Filling the shoes of legends
By JAMI KUNZER - firstname.lastname@example.org
When he was younger, Ben Abney admits he thought tribute bands were kind of sell-outs.
Then he met Doug Wolff and heard him perform as Neil Young in his band Broken Arrow. He knew immediately he wanted to be part of it, not just the music, but the production, the show of it all.
“It was my No. 1 band, the best playing band, my favorite band,” said the 29-year-old Abney, a Crystal Lake native.
Wolff and others who knew Abney, who’d been performing with numerous bands for years, saw Bob Dylan in him immediately. Abney’’s thin and wears his hair like Dylan.
And when he sang, it was as if he became the legendary artist.
“He looks just like a little Bobby Dylan,” said Wolff, of Crystal Lake, who calls himself a 52-year-old hippie. “When he’s on stage, I think I’m playing next to Bob Dylan.”
Put the two of them together as Neil Young and Bob Dylan tribute artists, and it just seemed to make sense. Two artists singing the music of the singer-songwriters who most inspire them. Basically, two bands in one.
“You can call me and Doug whatever, but we were born to do this,” Abney said.
“We take people back to their heyday,” Wolff added. “I’m very proud to be part of that.”
Wolff, as Young in the band Broken Arrow (named after one of Young’s albums) and Abney, as Dylan in the band Positively 4th Street (named after a Dylan song of the same name) will perform at 8 p.m. May 3 at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock. Tickets cost $28 at 815-338-5300 or www.woodstockoperahouse.com.
Complete with costume changes, the show has each performer thoroughly taking on the roles of the musical characters. Abney sports the black leather jacket and dark sunglasses Dylan once wore, and Wolff takes on Young’s appearance with loose flannel over a T-shirt and a Neil Young-type hat.
When not replicating their inspirations, the two play in each other’s bands. Abney plays lead guitar for Broken Arrow, while Wolff plays bass guitar for Positively 4th Street.
They’re joined on stage by Katie Bendorf on violin, Kevin Weith on drums and Jared Olson on electric guitar.
Having performed together for a few years, all involved hope to bring the show to new levels, and with the help of Abney’s father, Bob Abney, as manager, have targeted theaters as opposed to bar and club settings.
“My father is extremely influential in my decision to do this and my life,” Ben Abney said. “I hold God first and then my father second. ... There’s a possibility we might not have survived without him.”
Their music, they say, not only appeals to those who grew up with it, but also new generations discovering the work of two artists who rose to stardom in the 1960s and ‘70s and likely will go down in history as the best singer-songwriters of all time.
Wolff became Young somewhat on accident while rehearsing as the bass guitar player with a band in high school. One of the members of that band – the late Jay Bennett – went on to become a part of the alternative rock band Wilco.
The band started playing Young’s “Heart of Gold.”
“I don’t know why, but I just stepped up to the microphone because it was one of the only songs I knew the lyrics to,” Wolff said. “I wasn’t a singer back then. All of a sudden everyone stopped. I was like, ‘Oh dude, I’m sorry I’ve got such a horrible voice.”
Bennet, at the time, told him, “You sound just like Neil Young.”
Wolff knew of Young’s songs, but not really the artist himself. A friend gave him an entire box of Young cassette tapes.
“I really started getting into his music a lot and relating to a lot of the stuff in the lyrics,” he said.
In the early ‘80s, Broken Arrow began. The band played until about 2000 before breaking up. Wolff performed in a few other bands for a while until Olson – having heard Wolff perform at The Village Squire in Crystal Lake where he worked – suggested in 2010 that he bring Broken Arrow back together.
Since, it’s been all Broken Arrow. Once Abney got on board, it was all Broken Arrow and Positively 4th Street.
“I was really behind this 150 percent the whole time,” said Wolff, who continues to perform some solo work and with a smaller band, Little Broken Arrow, which also includes his son Arthur. “It gets me out of bed every day to know that I was blessed with whatever I was blessed with.”
The band now performs about two gigs a month and hopes to do more.
“My whole life is dedicated to this band and solo work,” said Abney, whose solo work is about 40 percent Dylan and the rest ‘60s classic rock. He also works part-time at Target and teaches guitar lessons to children.
“At least for me, I think it’s just a great honor to have the gifts that God gave me to replicate one of the greatest songwriters of our generation, and I believe Doug feels the same way.”