It’s the oldest battle in the Buffalo band business – the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between cover bands and original artists. The artistic credibility card is generally played by the original bands and songwriters. Meanwhile, the cover and tribute bands pack the house and make the money. Or so the old saw goes.
The truth is more complex and nuanced. I’ve yet to meet a member of a cover/tribute band in the area who doesn’t also write his or her own music. And inevitably, members of original bands – unless they’re lucky enough to build a supporting audience for their own compositions – end up playing in cover/tribute bands to make ends meet.
Case in point – Wild Knights, a band that formed in Buffalo in 1982, became a major regional club draw over the course of the next decade, and split up in the middle 1990s.
All the members of the group – guitarist/vocalist Dave Ruch, drummer Corey Kertzie, keyboardists Joe Bellanti, guitarist Mike Bellman, bassist Rolf Wit, drummer Mark Marsack - made a name for themselves as part of one of the first jam-based bands in Buffalo to focus on the repertoires of the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, and purveyors of rustic Americana, a la the Band.
In the time since splitting, all labored as members of original music projects while also appearing as members of Dead-based collectives in town. And all were surprised to learn that demand for their original incarnation as Wild Knights remained high after all these years.
“We had no idea that there would be so much support after all this time,” said Dave Ruch, referring to the reunion gig Sportsmen’s Tavern booker Ken Biringer urged them to play a few months back. “We’d hadn’t played a club together since the mid-'90s and really had no idea if even 50 people would remember us, or care. Immediately, people started saying ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat,’ but we didn’t believe them.”
Ruch should have taken their word for it. Wild Knights sold out the Sportsmen’s Tavern gig, and decided it would be prudent to book a follow-up gig in a larger venue. This gig is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Town Ballroom (681 Main St.), a venue roughly three times the size of the intimate Sportsmen’s.
I asked Ruch if he’s noticed a change in the makeup of the band’s audience.
“There were definitely some twenty-something offspring of our friends in the audience at our Sportsmen’s show,” he said. “The Town Ballroom will be interesting though, because anybody age 12 and over can come, and we’ve heard from friends and fans who will be ‘initiating’ their young this time and we love that.
"In fact, we had tons of people fly in for that first show from as far away as Florida, Washington State and Colorado, and it sounds like at least as many this time will do the same. So it’s like a gigantic reunion with room at the table for everyone. Wild Knights - spurring the local tourism economy.”
[Read about another jam band, Intrepid Travelers, who took residence in Nietzsche's]
Grateful Dead- and jam-based music has always been huge in Buffalo, and that fact shows no sign of changing any time soon. There are somewhere in the area of 10 ensembles, some with rotating casts, playing this music to large crowds in time on a consistent basis. I asked Ruch why this fact remains a constant when so much else has changed around it.
“Yeah, it’s really wild,” he said. “When we started in 1982, we were the only band that we knew of playing Dead, Allman Brothers and The Band locally. Now I feel like I’ve just emerged from a long lumber to discover at least a dozen different bands playing some version of this material. This town is incredibly supportive of bands in this genre, and for that, we are all – er, ahem - grateful.”