Smile Politely

The great history of the Great Cover Up

(Ed. note: This article first appeared oh, about a year ago. We updated it with info from the 2009 Cover Up. Enjoy.)

The Great Cover Up is Champaign-Urbana’s often imitated, seldom duplicated musical extravaganza, a benefit (to a variety of regional charities) unlike any other. Local bands — all original acts — transform into tribute bands for one evening, and in doing so attract a slew of scenesters and fellow musicians who would normally never drop a dime on the cover to see a cover band. More than that, the Cover Up is the one event each year that not only attempts to showcase the best of that year’s local music crop, but also serves as a summit of sorts. The event has always carried with it an overwhelming sense of community, for both the participants and their fans. College jam bands rub elbows with the elder townie rock set. Indie rock bands mix with metal bands. Sometimes the indie rock bands (Absinthe Blind) even become metal bands (Guns N’ Roses). You just never know with The Great Cover Up.

My first Cover Up came in 1999. I was treated to members of Castor and Sarge (minus Elizabeth Elmore) doing Nirvana, Absinthe Blind pulling a showstopper with Michael Jackson, The Poster Children doing a spot-on U2, and these middle-aged gents whom I had never seen before providing a really great take on The Monkees. (Turns out, I’d soon come to dig those gents in their original format, The Signalmen.)

The following year, however, was when the event really made its mark on me. I had only lived in town for a little more than a year by that point, and I had yet to feel like I fit in to the music scene. I was working for The Octopus at the time, but as I was selling advertising for them, I was closer to Marco Nieto, the businessman-cum-handyman, than Marco Nieto, the musician.

That night, I wandered into The Highdive a few minutes after the advertised start time, and I heard a familiar refrain. Someone was covering The Modern Lovers. My wig flipped as I dashed into the main room to find Edward Burch and company, aka The Kennett Brothers, ripping through a set of Modern Lovers tunes. Later in the night, I was introduced to Marco the musician, as he and The Mezzanines tore through a set of The Clash’s earlier songs. I left that night feeling like I had not only received an entertaining introduction to the local music scene, but that, maybe, there was room for me in it, too. The event’s positive vibes were contagious, and now I had the sickness.

To some, the Cover Up has lost steam over the years. But that’s just a byproduct of how interesting the local scene is to you at any given time. Nowadays, Champaign-Urbana may not boast as many bands signed to major labels and giant indies as it did back in the early ’90s, but that doesn’t matter all that much to me. I missed my opportunity to see Hum as Led Zeppelin, but I sure enjoyed The Elanors doing Lennon & Ono, and Humpty Dumpster trying The Pogues on for size. The Cover Up may no longer be a novel idea, but it’s still a fun way to celebrate the scene. Props to Ward Gollings for keeping it going after all these years.

Here’s this year’s lineup for the event’s 19th go-around, followed by a run-down of who did what from every prior Cover Up — complete with commentary from current and former local musicians and fans alike. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 17
Mike Ingram Band
Curb Service
Brother Embassy
Kosmo & Jess Greenlee
Ryan Groff
Lonely Trailer

Tuesday, January 19
Terminus Victor
Roberta Sparrow
The Chemicals
Robots Counterfeiting Money
Dottie And Th ‘Rail
The Delta Kings

Thursday, January 21
DJ Belly & Friends
Hot Cops
Kayla Brown
The Duke Of Uke
Mordechai In The Mirror


Doors open at 8:00 p.m. each night; all set times are subject to change. Cover is $7 each night (or $15 for a three-night pass), with all proceeds going to A Woman’s Place.

1991 @ Blind Pig (1 night)

Didjits as TED NUGENT
Poster Children as DIDJITS
Hot Glue Gun as DEVO
Ward All-Stars as BLONDIE

My recollections of the inaugural Great Cover Up are as follows. First, I remember the line at (the then) Blind Pig was out the door and down almost to the bank drive-up lanes. I’m not sure how we got everyone inside to see the show, but I guess we did! Second, I remember (the very first band) Honcho Overload had their smoke machine set on “max” and a shirtless Bill Johnson was growling “Break on through to the other side!” in the way that only he can. Third, as I was reveling in Honcho’s awesome Doors’ set and the sheer magic of the young night, I clearly remember thinking to myself, “Oh shit, I’ve gotta get onstage next and play with MY band (Ward … as Blondie)!” Serious stage fright commenced. And finally, later on, as The Didjits took the stage around midnight, the oft-crude and in-your-face Rick Sims mimicked Ted Nugent (from his Double Live Gonzo LP) by saying, “This one goes out to all of the Champaign pussy out there. Not that stinky Urbana hippy pussy though.” A classic Didjits moment. And then they rocked the frickin’ roof off.

–WARD GOLLINGS, concert promoter and former frontman of Ward All-Stars (and Ward)

Honcho Overload as THE DOORS


1992 @ Blind Pig (1 night)

Didjits as AC/DC
Poster Children as THE CARS
Sixteen Tons as CHEAP TRICK
Hot Glue Gun as PRINCE
Honcho Overload as THE B-52’s

If a band is going all-out for The Great Cover Up by dressing in costume and exploiting the element of surprise, the sad truth is that they end up missing a great deal of their peer’s wonderful performances. That being the case, one of my fondest early Cover Up memories is of my band Honcho Overload covering The B-52’s. The final line-up of our band was born at the first Cover Up, and we always took the gig very seriously, by not taking ourselves too seriously. This was the first year a band employed the now time-honored bait-and-switch. We claimed we were doing The Cure and then showed up on stage as The B-52’s with guitarist Jeff Dimpsey’s younger sister in her prom dress singing the gals’ parts beside me. The switcheroo helped change the crowd’s expectations from grey skies to clear, and the buoyancy and familiarity of those great songs did the trick. The night was a fun moment in the infancy of what proved to be an artistically fertile, camaraderie-filled era for Champaign indie rock. What better band to spark such a celebration than those showstoppers from Athens, Ga.?

–BILL JOHNSON, former Honcho Overload frontman

Ward All-Stars as THE GO-GO’s


1993 @ Blind Pig (2 nights)

Poster Children as THE WHO

The Poster Children’s drummer at the time was Johnny Machine (aka John Herndon of Tortoise, one of my all-time favorites). Honestly, I probably could not tell you what other songs they did that night, but for some reason I have never forgotten their awesome performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” In particular, at the very end of the “bridge” wherein the brooding keyboard part gives way to a brief drum “solo” (if you will). And then the glorious moment is cemented as the vocals crash back in with Roger Daltrey’s HUGE scream of “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! (Meet the new boss, same as the old boss …).” Pure rock-n-roll bliss.

–WARD GOLLINGS, concert promoter and former frontman of Ward All-Stars (and Ward)

Honcho Overload as MADONNA

Only in its third year, the Cover Up still had that new kid glow to it: the bands really, really worked hard to outdo their performance from the year before and there was this palpable feeling of expectation, a feeling that began weeks before the actual event itself. Factor in that Honcho was one of the few local bands to openly embrace the larger-than-life spectacle aspect of rock and roll, that they really only ever knew one way to play, and you got that special kind of magic only rock can manage. Lead singer Bill Johnson WAS Madonna. No cheap-wig, toss-on-a-dress sell-out for this rock icon. Uh, uh. He went the full tweezer/shaver/tuck/body powder/make-up route, and until he opened his mouth and the same old roar came out, it was impossible to know who or what you were looking at. The beauty of it was that what we were seeing was actually quite simple: a rock band embracing the inherent absurdity of the rock and roll enterprise, having fun to the nth degree and absolutely refusing to take themselves or anything else too seriously. They absolutely got it.

–BOB STELTMAN, Smile Politely music critic and former Record Swap employee and WEFT DJ

Hardvark as STYX
Sixteen Tons as BIG BLACK

I’ll toot my own horn about the night Sixteen Tons covered Big Black. I recall fondly my seven-hour drive from Chicago to C-U in a raging blizzard, driving past state cops trying to close Interstate 57 at two different exits, getting to the Pig two hours late, hopping onstage, getting TOTALLY (way too) STONED behind my drums while Ed Schell set off a brick of firecrackers at the front of the stage, and then blazing through a selection of Big Black’s “easiest” songs at whatever tempo the monster strobe-light underneath my drum throne was firing at. Somehow it was the best we ever played, the hardest we ever rocked.

–JIM KELLY, former Sixteen Tons drummer, current Centaur drummer

Steve Pride and His Blood Kin as THE CLASH

Steve Shields (Pride) got jumped by a bunch of hoodlums in West Side Park shortly before this show — how much more “Clash” could you get? The answer, none.

–JAY BENNETT, former member of Steve Pride and His Blood Kin, Titanic Love Affair and, of course, Wilco

MattVicanDave as TRIO


1994 @ Blind Pig (2 nights)

Honcho Overload as THE VILLAGE PEOPLE
Sixteen Tons as THE POLICE
Hardvark as ELTON JOHN
Suede Chain as NEIL DIAMOND

Hum’s sole Cover Up performance was more akin to a Honcho-style deconstruction, although minus the former’s inevitable homo-erotic overtones. They responded to Zep’s daunting virtuosity by beating three of their classics to death mercilessly, pummeling “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker” into ear-splitting submission. (Let me admit now that this setlist is what Matt Talbott and I were able to cobble together via email: neither of us is willing to be held accountable for our accuracy or lack thereof.) The latter stands out as the highlight to me as it presented one of those classic absurdist moments: all dolled up in a Dee Snyder wig, Talbott took the solo in the middle of the song — you know, the part where everybody drops out and Jimmy does some blues cranking followed by a veritable whirlwind of notes that brings the band back in.  I will never forget seeing one of C-U’s great anti-rock stars take that classic axe-on-hip pose, just spraying notes everywhere, the exact opposite of what the more sober Hum style typically allowed. All told, Hum’s one visit gave us exactly the kind of snapshot the Cover Up is supposed to provide: we got to see a band having an absolute blast stepping waaaaaay outside its comfort zone.

–BOB STELTMAN, Smile Politely music critic and former Record Swap employee and WEFT DJ

Steakdaddy 6 as URGE OVERKILL
Love Cup as TOM PETTY
Adam Schmitt as JOE JACKSON


1995 @ Blind Pig (2 nights)

Menthol as BERLIN

I was somehow around for the Supremes being played by Love Cup in ’95. That was some surreal mega big shit — not as pretty as the Supremes, but damn good. … Speaking of Love Cup, the single performance that I loved the most is a tie between Terminus Victor doing Love Cup (2003) and Iron Maiden being rocked to all hell by The Mezzanines (2002). Terminus Victor doing Love Cup rocked my world for two reasons: It was nice to hear a local band get some historical respect, and it was nice to be able to sing along and know where the breaks were to something that wasn’t a pop group. They were very on it.

–MATTHIS HELMICK, aka Beats By Otter

Tiny as HALL & OATES
Poster Children as DAVID BOWIE

I’d have to say, without a doubt, that my favorite performance was when Poster Children covered David Bowie. I mean, every Cover Up I’ve seen from them has always been spot-on in my opinion. And when you add Bowie to that … well, let’s just say that it was the first time I walked away from a show wondering if I should just quit playing. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t.

–SCOTT KIMBLE, Terminus Victor

Williwaw and Moon Seven Times as ALICE COOPER
Lonely Trailer as ROBERT FROST
Braid as INXS

I’ll never forget standing outside on the (old) ledge at the (old) Blind Pig watching the Great Cover Up in 1995. My good friends in Braid were doing a short set of INXS and, of course, the set list was critical. We all lived together at the time so I got to hear regular practices in the basement. They pulled off a stellar performance of “Need You Tonight / Mediate” — and with cue cards to boot (thrown out by good friend, sometimes musician and now actor, Brian Shortall). It continues to be one of my favorite shows of theirs, even after all these years.

–RACHAEL DIETKUS-MILLER, Smile Politely contributor and former violinist for Very Secretary 


1996 @ Blind PIg (2 nights)


It’s tough to pick a favorite Cover Up performance. Some bands do interesting versions of a certain artist (Love Cup = The Supremes), and others are quite silly but genius (The Viper = Bugs Bunny). And then there are the bands that nail it right on the head. Although I enjoy all three angles, the latter tends to move me the most. So my personal choice for favorite Cover Up moment would have to be when Menthol stepped onto a smoke-filled, strobe-lit stage in all black and sunglasses and ripped in to Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain. I saw JAMC during the ’90s and they were washed up and boring. (Jim Reid played the show in an Izod and khakis!) Menthol really made you feel like you were at a JAMC concert in their heyday. But this was one that most people witnessed from outside the Blind Pig because it was so fucking loud it cleared the room. When the smoke lifted the last men standing were myself and about 10 other brave souls who must love JAMC as much as I do.

–LYLE HODGES, former C-U resident, DJ (Lyle the Electrician) and music critic for The Octopus

The Bludgers as JOHN DENVER
Bitter Homes & Gardens/Ed Burch as BADFINGER

Having been to most of the Great Cover Ups since 1993, it’s really hard to isolate one performance as a “stand-alone.” However, if there’s one that instantly pops into my head when someone says, “Great Cover Up,” I’d have to identify Castor’s cover of Motley Crue in 1996. They started the set off covering Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” if memory serves. Then a verse into the song, they interrupted it and, to everyone’s surprise, Ward Gollings appears — as Vince Neil! — and they break into “Shout at the Devil.” They ended the set with “Home Sweet Home.” After each song, Ward kept shouting, “Thank you Terra Haute!” With so much glam metal energy awesomeness radiating from the stage, I had a hard time believing I WASN’T in Terra Haute. Thanks Ward & Castor!

–SANTANU RAHMAN, formerly of Triple Whip, The April Crash and Marvin Nash

Moon Seven Times as VAN HALEN

A vastly underrated set. It opened with The Viper accompanying Lynn Canfield in a version of “Jump” á la Aztec Camera. However, it then went balls-to-the-wall for the next 20 minutes. Todd Fletcher joined Henry Frayne to attempt to replicate Eddie’s guitar work, and both DLR and Sammy songs were represented. When we stopped to allow the crowd to provide the vocals for “Panama,” the place absolutely shook. Lynn reminded me of the man who sported a bikini on stage during “Hot for Teacher.” (I think his name was Bryce.) This may be on video somewhere. Truly awesome.

–DON GERARD, former Moon Seven Times bassist, current Greedy Loves bassist

Free Range Chicken as LYNYRD SKYNYRD


1997 @ Blind Pig (2 nights)

Castor as WEEZER

If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that Castor’s take on Weezer may have outweighed all of the other contenders performing that night back in 1997. A blur of downtuned Pinkerton and S/T (aka The Blue Album) jams blasting from the stage and throughout the house speakers that night left me with a ring in my right ear that I still have to this day. Overall, the entire night was incredible and incredibly loud. What made it so incredible? It probably had something to do with lasers, smoke machines, Jeff Garber straightening his hair and Leinenkugel. I positively threw up that night.

–ROY EWING, former Braid drummer, current New Ruins drummer

Braid as R.E.M.
The Great Crusades as STRAY CATS
The Mezzanines as BLACK SABBATH
Bantha as SPINAL TAP
Viewfinder as WHAM
Angie Heaton as OZZY OSBOURNE
The Bludgers as ROD STEWART
1998 @ Mabel’s (2 nights)

Poster Children as TALKING HEADS
Woflie as THE KINKS
Teddy & The Boozers as IKE & TINA TURNER
Shotgun Wedding as THE PRETENDERS
Absinthe Blind as THE BLACK CROWES
Angie Heaton as FLEETWOOD MAC

My favorite memory was when I did Fleetwood Mac. I would love to have a video of that. I think something, or someone was being channeled … just like a white winged dove. I fell down about five steps at Mabel’s on my way to the stage! Stevie, can you hear me?

–ANGIE HEATON, singer/songwriter

The Mezzanines as THE RAMONES

The April Crash’s singer, Elizabeth Zinger, was braided and color warped, and belted out Perry Farrell like a demon — and she didn’t even know their music before the Great Cover Up. She walked around campus in headphones memorizing the songs. With that little Spanish intro, “Stop!” started off the night. Guitarist Darin Smith dyed his goldilocks black and bare-chested it with bassist Santanu Rahman. Brett Sanderson left the drums to play acoustic guitar for “Jane Says.” Their energy was spastic and perfect and it was totally A+.

–HOLLY RUSHAKOFF, former bassist for Triple Whip

The Bludgers as HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS
1999 @ The Highdive (2 nights)

Poster Children as U2
The Viper as BUGS BUNNY

My all time, mind-blowing experience at a Great Cover Up had to be at The Highdive when The Viper performed Bugs Bunny’s operatic favorites. He showed up with what appeared to be a full orchestra and in a tuxedo with tails … or is my memory playing tricks on me? The Viper’s performance was unexpected, to say the least. If you are familiar with Bugs Bunny’s version of Wagner’s opera, you know all the animated sturm and drang that accompanies the “Kill the rabbit” number. The orchestra, the vocals, the lights — everything was perfect … an experience you get once in a lifetime, unique to the time and place, burned in your brain until Alzheimer’s sets in.

–TIFANI MOOT, longtime C-U music fan and co-owner of Jupiter’s and The Highdive

Mike Clayton as QUEEN
Castor/Sarge as NIRVANA

I don’t remember what they played (though I remember what they didn’t play — “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), but I can definitely tell you that all those years those guys spent perfecting Nirvana songs in practice spaces and garages and basements with their friends in high school, all those hours playing the records and watching the videos and being moved by and obsessed with that music as teenage boys (and girls) are wont to do — all of that showed up that night onstage. My god, I said to Bob Steltman as the hair on my arms stood up — the drums! His voice! The crowd wasn’t tentative in their enjoyment, either; it was a balls-out catchartic party in that room, what with all the pogoing and the full-strength singalong. It was a little like seeing Nirvana, even though we knew it was all pretend. Something happened in there, though, just for a few minutes, that goes beyond four guys doing great covers of a great band. Ten years on, I still get goosebumps trying to explain it to people.

–LISA BRALTS-KELLY, longtime C-U music fan, former WEFT DJ and current Smile Politely contributor

The Signalmen as THE MONKEES
Tractor Kings as BUDDY HOLLY
Absinthe Blind as MICHAEL JACKSON

We were invited back to perform at The Great Cover Up in 1999 after opening the whole thing the previous year as The Black Crowes. Naturally, we argued about who to cover until our second guitarist at the time flippantly suggested that we do Michael Jackson. We all nodded in seriousness. It was perfect. Our set was all off Thriller; why mess with anything else if you only have twenty minutes, right? We opened with “Beat It” and then ripped in to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” before slowing it down a little with “Human Nature” and “Billy Jean.” Only one song could close the set, and it had to be the title track. But instead of just performing it, we asked a good number of friends to help us recreate the video at the show. We had about ten ghouls and goblins dressed up, and had Tristan Wraight’s father, who has a very thick Cockney accent, dress up like a vampire to read the part of Vincent Price. During the break down, [soundman] Jimmie Myers fogged the room so thick that you literally couldn’t see two feet in front of your face for a few minutes. The ghouls and ghosts walked through the crowd as our “Vincent” recited the “rap” near the end of the song. When it finally ended, and Tristan’s father belted out the now famous cackle at the end of the song, the applause was so loud that it clipped the sound chip on my father’s video camera. He had to send it in to get it replaced.

–SETH FEIN, Smile Politely editor and co-founder, and former Absinthe Blind drummer

Angie Heaton as LIZ PHAIR
The Bludgers as THE COMMODORES
The Trombones as THE SEX PISTOLS
Jenny Choi as THE MUPPETS

In 1999, Bryan Phelps (of Lucky Mulholland) and I headed over to The Highdive to see what this thing, the Great Cover Up, was all about. When we got there, Jenny Choi was onstage covering The Muppets in full costume. We were absolutely blown away. We made our way to the front of the stage and stayed all night, gazing up as band after band morphed into The Sex Pistols, Michael Jackson and U2.

–LARRY GATES, of Curb Service and Lorenzo Goetz fame


2000 @ The Highdive (2 nights)

Absinthe Blind as GUNS N’ ROSES

My earliest Cover Up memory involves bumbling into The Highdive, half drunk. I walked into the room with Absinthe Blind covering Guns N’ Roses. Nudging and writhing, I ended up pretty close to the front, screaming like a banshee. The memory is a faint one and a bit blurry, but that was my favorite Cover Up experience hands down.

–HARMAN JORDAN, formerly of Shipwreck and The Buzzards

Temple of Low Men as PETER GABRIEL
Wayside School as BECK
Angie Heaton as THE GO-GO’S
The Kennett Brothers as THE MODERN LOVERS
The Signalmen as THE GUESS WHO
The Mezzanines as THE CLASH
Centaur as PINK FLOYD
The Blackouts as DINOSAUR JR.
Tractor Kings as BOB DYLAN
The Beauty Shop as THE PIXIES

2001 @ The Highdive (2 nights)

Absinthe Blind as BEASTIE BOYS

Watching my sister Erin (as MCA) solo “Girls” while my brother Seth (Mike D) and I (Ad Rock) stood by waiting to launch into “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” was a great way to finish off our run of Cover Ups … definitely some of the best memories I have of performing live are from the Great Cover Up.

–ADAM FEIN, former Absinthe Blind frontman

Temple of Low Men as PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS
Angie Heaton as JOAN JETT
The Signalmen as NEIL YOUNG
Robynn Ragland as THE SUNDAYS
Imaginary Posse as WEEN
The Mezzanines as THE CLASH
The Beauty Shop as LEONARD COHEN

Most memorable performance? Easy — The Beauty Shop’s Leonard Cohen set. It was one of the first shows back after [drummer] Casey Smith left the band, and John Hoeffleur just nailed it with his pitch-perfect, slow-tempo delivery. The somber tones of Cohen’s classics amplified the experience of watching one of my favorite bands in flux. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed.

–MARK NEWTON, formerly of AD/HD

The Blackouts as TOM PETTY
Tractor Kings as JOHNNY CASH
Rectangle as SONIC YOUTH

My favorite memory of me actually playing in the Cover Up was when Rectangle covered Sonic Youth. … We wanted to do Sonic Youth’s songs well and not just make a lot of noise and become a parody. For me, it was pretty tough because I never really play covers. It’s hard enough learning our own songs. Ironically, it was one of the few Cover Ups that the Poster Children weren’t playing, but they were all over that performance for us. Rose Marshack had to help me figure out how to play the bass line for “Kool Thing.” And Rick Valentin did a guest appearance for us by doing the vocals for “Skip Tracer,” which was pretty fucking cool. After our last song, “Teenage Riot,” people started yelling, “One more!” Well, we would of loved to play one more for ’em, but we didn’t learn any others. Finally, my favorite thing about the show is the fact that I “won” The Octopus’ award for “Best Wig” for my portrayal of Kim Gordon. (Did I mention the fact that I had to wear a blonde wig, tight leather pants and sunglasses to pull off Kim Gordon? It was hot.) Ironically, Angie Heaton “won” the “Worst Wig” award for Joan Jett. Sorry, Angie. [Ed note: the author of this article was responsible for picking those winners. He apologizes to Angie, too.]

–VICTOR CORTEZ, bassist for The Most, formerly of Rectangle

Terminus Victor as DEF LEPPARD

2002 @ The Highdive (4 nights)

The Red Hot Valentines as GREEN DAY
Everybody Uh Oh as YO LA TENGO
Humpty Dumpster as THE POGUES
Zea Mays as THE DOORS
Green Mountain Grass as BLACK SABBATH
Terminus Victor as JOY DIVISION
Rectangle as PAVEMENT
Master Blaster as DYLAN AND CASH
Poster Children as ELVIS PRESLEY

I was a bit late coming to know the Great Cover Up. My first time was 2002, so that year was the most memorable for that reason. There were many great performances that night — AD/HD, Terminus Victor — but the entire night was electric with anticipation for what the Poster Children were going to do. They had a long history of bringing down the house with their past performances and this night was no different. They came out and the vibe in the room was amazing. When they struck the first chords there was this big release of energy from the crowd and everyone loved it.

–TROY MICHAEL, Innocent Words Magazine

The Mezzanines as IRON MAIDEN
The Blackouts as BLACK FLAG

The Blackouts’ Cover Up sets were always interesting, to say the least. They never tried to reproduce an artist’s songs in a note-for-note fashion; rather, they ran each artist through their own personal blender and ended up with something quite unique. This was never more true than when they bashed out Black Flag with a guest frontman (whose name escapes me now) who did his best take on Henry Rollins. I always thought The Blackouts had more than a little SST in them, so this set just made sense. And they annihilated several songs, including the classic “Six Pack.” The crowd near the stage turned into a mosh pit — I recall several audience members either running for their lives, or saying afterward that they wish they would have — and I finished the set with at least two people’s beers dumped all over my shoes, bruises forming on my arms and my ears ringing. If that’s not the sign of a good punk set, then I don’t know what is.

–DOUG HOEPKER, former DJ (The Noiseboy) and Octopus/CU Cityview music critic, current Smile Politely editor

Tractor Kings as SON VOLT
The Beauty Shop as THE MISFITS
Some Velvet Morning as ZZ TOP
Temple of Low Men as RADIOHEAD
The Signalmen as JOE WALSH
Robynn Ragland as X

My favorite performance has to be Robynn Ragland and Adam Schmitt as Exene Cervenka and John Doe. No one was sure at first who they were covering, but the music was good enough for it not to matter. I went to Record Service next day and special ordered Los Angeles by X; I bought Wild Gift off the rack about a week later. October 2002 was insane: the Cover Up was four nights in a row, and I barely could stand by the end. Good times.

–Todd Hunter, local music guru (WEFT Sessions, and The Hub)

Lorenzo Goetz as OASIS
G. Lee and Jet Blonde as GARBAGE


2003 @ The Highdive (3 nights)

Temple of Low Men as STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
Lorenzo Goetz as SUBLIME
The Signalmen as IGGY POP
G. Lee and Jet Blonde as STEELY DAN
The Greedy Loves as THE REPLACEMENTS
Edward Burch as REO SPEEDWAGON

REO Speedwagon was a thrill because they were the first band I ever saw in concert. We picked some lesser known tracks (like “Golden Country” and “Son of a Poor Man”). I remember making the point explicitly on stage that we were not doing this for camp value; we actually liked the songs we were playing. I approached Terry Lutrell (vocalist on REO’s 1971 debut) to join us that night for “157 Riverside Avenue,” which for me would have been the ultimate Cover Up coup, but it never came together.

–Edward Burch, singer/songwriter who has played with numerous others over the years, including Jay Bennett and The Kennett Brothers

The Mezzanines as METALLICA
The Blackouts as JIMI HENDRIX
Terminus Victor as LOVE CUP
The Red Hot Valentines as NICKELBACK
Orphans as BJORK

In addition to any of the Didjits’ sets and pretty much any of Poster Kids set, Orphans’ set was stunning. I think Erin Fein became Bjork more than Bjork even is.

–Adam Schmitt, recording engineer, singer/songwriter and former member of the Elvis Brothers

Everybody Uh Oh as THE CURE
Goldfronts as NEW ORDER
Green Mountain Grass as HARDER THEY COME

2004 @ The Highdive (2 nights)


Not to toot my own horn, but Temple of Low Men playing five Rage Against the Machine songs the night after the 2004 presidential election was cathartic, to say the least. Being able to scream “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” at the top of my lungs got me through the next four years.

–Brandon T. Washington, singer/songwriter and frontman of Temple of Low Men and Beat Kitchen

Lorenzo Goetz as CYPRESS HILL
G. Lee and Jet Blonde as THE POLICE
Nadafinga as BON JOVI
Sick Day as PEARL JAM
Emotional Rec Club as FRANK SINATRA
The Blackouts as THE ANIMALS
Terminus Victor as SLINT

Terminus Victor performing as Slint stands out above many of the great performances I’ve witnessed at the Great Cover Up. It was an amplified judo-chop to the gut that left few standing and my jaw laying on the floor. I don’t think that many really cared for it, but those who understood were clearly blown away.

–Mason Kessinger, Smile Politely web guru and co-founder

Salaryman as KRAFTWERK
The Greedy Loves as THE BUZZCOCKS
Triple Whip as NINE INCH NAILS
2005/2006 @ Cowboy Monkey (3 nights)

Lorenzo Goetz/Goldfronts as PUBLIC ENEMY
Shipwreck as BILLY IDOL

The hardest part of our first Cover Up for me was learning to do the screaming/singing Billy Idol thing. I blew my voice out at every practice and was left hoarse and croaking for the next day or two. Unsure that I was going to be able get through even a couple of tunes without my voice going out, I started practicing the songs while driving to my office job each morning. One sunny morning, I had pulled up to a stop sign and sat waiting for the other car at the intersection to pull forward. I was singing along with “Rebel Yell,” doing my best to mimic Billy Idol, when I looked over at the other car and noticed that the driver was staring at me. Being unable to hear me through her rolled up windows, I imagine that she could probably only decipher this much about the situation: here was a young man — dressed in office attire and sitting in a rusty old pick-up — whose reddened face was grotesquely contorted and who appeared to be screaming bloody murder. Needless to say, she waved me on through the intersection, even though she had clearly pulled up first. A few weeks later, our performance went off without a hitch and proved to be one of the most fun nights I have had as a musician. I like to think that perhaps that other driver noticed a strange snarl, a Billy Idolesque curl, to the upper lip of that screaming man dressed in business casual.

–John Owen, former Shipwreck guitarist/singer, current Headlights guitarist

Probably Vampires as THE WALLFLOWERS
Angie Heaton as DOLLY PARTON
Darrin Drda’s Theory of Everything as CAKE
Ambitious Pie Party as THE BEACH BOYS
Mike Ingram as LIVE
Tractor Kings as WILCO
The Delta Kings as AC/DC
Elsinore as DAVID BOWIE
Poster Children as THE ROLLING STONES
Triple Science Whip as THE SMASHING PUMPKINS
Terminus Victor as FUGAZI
The Greedy Loves as THE VERTEBRATS
Emotional Rec Club as GUIDED BY VOICES
Nadafinga as JIMMY EAT WORLD


2007 @ Cowboy Monkey (1 night) and The Highdive (2 nights)

Shipwreck as INXS

Shipwreck doing INXS was one of my favorite moments. They transformed ’80s club mix into 2000 alt-rock … way cool!

–David Domal, formerly of Emotional Rec Club, Some Velvet Morning, Imaginary Posse and Mad Science Fair

Probably Vampires as KID ROCK
Triple Whip as INTERPOL
Watery Domestic as HEADLIGHTS
Roberta Sparrow as SKID ROW / JAWBREAKER
Scurvine as TEGAN AND SARA
The Beauty Shop as TOM WAITS
Mike Ingram Band as BUSH
Tractor Kings as DIRE STRAITS
Elsinore as QUEEN

Playing the Great Cover Up has probably been the most pleasing benefit of living in Champaign-Urbana and being a part of our music scene. Everyone who plays, everyone who comes to watch and listen … everyone is always so happy and anxious and spinning inside. When we stepped on the stage as Queen in 2007, we knew we had finally won over the people of C-U. Taking this year off will be hard, but that just gives us more time to prepare for next year.

–Ryan Groff, Elsinore frontman

Mad Science Fair as ELVIS COSTELLO
The Living Blue with Dave King as CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND
Kilborn Alley as VAN MORRISON
Terminus Victor as GANG OF FOUR
Archives of the Future as THE DEAD KENNEDYS
Nadafinga as FOO FIGHTERS
Pulsar47 as LED ZEPPELIN
The Delta Kings as THE PRETENDERS 

2008 @ The Highdive (3 nights)

Kilborn Alley as MC5
Brother Embassy as WHITE ZOMBIE
Krukid as KANYE WEST
Mike Ingram Band as JOURNEY
Beat Kitchen with Larry Gates as RUN DMC

A break-dance circle breaks out in the middle of the crowd? Ward Gollings jumps up on the bar wearing leather pants and a neckerchief to be Steven Tyler in “Walk This Way”? Beat Kitchen with Larry Gates performing Run DMC is a textbook example of how to pull off a great Great Cover Up set. The Beauty Shop as The Temptations (also 2008) was one of the most surprising and excellent choices I’ve seen a band make at the Cover Up. From the outfits to the song selection to the lovely backup singers to John Hoeffleur’s very solid guitar work, it was one of those sets that you were glad to have witnessed.

–Mike Ingram (photographed with his band as Journey at the top of the article), C-U musician, DJ (Mingram) and buzz music critic

Monster Honkey as THE DEFTONES
Terminus Victor as ELLIOT SMITH
Tractor Kings as UNCLE TUPELO
The Beauty Shop as THE TEMPTATIONS
Shipwreck as THE CARS
Mad Mardigan as CREAM
Roberta Sparrow as THE DESCENDENTS
JigGsaw as RANCID
Darling Disarm as PORTISHEAD
Elsinore as BECK

See Smile Politely’s coverage of the 2008 Cover Up: Night 1, Night 2 and Night 3.


2009 @ The Highdive (3 nights)


Beat Kitchen as Sly and the Family Stone (above)

Mike Ingram Band as Temple of Low Men

Curb Service as Pulp Fiction Soundtrack (above)

Brother Embassy as Limp Bizkit

Kilborn Alley as Peter Tosh

PopGun5 as Lynryd Skynryd



Post Historic & Robots Counterfeiting Money as Andrew W.K.

Duke of Uke as T. Rex

Common Loon as Madonna

Tractor Kings as Steve Earle

New Ruins as Guided by Voices

Agent Mos & Friends as A Tribe Called Quest

Santa as The Cure



Golden Quality as Scorpions

Silver Moon as Fleetwood Mac (sorry, don’t know how we forgot; it was awesome)

Scurvine as Soundgarden

Hot Cops as Rainer Maria

Chemicals as The Stooges

Roberta Sparrow as Alkaline Trio

Terminus Victor as PJ Harvey


Feel free to share your favorite Great Cover Up memory in the comments section.

Thanks to everyone who contributed their memories to this article.

Photos from 2008 by David J. Cubberly, including photograph of Mike Ingram Band at top of article. All other photos by Holly Rushakoff.

Related Articles