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3 nights, 32 bands, no spoilers: Return of the Great Cover-Up!

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3 nights, 32 bands, no spoilers: Return of the Great Cover-Up!

local music

  • Musician Paul Jenkins pays tribute to Bjork at the 2006 Great Cover-Up
  • Event co-organizer Mel Mason performing at 2006 The Great Cover-Up

Up until three years ago, almost any Tucson-based musical act of note pondered the same simple question every fall: Who are we going to "be" for the Cover-Up?

The celebrated annual benefit event started more than 20 years ago, when local music advocate and writer Stephen Seigel first encountered a similar event in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and translated it to the desert. 

The rules are pretty simple: submit your band lineup and your top three choices of acts to cover and event organizers will narrow down the pool of applicants to fill three nights of assumed identities, novel performances and fundraising. Proceeds from the Cover-Up are donated to a different charity or nonprofit each year.

The event has been on hiatus for three years, but now it's back and so are its dedicated cadre of volunteers, including super organizer Mel Mason, who took the time to talk with your friendly neighborhood music columnist about history and future of the Great Cover-Up.

Despite this columnist's somewhat pathetic begging, no spoilers were revealed! So it's up to you, dear readers, to find out who's covering whom at this year's event. For those not in the know, what is the backstory of the Great Cover Up? When and how and why did this all come about to begin with? And what has your role been in all of this? 

Mel Mason: "The Great Cover Up was an idea brought to Tucson after one of the event's original (and current) organizers, Stephen Seigel, witnessed the concept in action in Champaign-Urbana about 20 years ago. I am grateful for his vision, as the Great Cover Up has been one of the most beloved local music events for both bands and fans since its inception."

"After attending the Great Cover Up for a several years, I participated as a performer in 2007, and as an emcee in 2008 around the time I was volunteering as a deejay at KXCI. After experiencing the excitement of the event in those different capacities I was drawn to the idea of helping out behind the scenes. When I asked the organizers if they wanted a helping hand, I was welcomed with open arms. I am overjoyed by the whole concept of local bands covering famous acts (in whatever way suits them - in the original style of the artist or with their own spin on things), all while benefiting a local charity.” 

TS: We missed the Cover-Ups but we're happy to have 'em back! Where did they go for the past couple winters? Are they back for good? 

Mason: "I missed it as well! In full disclosure, I was busy changing careers and my schedule was too packed to get the Great Cover-Up off the ground for the past two years. Now that I'm officially graduated and employed (hooray!), I have time once again to dedicate to my favorite cause. I anticipate we'll be doing this for the foreseeable future. Having a hiatus reminded me how much I crave the fun wrapped up in the performances. It is also a joy to work with my fellow  committee members, including Curtis McCrary, Stephen Seigel, David Slutes, Matt Milner and Kris Kerry. They each play a pivotal role in curating the musical landscape in Tucson, and I am grateful for their talent and vision."

TS: A lot of folks in the local music community are confused about the "rules" of the Cover Up. How do bands and tribute choices REALLY get chosen? What are judges likely to consider when deciding on a final lineup?

Mason: "We solicit band participation in September via social media and the Tucson Weekly. Bands are asked to submit three acts they wish to cover. We have anywhere between 40 and 50 bands express interest in participating each year. The committee compiles the information, and chooses the line-up based on the answers to several questions; Has the band played the event before and blown our minds? Are their cover choices intriguing/fun/outrageous? Are the bands willing to go the extra mile to make their set memorable?"

Mason: "We are able to place 32 bands in the line-up over the three days of the event. We seek to keep the line-up diverse and representative of the breadth of Tucson's talent. I'm thrilled we have so many bands to choose from; it speaks to both the reputation of the event and the generosity of the musicians willing to donate their time and talent to this endeavor."

TS:  Tell us a little bit about the benefit aspect of the event. What is the ultimate goal (besides being a blast for the bands and the audience?) 

Mason: "Each year a local nonprofit organization is chosen as the beneficiary. We consider who can have a sizable impact in Tucson with the few thousand dollars raised each year. This time around the committee decided Planned Parenthood Arizona should be the recipient of the proceeds. There is a pronounced, urgent need to put women's health front and center - be it diagnosis, prevention, or treatment - in this day and age when the healthcare landscape seems to change with the breeze. I am overjoyed that Planned Parenthood will be serving and empowering those in the Tucson community who rely on their services for their well ".    

TS:  Any sneak previews? We promise we won't tell!

Mason: "Sneak previews are against everything the Great Cover-Up stands for! But seriously, the fact that the Great Cover-Up is happening again is probably the biggest announcement we will muster this year. We are excited about the lineup and I know it will exceed expectations, as usual. The bands work hard to perfect and polish their 20-minute sets and I admire their Herculean efforts."

TS: What does nobody ever ask you about the Cover-Up that you wish we all knew? 

Mason: "My least favorite aspect of this event, by far, is having to turn bands away. And without fail, those who aren't chosen to participate are gracious and understanding. It's yet another reason Tucson musicians are a pleasure to work with. All are encouraged to try again the following year. "

TS:  What are some of your fave Cover-Up memories across the years?

Mason: "Some of my favorite memories include the following: The Jons covered Tom Jones and underwear was flying everywhere; it was a glorious thing to behold. Paul Jenkins, formerly of video? performed as Bjork, complete with a swan dress. Some Of Them Are Old did an Arcade Fire set that left me with goosebumps. Eight Minutes to Burn morphed into an authentic New Orleans-style jazz band leading a funeral procession that worked its way inside the venue from the street. Carlos Arzate gave us a blistering rendition of Otis Redding. Katie Haverly left the audience at Plush on the verge of tears with a moving, spot-on Joni Mitchell set. During my first year as the event organizer, Calexico nailed a brilliant Flaming Lips set at the Rialto. I ran up on stage to catch falling balloons and sing back-up vocals and it felt like a dream. It was also the moment I knew I would want to help out with this event for as long as I'm able. There is too much goodness in it to ever stop."


The Great Cover-Up begins on Thursday and continues through Saturday across three Downtown venues

Night one kicks off at 7 p.m. on Thursday December 14 at The Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th. Bands covered include Tori Amos, The Pretenders, The Mountain Goats Queens of the Stone Age, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Justin Bieber, and Led Zeppelin. Participating bands include Nick Prevenas, Leigh Lesho, Strange Vacation, Shrimp Chaperone, The Bennu, Katie Haverly, Infinite Souls, Chris Black, Cloudless, Dead Man Dom.

Night two takes place at 7 p.m. on Friday December 15 at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress. Bands covered include The Moody Blues, Marvin Gaye, Third Eye Blind, The Kinks, Buddy Holly, Shakira, Loverboy, Ween,  Jane’s Addiction, The Doors, Elliot Smith, and Neil Diamond. Performers include The Distortionists, The Monitors, Big Bad, Still Life Telescope, Diluvio, Louise Le Hir, Carlos Arzate, Big Mean, Santa Pachita, Miss Olivia and the Interlopers, Deschtuco and Roman Barten-Sherman.

Night three wraps things up at 191 E Toole. Check out covers of The Church, Paul Simon, Metallica, Talking Heads, Rod Stewart,Harry Nilsson, Britney Spears,  Boston, and No Doubt by the likes of Jeremy Michael Cashman, Belinda Esquer, Steff and the Articles, Drew Cooper, The Eulogy Project, Marianne Dissard, Proper Operator, Spacefish, and Last Crime.

Stay tuned Friday for Part Two of our Great Cover-Up coverage, plus some local music news  and this week's live music roster!


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