Halloween cover-up

From the Dead Kennedys to Michael Jackson, ATL covers the hits

Halloween comes but once a year, and for Atlanta music fans that means one thing: cover bands. There's no denying that Atlanta loves a good cover band, especially when the leaves are changing colors and a crispness fills the autumn air. Over the last several years, local musicians have staged various and sundry seasonal tributes to musical touchstones such as the Ramones, Black Sabbath, the Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, the Misfits, and many others, all with a campy sense of aplomb. The more of a staple the act they're covering, the greater the crowd's reaction — and the spookier the music, the better.

But why has going to see a hodgepodge of musicians from local bands getting together to run through other bands' songs become such a haunted holiday tradition for Atlanta? The answer is a lot less complicated than one might suspect.

"For a lot of people, whether they'll admit it or not, the holidays are a comforting time," says Ian Deaton, who plays the role of Jello Biafra, the Dead Kennedys singer and political rabble-rouser, in his cover band, the Ted Kennedys.

Deaton fronts the band's lineup alongside bass player Andrew Wiggins (Wymyns Prysyn, Hawks), guitar player George Asimakos, and drummer Ryan Fetter.

"From Halloween all the way till New Years Eve, no matter what your religion, if you have one, people enjoy the passage of fall," Deaton says. "People are coming back into town, they're reuniting with friends and family. It sounds silly, but stepping back into a town where you haven't been for a while, and you have to see your family, it makes things easier. There will always be comfort in seeing and hearing music that you already know."

This year, drummer Erin Santini is performing in an all-women Misfits cover band, called 30-Year-Old Women From Mars (featuring vocalist Jennifer von Schlichten, bass player Jenn Downs, and guitar player Nikki Speake), and in a Joy Division tribute band called Unknown Pleasures (featuring guitarist Ross Politi of Del Venicci, bass player Rachel Pagillo, and vocalist David Spence). For Santini, the experience is not unlike putting a Halloween costume on her music. "As someone who likes to play original music most of the time, it can be really nice to put on a costume and pay tribute to another musician in your own special way," Santini says. "It's a lot of fun, and when Halloween is over the band is over. But for a brief while you can get together with some friends and people you wouldn't normally play with and really have a good time playing music."

Nostalgia also plays a key role in what makes Atlanta's Halloween cover band scene such an ongoing phenomenon. "When you're playing Misfits songs, that's your childhood," Santini adds. "I don't think I've ever played in any band on Halloween and not had it remind me of my childhood."

The trend spreads throughout the city come Halloween night. The Ted Kennedys, 30-Year-Old Women From Mars, Unknown Pleasures, and local Nirvana cover band Nameless Nameless take the stage at the Earl. But the buck doesn't stop there: In Little Five Points, the Biters headline a night at the Star Bar and play a set of all KISS songs. For the opening set, members of Dinos Boys and Night Terrors delve into Mötley Crüe's greatest hits. And over at Center Stage, the ATL Collective is performing Michael Jackson's timeless horror pop classic Thriller in its entirety.

Each of these shows brings a formidable swath of the city's hardest-working local rock talent to the stage, setting aside their more concerted songwriting voices to suit the season.

Stepping back to look at the larger implications of such a trend, the audience's demand for cover bands could rub some musicians the wrong way. For Deaton, it's all just par for the course when crafting a wicked All-Hallows' Eve show. "Throughout my many years of playing music in this town, I have had way more intense reactions from audiences while playing in cover bands than I have ever had while playing in any of my real bands," Deaton says. "Get up on stage and play a couple of Misfits songs and people cry and lose their minds. It feels good to play your heroes' music, and to play for an audience like that. If you stop to think about it, it can be a little depressing, even though we love doing it.

"People praise you after the show," he adds. "It can be hard to know what to do with the praise: 'We didn't write the songs, but we loved playing them, and we're glad you dig it, too!'"

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