Paul "Hoss" Wenzel got his start in the music scene in the mid-1990s playing acoustic guitar for a BoDeans tribute band. With the success of the BoDeans in the '90s, Wenzel and his bandmates found themselves playing before sold-out venues in Chicago and the suburbs -- including the House of Blues -- within three months.
In Wenzel's words, he got his "big-stage feet wet really quick."
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If you goWhat: Suburban Cowboys performing at Eyes to the Skies
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 6
Where: Riverview Soundstage at Eyes to the Skies Festival in Community Park, Lisle
Cost: Free with festival admission of $5 for adults
These days, Wenzel is the lead man for a different kind of tribute band, the Suburban Cowboys, and has turned his focus from rock 'n' roll to country. But Suburban Cowboys is not so much a tribute to any single country band as a tribute to the genre of country music itself.
The group set out in 2010 to be the most energetic, high-profile country cover band in the Chicago market. Band members build many of their songs around the fiddle playing of Susan "Dixie Dynomite" Rudny and consider their shows a success only if the audience is dancing and having a good time.
The Suburban Cowboys cover more than 40 country artists, including many of today's top hitmakers. The band takes the stage at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 6, on the Riverview Soundstage at the Eyes to the Skies Festival at Community Park in Lisle. The Daily Herald recently had an opportunity to speak with Wenzel.
Q. What's your favorite thing about touring?
A. Country fans are awesome. They know how to party. That's what it's all about for us. These crowds sing right back at you, dance, stomp boots. This isn't any of our day jobs. This is weekend cash for us, and what better hobby to have than something that feeds your adrenaline like that.
Q. Everyone in the band has a nickname. Where did those come from?
A. I think pop culture mostly. "Dixie" (Rudny) came from a movie in the '70s about a country western singer. With "Twang" (guitarist Cliff Kuhlman), when you play guitar, it has a twang sound. That's where that comes from. "Hoss" is from the main character in "Bonanza." "Thunder" (Joe D'Eccliss) is just a cool name for a drummer. "Tennessee Slim" (bassist Mike Bulaw), he's paper-thin; turned sideways, you can't see him.
Q. Were you guys all country musicians before you got together?
A. No, we were all rock musicians who liked the way country was going. There's a lot of rock influences in country, we thought it was a good idea. We thought we had good enough voices and fiddle play.
Q. Are there ways you guys try to make these songs your own?
A. We play everything like the record. The only embellishments we do are mashing them up between songs and trying to keep very low amounts of dead air on the stage. We keep everything upbeat. This isn't your dad's country band, it's all designed for you to dance.
Q. Do you have any favorites?
A. I really dig playing Toby Keith stuff. I like the patriotic music, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." I think for pure fun-factor, there's nothing better than Luke Bryan's "Country Girls (Shake It For Me)." Anything that gets the girls up and dancing.
Q. What about favorite venues to play?
A. Country Thunder in Wisconsin. That's just insanity. Four days of mayhem, nonstop bikinis and sunshine. It's one of the most incredible fests I've been around.
Q. Has Suburban Cowboys ever played the Eyes to the Skies Festival before?
A. No, we haven't. But I thought it was pretty cool concept with the hot air balloons. Tell everybody in Lisle to come see us if they want to get their country on.