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A tribute to tribute bands

The current situation surrounding the pandemic has caused many folks to get creative in how they go about their business. Conch Records founder and TV88 Executive Producer Cliff Rydell is no different. 

“I have a need to keep putting on events,” said Rydell. “I just had to find a way to put on something unique involving my passion for documenting great music.”

Due to safety and restrictions, it had become difficult to pull off the typical large-scale live music events that Conch Records is known for hosting. Cliff reached out to his friend Ray West, a talented local musician, to help him brainstorm an idea. They decided that documenting a tribute band could be fun and interesting. But they would need a headliner. 

Having previously met Michael Allman, son of Allman Brothers founder Gregg, Rydell decided to approach him about being the subject of a film documenting the making of a great tribute band. Allman graciously accepted the invite. He would come to Marathon to perform his late father’s music, backed by a band made up of some of the best Florida Keys musicians. 

West and Rydell began to discuss who would comprise the tribute band.

“One thing led to another,” recalls Rydell. The talent pool in the Florida Keys is deep, so narrowing down the musician list was difficult. “Suddenly, it occurred to us to spend an entire day filming with several tribute bands. It was a stroke of genius.”

They reached out to Ric Ara, lead guitarist and co-founder of The Lady A Blues Band. Ara had previously toured and performed in an Eric Clapton tribute band. Ara was all in and the idea started to turn into a plan. 

On April 11, Conch Records/TV88 set up a live recording studio at the Florida Keys Country Club in Marathon. Five tribute bands were on the slate to perform. 

The first act was former Marathon Mayor John Bartus, who performed an impressive one man/one guitar tribute to Pink Floyd. The second act was Ara and Lady A Band and their spectacular tribute to Clapton. The third performance was a four-piece band fronted by bassist Jeff Dalton and guitarist Walter Yarborough, joined by keyboardist Vince Bergamo and drummer Jannick Kjaer, who performed a mind-blowing rendition of the Iron Butterfly hit “In A Gadda Da Vida.” Taking the stage as the fourth act was Wayne Sorbelli, Karri Daley, Francois Gehin and David Warren, who put on an electrifying tribute to Led Zeppelin. The finale was an all-star band made up of West, Bergamo, Robert Douglas, Robert Tucker and dual drummers Kjaer and Daniel Clark fronted by Michal Allman. They performed a magnificent hour-long set of Allman Brothers Band music. 

I was fortunate and flattered to be asked to host and emcee the event. I introduced all the acts and interviewed each of them after their set. It was truly a remarkable event. There was a small live audience that included event sponsors who made it all possible to pull off the show. 

Conch Records plans to release six separate short films, one dedicated to each tribute band and a sixth one that will show the makings of such an incredible event. The film series, “The Making of a Florida Keys Tribute Band,” will air on several outlets including Facebook, YouTube, and conchrecords.com. A plan is also in place to show the films in local theaters. Stay tuned and in tune.

BEN’S LIST: Great Rock Documentaries

  1. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” ~ Tom Petty 
  2. “Echo in the Canyon” ~ Laurel Canyon era of music
  3. “The Other One” ~ Bob Weir ~ Grateful Dead
  4. “That Little Ol’ Band from Texas” ~  ZZ Top
  5. “Under the Influence” ~  Keith Richards


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