Queen, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix: What if I said you could see all these artists, live and in Tucson this month? You'd probably say, "Well, that's impossible," and you'd be correct. But what if I said you could see some of your favorite local bands covering great musicians like these and many more? You'd probably say, "Sign me the hell up."
The Great Cover Up is an annual event where dozens of local Tucson bands join forces to—you guessed it—cover some of the biggest names in music. For more than 15 years, it's been a Tucson music staple, but has been on hiatus since 2014. Now, The Great Cover Up is emerging from hibernation and ready for action.
"We were concerned people might not be too into it after a few years away," said Stephen Seigel, former Tucson Weekly music editor and co-founder of the Tucson version of The Great Cover Up. "But we had such a great reception to bringing it back that we've expanded it from two nights to three."
In their allotted 20-minute slots this year, local bands will cover music from: The Kinks, Boston, Metallica, Tom Waits, Prince, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails, Marvin Gaye, Queens of the Stone Age and, yes, even greater figures in the rock and roll pantheon: Justin Bieber and Britney Spears.
"I always like it when bands go outside their comfort zone," Seigel said. "You have to admire the effort that bands put into this. Sometimes there's even choreography onstage."
Seigel originally experienced The Great Cover Up at the University of Illinois, and had such a fun time with it that when he moved to Tucson, he helped start another version here. That was in 1998, and since then the event has grown from a single-night event to an entire weekend.
This year will be the 19th anniversary and, due to the hiatus, the 17th actual iteration.
In addition to being a rambunctiously entertaining way to bring the community together, The Great Cover Up has a long history of supporting local charities and non-profits. Past shows helped support organizations like the Community Food Bank and the Southern Arizona Artists and Musicians Healthcare Alliance. This year is no different; proceeds from the 2017 Great Cover Up will go to Planned Parenthood!
"There's always been a charitable aspect to the Cover Up, but this is the first time for Planned Parenthood," Seigel said. "That way in addition to it being a fun event with a good crowd, people can feel good about doing it."
Taylor Bungard, bassist and co-vocalist for the band Cloudless has attended multiple times both in the audience and on-stage, and will again this year.
"I go every chance I can get," Bungard said.
Bands performing in The Great Cover Up generally keep the information of their performances a secret, and Cloudless is no different. However, they would disclose that although they are a progressive/hard rock band, the artist they're covering is very different from their original style.
Bungard performed a few Cover Up sets with his band Tryst years ago, and covered the likes of Outkast, Black Eyed Peas and Erykah Badu.
"This year we aren't trying to cover a style too much, we're more of pulling the band we're covering's style into ours," Bungard said. "We have an amazing surprise prepared."
Ryan Trayte, designer for many of The Great Cover Up's past posters, as well as this year's poster, says every year the design theme is based around some interpretation of "covering up."
For anyone curious about this year's poster, awash with red hues and Soviet soldiers marching, it points toward classic Russian propaganda both as a nod toward censorship and how Russian bots are covertly infiltrating the social media of the day.
"We pick any theme that might make a nod toward the title," said Trayte, who runs Saywells Design. "A huge arm of infiltration can be seen through social media. It's had a massive impact with effects that can't even really be measured. The new Russian army is on Twitter."
As for event itself, Trayte has attended The Great Cover Up multiple times in the past and says he's astounded every time.
"It's an amazing event, some of the best music I've experienced live has been at The Great Cover Up," Trayte says. "It's a chance for local bands to do something cool, and even better is that you don't have to be a fan of their style to enjoy it."
One of his favorite memories of The Great Cover Up was when Calexico did a cover of the Flaming Lips, complete with costumes, set decorations and a balloon drop at the finale.
"I'm so excited it's back," Bungard said. "We have some serious talent in Tucson."
The Great Cover Up Schedule
We’re not going to tell which local musicians are covering which national acts—the element of surprise is part of the fun!—but we are going to tell which bands are playing which night and which national acts will be covered on those nights. Here’s your cheat sheet:
Performing Thursday, Dec. 14: Nick Prevenas, Leigh Lesho, Strange Vacation, Shrimp Chaperone, The Bennu, Katie Haverly, Infinite Souls, Chris Black, Cloudless, Dead Man Dom. Acts being covered: Queens of the Stone Age, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Justin Bieber, Led Zeppelin, The Pretenders, Tori Amos and the Mountain Goats.
Performing Friday, Dec. 15: Roman Barten-Sherman, The Monitors, Big Bad, Still Life Telescope, Diluvio, Louise Le Hir, Carlos Arzate, Big Mean, Santa Pachita, Miss Olivia and the Interlopers, Deschtuco and Distortionists. Acts being covered: Jane’s Addiction, The Doors, Elliot Smith, Moody Blues, Marvin Gaye, Third Eye Blind, The Kinks, Buddy Holly, Shakira, Loverboy, Ween, Neil Diamond.
Peforming Saturday, Dec. 16: Jeremy Michael Cashman, Belinda Esquer, Marianne Dissard, Proper Operator, Steff and the Articles, Drew Cooper, The Eulogy Project, Spacefish, Last Crime. Acts being covered: Harry Nilsson, Britney Spears, The Church, Paul Simon, Metallica, Talking Heads, Rod Stewart, Boston, No Doubt.