Almanac Music: Tributeophilia – more than just a cover band


More than just a cover band

There is a condition, an infection, lurking amongst us. To help fight this malaise it needs a name. Inspired by Oliver Sacks, I call it Tributeophilia.

It has being with us for years. Penetrating, infecting the music business and now sadly other sectors of the performing arts. On many levels it seems all persuasive, getting into every nook and cranny of our lives and replicating its self like a super bug.

I first noticed it in the 80’s when the odd band arrived on the scene that was all about performing as another band, a tribute, a covers band that had morphed into a copy of a previous well known act. It was once just a marketing ploy, harmless in the Aussie music scene that was booming at the time. It was an opportunity for a struggling musician to make a dollar and to compete with the next guy slugging it out on the pub scene.

Now it’s more than just marketing, it’s a disease. It infects musicians on different levels, from mildly paying homage, to investing money and time trying very hard to replicate the specific style and appearance of the original artist.

Once the disease only affected the working class, it was confined to the pubs, the beer barns and poker machine driven clubs of suburbia and regional Australia. But now we see it creeping in and finding refuge in cultural and music festivals, performing arts centres, places that should be about fostering original creative arts. From rural towns to the up market venues like the Melbourne Recital Centre, where In December 2015 we discover The Band’s “The Last Waltz” wasn’t to be the last… it was recreated by the crème of Australian talent. Yes even established artists succumbing  to the virulent tributeophilia.

Tributeophilia is contagious. Income poor musicians were the original carriers; tragically they have helped spread it. It’s an opportunistic disease that readily made the leap from the stage to audience; infected, punters desire to hear only what they already know. It used to be if you wanted to see impersonations you went to see a comedian not a musician. Now we can hear “Comfortably Numb” performed by a Pink Floyd tribute band, played without a hint of irony.

The public seems content with the malaise which is now common place in our towns and in our cities. This disease causes people to lose their sense of creativity and stimulate the production of nostalgia to almost unbearably levels. It causes mass complacency also producing severe bouts of bad singing whilst preventing those infected to being receptive to any new or different sounds.

Those infected are in many cases older people, the baby boomers with more disposable income, we see whole generations afflicted and often it is the decision makers, the political class, educated people amongst us that seem to fall so violently ill to tributeophilia.

Both here and overseas we see creative artists that have not being strong enough to fight the temptations of this disease. It is everywhere, in our theatres, plays and musicals, they too have succumbed regurgitating old movies into musicals, old songs, old themes and sadly there seems no end in sight.

Such is its overreaching effects the mercantile machines of business they do their best to keep infecting the masses and artists, instead of money to fight this terrible disease, rivers of money flow in to feed it.

Tributeophilia it is an epidemic, sucking the life out of many creative art forms, too few seem to realise our grave state. There is silence, there is a complacency. The ageless Agnetha and Anni-Frid are never going to stop dancing in white knee-high boots and Elvis will never leave the building. Who amongst us will speak out and say enough! – Nostalgia is not creative culture.

How can there be a cure? Where will a vaccine come from? People are so badly infected that their thinking is irrational and the pursuit of profit has become more important than the art.

Yet some are fighting back, playing their own tunes, writing their own songs, performing their own plays and shows based on their own original ideas. They are still there, at the coal face fighting this disease, in small venues, in rented halls, folk festivals, they struggle along. Yes some artists still play covers, but they put their own stamp on something someone else created, they sing in their own voice in their own clothes and that’s ok, they are trying hard not to become infected and to develop full blown tributeophilia.

Luke R Davies


Luke R Davies is a Wangaratta based musician, songwriter and local arts advocate. He was the recipient of the 2013 National Film and Sound Archive National Folk Recording Award.


  1. Guess I’m guilty as charged, Luke, having rather enjoyed The Last Waltz Re-Visited, as performed by the extended RocKwiz ensemble. Great songs played by excellent musicians. There’s a fine line between paying homage and tributeophilia. Is it a matter of degrees, of moderation? I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Creighton’s show based on Van Morrison’s music because I figure I’ll never get to see the man himself. And there’s gotta be balance: I manage to keep in touch with conrtemporary music via my 19 year old, who always plays different vinyl for dinner music: King Gizzard and The Wizard Lizzard on high rotation lately. See you soon, Luke.

  2. Hi Vin,
    Thanks for feedback, yes it’s a fine line and moderation is important there’s always room for a good cover. It’s the whole copy cat and cashing in that annoys me. Our local performing arts centre has a cavalcade of tribute acts and rarely an artist that’s performing their own material. I think it’s a topic worthy of debate and glad you chimed in cheers Luke.

  3. E.regnans says

    G’day Luke,
    Interesting topic.
    Musicians as creative souls versus musicians as looking for a dollar?
    There’s a huge (& growing) market of old-timers looking to relive, or at least be transported back to the days of their youth. And of course music is a magical hook to time and place.
    “Let’s go and see ‘Countdown the musical’ ”

    Does the same charge of tributeophilia apply to artists playing their back catalogue?
    Bruce mining the 1970s and 1980s is not being very creative at all.
    A tribute to oneself is still a tribute.

    Is creativity making something new every time?

  4. Hi Luke.
    A very interesting topic for we music lovers.
    I am with Vin – there is a fine line between tributeophilia (Creedence Clearwater Recycled etc) and paying respect to great artists. For example, I am all for local musicians putting on a show and paying homage to the Beatles’ White Album; this creates the opportunity for this music to be opened up and discovered by younger people who may not have been familiar with it.

  5. Hi E,
    More to think about. If an artist is performing their own material back catalogue as you said, to me that’s fine they are still the artist and often wrote the material. As to if its entertaining sometimes yes sometimes no. Nostalgia is a powerful drug and I am guilty of it too at times, after all I am only human. I suppose the question I want to make people think about is, that imitation is not creation, and that nostalgia is not creative culture, in my view. Others will have a different view. Thanks for your comments cheers Luke.
    Cheers Luke.

Leave a Comment