It seems that there are a lot of tribute bands out performing nowadays, and quite a few of them are making the trip up to our fair state this coming year. Several will be stopping in at The ELM in Waterville to strut their stuff. With that thought in mind, here’s the first one of 2020: No Shoes Nation Band — A Tribute To Kenny Chesney, a sextet that will be there on Friday, March 20. To that end, I called Bob Catalano, the bassist/singer for the group, at his home in New Hampshire to find out more.

Q: Just out of curiosity, what part of New Hampshire do you call home?
Catalano: Seabrook, right on the Massachusetts border, right on the coast.

Q: It’s weird, but I seem to be doing a lot of interviews with tribute acts lately — like Killer Queen, Satisfaction, Living on a Bad Name, Start Making Sense and even a Prince tribute band from right here in Maine. Seeing you’re in one, what’s your take on this?
Catalano: It’s funny how this all happened. I was in a Rush tribute band in the late 80s/early 90s — I was the Geddy Lee guy — I knew how successful it could be and we took it all over the country for a good five years and made a lot of money doing it. It’s all about timing; when a band like Rush takes a sabbatical, a tribute band is all the fans have, you know?

Q: Yeah, it makes sense. How did you go from Rush to Kenny Chesney?
Catalano: Well, I was in an all-original band, but we lost our main writer and our guitar player, so I took a break after that for a good five years. Then my good buddy, Rick Risti — who’s in the band now — asked me if I was interested in getting involved in a county act. I’m an audio engineer by trade, and so I did audio and live sound for them, then that fizzled out and we decided to put a small, local cover band together which did fairly well, but I wanted to do another tribute band.

Q: So you chose Kenny Chesney?
Catalano: Yeah, I started studying his music and sure enough, I got a bunch of guys together and it’s literally gone way further than I thought it would — I thought it would be just a local thing and now we’re playing all over. … I’m pretty psyched about it.

Q: I can understand why you would be.
Catalano: Well, the thing is with tributes, there’s no secret about it: as opposed to spending $150 to $200 for a ticket then $50 for parking, $15 for a hot dog and $10 waters, you can come and see us and you’re hearing the same music. True, it’s not the same guy but we’re pretty close — we’ve been told many times, “Wow, you guys nailed it!” and it’s only $15 to $20 a ticket and you don’t have to deal with parking or crowds. It’s just an alternative for the real deal. And that’s why tributes are successful.

Q: I caught your band’s promo video on your website — for the song “Reality,” I believe — and it was spot-on … an impressive performance.
Catalano: Thank you — and it was live, there’s no studio trickery there, that’s just how we sound live. And we’ve added another member since then: we have a pedal steel player who also plays fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and ukulele, so he kind of rounds it all out and gets all those little sweet parts that were missing, so we have the perfect scenario now.

Q: Well, I’m back on your website now and seeing Danny (“Wray” Bergeron as Kenny Chesney), Rick (Risti on guitar), Larry (Novak on keyboards), Bob, Lenny (Shea on drums), and Leo Melanson — he’s the new guy you were talking about, right?
Catalano: Yeah, and there’s also his stats as to who he’s played with. … We’re lucky to have him, he’s incredible.

Q: Earlier, you said that your band started out as just a local group — how far afield do you play out nowadays?
Catalano: We’ll, we’ve done shows in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and now we’re starting to get gigs offered in New York and New Jersey, so we’re spreading our wings.

Q: Now, you told me that you are an audio engineer, does that cut into your being in the band?
Catalano: It does, but on the other side of the coin, I run the schedule for the band, so I’m not having to fight whoever runs the band … it all works out for me. And I kind of run it as a business with the guys as employees — whenever they want time off, they just let me know when it is and I just don’t book those dates, you know? It works out, it works out beautifully.

Q: It sounds like you have the best of both worlds with work and play.
Catalano: It really is, I’m very fortunate. You know, as a band we’re at the point of our lives — as old as we are — when we just want to have fun, make a little bit of money and make a difference: have people walking away from our show feeling like they got something out of it.

Q: How many Chesney songs do you guys know?
Catalano: It’s a two-and-a-half-hour show, and we’ve worked up 35 to 40 songs, but between us we probably know about 50 songs each, so if we get a request, we can cover it.

Q: Have you ever played in Waterville before?
Catalano: Nope, but we have played a couple of shows in Maine including an outdoor gig at the Fryeburg Fair.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Catalano: If you can’t afford going to a Kenny Chesney concert for real, and you really want to hear his songs live, we do a great job at it. We’d love to play them for you and we put our heart and soul into them — when we get off the stage, we’re drenched head to toe — it’s a great show and our singer, Danny Wray, is an amazing singer and player. So, if you’re looking for a great time and want to hear some live Kenny, there’s no one else in the area doing it and we’re kind of fortunate in that aspect — we’ve got a little niche going, which I’m kind of happy about!

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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