Help! Popular festival bands, and their fans, on the outs with no dates to play

  • The members of the seven-member Boy Band Review haven't seen each other since playing at the Fire Bar in Crystal Lake on March 14.

    The members of the seven-member Boy Band Review haven't seen each other since playing at the Fire Bar in Crystal Lake on March 14. Courtesy of Morgan Gilreath

  • The four-piece Semple band was scheduled to perform at Mundelein Community Days in June until that festival was canceled due to spread of COVID-19.

    The four-piece Semple band was scheduled to perform at Mundelein Community Days in June until that festival was canceled due to spread of COVID-19. Courtesy of Ethan Alex Photography/SEMPLE band

 
 
Updated 5/23/2020 7:17 PM
This story has been updated to correct the credit on the photo of Boy Band Review.

A hard day's night? Tell them about it.

Under COVID-19 restrictions, the bands that entertain audiences at summer festivals, nightclubs, casinos, corporate outings and weddings face a dearth of bookings, if not a total wash.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Our June dissolved pretty much, and our July dissolved right before my eyes," said Eric Michaels, who portrays Paul McCartney in the long-running Beatles tribute band, American English.

When the Countryside resident says "pretty much," that translates to being whittled down to a June 5-7 run in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

That will be the first time the famed four will perform since playing Ballydoyle in Aurora on March 7, before stay-at-home entered the lexicon.

For full-time musicians who depend on gate receipts, merchandise sales and payments from now canceled private gatherings, it can make a guitar gently weep.

Popular bands like American English have fallen on challenging times as gigs have dried up because of COVID-19 restrictions. "Our June dissolved pretty much, and our July dissolved right before my eyes," says Eric Michaels, who portrays Paul McCartney.
Popular bands like American English have fallen on challenging times as gigs have dried up because of COVID-19 restrictions. "Our June dissolved pretty much, and our July dissolved right before my eyes," says Eric Michaels, who portrays Paul McCartney. - Courtesy of American English
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"It's insane, for lack of a better word. That's where we make all our money, or most of it," said James Paul Lynch of Lake in the Hills, American English's George Harrison.

In more than two decades performing its Beatles retrospective, the Chicago-based band has played internationally numerous times.

Still, about 70% of its bookings are local, Lynch said, with "probably 80%" of its revenue coming from May through September.

"Obviously we have no choice but to follow government directives, and we want everybody to be safe," he said. "Not to be corny, but that's foremost on our mind. But we need to make a living."

Keith Semple, leader of the popular Semple band and formerly with another metropolitan staple, 7th Heaven, sings a similar refrain.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It almost seems selfish" to lament lost bookings when thousands of Americans have perished due to COVID-19, he said.

"This is probably the longest I've ever gone that I haven't been on stage," says Keith Semple, leader of the Semple band.
"This is probably the longest I've ever gone that I haven't been on stage," says Keith Semple, leader of the Semple band. - Courtesy of Ethan Alex Photography/SEMPLE band

The four-piece rock outfit's last genre-busting performance of original and cover songs was a March 14 fundraiser for the Forever U youth development organization.

All dates since -- including at Mundelein Community Days -- have been canceled.

"This is probably the longest I've ever gone that I haven't been on stage," said Semple, who lives on the Naperville-Plainfield border. "It's very weird to go from something you've done your whole life to not doing it at all."

Taking what they're given 'cause they're working for a living, Semple band now performs full concerts each Monday on Facebook Live.

Band members socially distance themselves in Semple's home studio or play remotely. Semple also plays solo shows each Wednesday. Often more than 6,000 fans watch.

In both cases "tip jars" can be filled via Venmo, Zelle or PayPal online services.

"Without our fans tuning in and sending us money, we would be in much more dire straits than we are now," Semple said. "Every tip we get is paying our mortgage or feeding our family."

There are many mouths to feed in Boy Band Review, a seven-piece tribute to acts such as NSYNC, the Jonas Brothers and One Direction.

In demand throughout the Midwest with festival appearances like Lisle's Eyes to the Skies, Boy Band Review's next gig is July 11 in Marion, Iowa.

That remains tentative, and their summer slate has been dashed or pushed back until late summer, fall or 2021.

"The challenging thing is all the different states have different protocols to get back to some sort of normalcy," said Brian Bender, your Joey Fatone from NSYNC.

"Illinois changes every day in what they're doing. Indiana and Iowa seem less strict, so they're experimenting with things, but the challenging thing is capacity issues."

"When you restrict the capacity, the profit margin is not as big as it was, and you're actually losing money," Bender said.

The band and its members have filed for grants, unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Bender said.

It's also added masks to its line of merchandise. Members have offered lessons and have produced or edited videos for other bands such as Chicago's Sixteen Candles.

"We're like a little musical family, and we'll stay positive and go through our little lows and our highs, and we'll get back at it. We just don't know when," Bender said.

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