Local Bands Celebrate Bowie at The Wayfarer

The word “artist” gets thrown around recklessly in the music industry, but for David Bowie, it’s a well-deserved title that should be worn like a crown. He had the ability to connect with people, whether calling to casual admirers or hypnotizing diehard fans, and he did it for decades. His unexpected death triggered an enormous outpouring of love and celebration, and on Saturday, February 13 several local bands will perform at The Wayfarer for a tribute show in honor of The Thin White Duke.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Bowie-approved charity, War Child, which protects and supports children affected by armed conflicts. The bill for Bowie night consists of nine bands that span folk, indie pop, and rock, and each act will surprise the crowd with a two-song, strictly-Bowie set. Among the bands performing are Hank and her Ponies, The Gromble, and The Futures League, who shared their thoughts on the show, Bowie and his legacy.

Lauren Chanel Cobb, lead singer for indie noir group Hank and her Ponies, was the catalyst for the Bowie tribute. The day after the icon’s passing Cobb was sitting at her piano playing a Bowie tune when it occurred to her that someone should get a local tribute together. She reached out to The Wayfarer’s talent buyer, Eric Keilman, who not only loved the idea, but grew the concept from a few bands celebrating the late musician into an all out Bowie bash. Now with nine bands on the roster, Cobb’s brainchild has become a versatile mini-fest.

“As an artist, Bowie was constantly changing,” Cobb says. “He had this quote about being aesthetically promiscuous, and that always stayed with me. I loved that idea, aesthetically promiscuous, and that’s just how he lived. He’d close a chapter with one record and start new with something totally different. I think that mindset applies to this show.”

Hank and her Ponies emerged with an old time country feel, but over the last year the group ventured into a more upbeat style that surfaces on their Wildfire EP. The Bowie show led them further into experimental waters, and after reaching into his repertoire they’re stepping farther out of their comfort zone –much to the band’s delight.

“The Bowie show has definitely moved us into a more aggressive fashion,” bassist Ryan Bartholemy says. “But that’s what’s great about this show. So many different bands hopped on and can try new things, I think it’s gonna blow the doors off the place.”

When The Wayfarer threw out an inquiry on Facebook seeking bands for a Bowie tribute night, The Gromble’s front man Spencer Askin immediately jumped at the chance. The band had already booked several shows at the Costa Mesa venue in support of their debut, full-length album, Jayus, but the opportunity to honor Bowie was irresistible.

“I think the reason I was so drawn to the show –even though we’re playing there quite a bit—is because it’s a great way for the community to come together and rally behind something,” Askin says. “It’s a benefit, which is amazing. It’s also a way for everybody to hang out and play and develop a sense of community that is sometimes lacking around here. It’s awesome the Wayfarer is doing this.”

In addition to fronting one of Orange County’s leading indie rock bands, Askin also works as the program director at Los Rios Rock School in San Juan Capistrano. He picked up on a similar sense of community among his students, who were requesting Bowie songs in their curriculum long before his passing.

“To see these young kids and high school kids be so into his music is awesome, and I have a feeling it’s going to happen forever,” Askin says. “Bowie’s not really someone you can even argue over. I feel like he’s someone who’s age defying and universally accepted. There’s no reason to not be celebrating his life and his career.”

To see the world through David Bowie’s music is like looking through a kaleidoscope; it’s colorful, ever changing and always ready to be picked up again. Jon Arman, lead singer of rock outfit The Futures League, remembers growing up on Bowie thanks to his parents, but didn’t fully connect with the music until he picked it back up as a teenager. Now that he’s onstage himself, he appreciates the seemingly effortless complexity found in some of Bowie’s tunes.

“When you strip some of his songs down, like ‘Life On Mars,’ there’s so many chords and interesting movements within the song,” Arman says. “When you hear it outside of the recorded format you think, wow, there are so many things going on that I didn’t even see or hear. He does it in a way that you don’t notice how technical some of his songs are.”

As for the local tribute show, Arman hopes that this will be the first of many, adding, “I hope this doesn’t just happen in the wake of his death, I hope stuff like this continues to happen for years. Good music doesn’t go away, so I’m sure it will.”

The Wayfarer will rile up a Bowie-hungry crowd to honor one of the greatest artists of all time. Full lineup includes: I Hate You Just Kidding, Purple Mountains Majesties, Fellow Bohemian, The Bluffs, James, Ditt & Trout, The Breakfast Club, Hank and her Ponies, The Futures League, and The Gromble.

David Bowie Tribute at The Wayfarer, 843 W 19th St., Costa Mesa (949)-764-0039; www.wayfarer.com; Saturday, February 13 at 8 p.m., $10, 21+. 

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