guitar work that two hands can manage. Simply put, these guys are a highlight reel from start to finish.
If you ask the members of many of the other Tribute bands, they will tell you that Appetite for Deception is the best there is on the scene. They have the look and feel of the classic G-n-R band that took the music world by storm back in the 80s. For me, Guns-and-Roses is one of those bands that I have an "I remember where I was" when I first heard them. I was not disappointed. A-f-D took me back to some great memories with their set. If I had to make any critique, it would be the choice of their closing number. The song was spot on, but just seemed like an odd way to end. However, in keeping with the G-n-R attitude, I would not be surprised if that is by design. This band has the walk-off down perfect as the song ends and they just leave. Naturally...the audience wants more.
That would bring us to Motorbreath. These guys bring on some serious Metallica chops with a drummer in Joe Spencer that should get together with Lepinski and see which one runs out of energy first. Seriously, the drum-and-bass engine of this motor is 8 cylinders of serious metal with Mark Trees as the massive bass monster from Hell. With Kevin Staley as the growling front man and Bob Capka on guitar, the audience was given something stronger than any coffee to keep them awake into the wee hours of the morning. Nobody can say that they did not get more than their money's worth after day one...but that is the thing; it was ONLY DAY ONE!
Day two was a scorcher and the sun had many fans seeking a number of ways to cool off. Any area that provided shade was elbow-to-elbow as all but the most stalwart rock fans braved the heat when day two opened with Jukebox Heroes.
With this being my first time seeing this Foreigner Tribute band, I was not only impressed with the vocals, but for me, the highlight was the killer saxophone player! I could rave about how they took on all the hits with ease and sounded great (I was hoping for Star Rider, but maybe finding a flute player as good as their sax man was too tall of an order. Note to Band: The lead singer from Barracuda plays flute. Just making a request.)
The sounds of Foreigner was an excellent way to get the day rolling. And this band does not disappoint. As with the other bands, these guys came out to the crowd after their fantastic set and posed for pictures as well as mingling. What made that even more impressive was the fact that front man Rich Ray would be returning to the stage with Zeppelin Tribute, Ramble On in just over an hour.
Keeping the mellow vibe, while still kicking it up a notch , the award winning Tribute band, Petty Fever gave the heat something to compete with. This would make two bands in a row that I would be seeing for the first time. Kudos to Jason Fellman for having such an eye for talent. Frank Murray is not only a visual ringer for 70s, 80s, and 90s rock icon Tom Petty, but his vocals were crystal.
The shadows were growing longer, but it was still scorching on stage with Ramble On taking the crowd back to the days when Led Zeppelin cranked from every 8-Track player up and down the strip. This is one of those bands that can be tricky. There is a musicality to Zeppelin that hides under the crunch. Ramble On obviously understands this fact.
The Heart Tribute band, Barracuda, is another band that makes you feel as if you stepped into a time machine. This band was also one of the most difficult when it came to choosing a picture to share. They hold the distinction of being the only female act at Harefest V. (Jason, I beg you, scour the globe for a Joan Jett act!) These ladies are just so amazing. Vocally, Donna Caruk is so damn good that you will fall in love with Heart all over again. They put on a spectacular show and were the perfect bridge from day to evening.
With the sun down, it was time for Steelhorse, the Bon Jovi Tribute band. This is a group that has become my "dirty little secret". Honestly, back in their prime, I was not a Bon Jovi fan. Probably because Jon Bon Jovi is so damn pretty. Mark Thomas could be JBJ's twin. Not only that, but I think he has magic powers, because he converted me into a fan last year at Harefest IV when I saw him for the first time. It was more of the same this year as the band cast their web over the crowd and owned the stage. This is a Tribute band at its best. I say that because these guys have that look and feel. They exude "Rock Star" the entire time they are on stage.
What can be said about Journey Tribute band Stone in Love that has not been said? They are superb, and that rests on the shoulders of the super-talented Kevin Hahn, but is amplified by the deceptive harmonies that take place vocally underneath Hahn's Perry-esque range. This band came out with what could very well be the show closing performance despite there being two bands remaining. Hit after hit came and the band took full advantage of a light show that made the entire venue glow with pinks and purples. The best way to describe their set? WOW!
The penultimate band of the night was relative newcomer, Grand Royale. This Beastie Boys Tribute band was actually the act I was most excited to see. Having caught them at another venue a couple of months ago, I felt like my appetite had barely begun to be satisfied. I was in luck at Harefest V with a set from three bad boys you know so well. They absolutely did not disappoint. If I did not mention their band, The White Castle Crew, I would be remiss. I still do not know the name of the bass player, but he brings some serious funk to the set. When they said goodnight, it left one more band...
Shoot to Thrill would put the exclamation point on two days' worth of some amazing music. This is AC/DC with the volume turned up to 12. The look is there, and if you ever witnessed Angus and his trademark leg-and-head bounce as he strutted and hopped around the stage, then you can appreciate the work that Shoot to Thrill puts in to reproduce the experience.
When it was over, I did not hear one person complain. Perhaps that was due to my hearing not being as sharp as it had been 48 hours prior...or maybe J-Fell Presents and the Wild Hare Saloon actually managed to come together and create the ultimate outdoor music festival. Yeah...I am betting it was the latter. This event offered the biggest bang for your buck and sent a total of around 6,000 people out those gates over two nights combined with some memories that will last forever. Along the way, a lot of people are now able to say, "Hey! This weekend I met the (singer, guitarist, drummer, etc.) of this band that YOU have to see next time they play."