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Tribute bands bring nostalgic jams to Opera House

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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The third annual Opera House Tribute Series bands relive the best of, well, the best. Santana tribute band Abraxas and the Simon and Garfunkel tribute band jazz and folk up the third annual tribute band series.

Simon and Garfunkel tribute band members AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle met 20 years ago as if guided by a star in a Bethlehem, Penn., bar. Beedle, a tenor, accompanied a friend to Swearingen’s gig. The guitar-strumming baritone started talking tunes with Beedle when they found they had a groovy thing goin’.

“We started talking music, and Simon and Garfunkel came up, I think, on my break,” Swearingen said. “We started talking about a song, and I started singing and strumming it, and he jumped in on a harmony. [...] Before the end of the night I had him up singing songs, and it was one of those moments — the blend just started right out of the gate. It was almost like we were related.”

Swearingen discovered the folk group through his parents, while Beedle grew up with the pair. “I kind of got my stuff from my parents listening to Simon and Garfunkel records,” Swearingen said. “(Beedle) grew up with Simon and Garfunkel, whereas that was before my time so I sort of rediscovered it through my parents’ albums.”

The chance meeting with Beedle left the two with an obvious group to pay tribute to.

“Two guys and one guitar, who are you going to emulate?” Swearingen said. “I like the Everly Brothers, but Simon and Garfunkel were way more involved in harmony, so the whole show sort of happened by accident.”

Swearingen added there are multiple facets that play into a successful harmonic duo.

“There are a few factors when you’re singing with another person — the tone of their voice, whether it meshes with yours, someone that understands the way you phrase, and sort of just the musical sensibility when you have all three of those things come together.”

As the tribute band manager Lawrence Edward put it, “Someday I hope Paul Simon can catch the show. It’s an honor to him.”

Abraxas lead guitarist Scott Norris formed the Santana tribute band six years ago. The mostly Salt Lake City-based band performs around the country.

“I thought I would put together a Santana band because I was bored playing in casinos all the time,” Norris said. “I put out an ad (in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas) and was inundated.”

Lifelong musician Norris recruited band members Jorge Gonzalez, percussion; John VanWagoner, guitar and lead vocals; Andrew Glasmacher, drums, Larry Alexander, bass guitar; Scott Dorton, keyboard; and Chicago resident Joe Rendon on percussion.

Santana has been a facet of Norris’ life for a quarter century.

“Probably 25 years ago I started playing his music,” Norris said. “I appreciated his style and how he approached things musically.”

He was first exposed to the vibrant rhythms while in service abroad.

“I was in Vietnam when I first heard of him and I heard of Woodstock [New York]. I was in Japan (when I) first heard him play,” Norris recalled.

The supple tunes and Latin-jazzed jams struck a chord with the guitarist.

“Back in the early ’60s when I heard early-early rock and roll, it fascinated me. All I heard was country and the next thing I know I’m a Santana addict.”

Norris, who has seen the band perform live more than 15 times, lives and breathes the music.

“I’m a blues lover,” he said. “And everything (Santana’s) done is built around blues. He plays a lot of feeling like in blues. He evokes a lot of feeling in one note like BB King. Santana does that same thing. It’s wonderful to me.”

The Opera House Tribute Series is produced by One Zero Charlie Productions.

For information, video and audio, visit www.simonandgarfunkeltribute.com or www.abraxasband.com.

Abraxas plays at the Woodstock Opera House at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18. AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle will perform at 8 pm. Saturday, Feb. 25 and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26. Tickets are $35.