Tribute band takes Memorial Park stage next week
Bill Canell was a fifth-grader when his ears were first tickled by the musical stylings of The Who. Though he was only 11 years old, he found himself captivated by the band’s raw energy and live performance.
“They were amazing stage performers,” said Canell, who started playing guitar a month after seeing the band perform on TV. “Their performance lifted my soul. The energy, the way they were able to project onto the people was unique. I had never seen a band perform the way they did with the quality of music and energy. That really intrigued me.”
Canell never imagined he would one day be channeling the English rock band with Who’s Next, a tribute band that has made its way around the United States and will be performing a free concert in Mineola next weekend.
Canell started the band in 1998 with a desire to keep music of The Who alive and pass it on to the younger generation. He is the only member of the tribute band’s original lineup, and is joined by lead singer Dave MacDonald, bassist Mike Conte from Levittown and drummer Rich Savarese from Plainview.
“It’s the best lineup we’ve had,” said Canell. “Playing-wise, each member really embraces their character. Each member of The Who was unique on their own, so each of us have to play their part to the highest level for this to work. It clicks well.”
Who’s Next concert attendees get an experience reminiscent of the one that made fifth-grade Canell fall in love with the band as a youngster. Band members not only play the same music as The Who, but on the same equipment and donning similar outfits as the original rock band did in the 1970s. Their commitment to an authentic show experience filled with energy and passion has led to a devoted fan base spanning across generational lines.
“We [perform] with the highest level of authenticity we can,” Canell said. “When people come, we try to give them the full experience. People appreciate the effort we put into the project and know we’re passionate because we’re enthusiastic and emulate The Who in their power and energy.”
Not only has the commitment and musicianship of Who’s Next captured the attention of fans across America, but it’s also been noted by The Who themselves. The tribute band is endorsed by The Who and has even played their after-show parties. They’ve also worked with many of The Who’s charities, raising $15,000 over the years for Teen Cancer America, a charity started by Roger Daltrey. Members of The Who have also signed memorabilia for them to raffle off.
“When I was a kid at 12, watching Pete Townshend and being inspired by him, I never thought I would meet him and be friendly with him,” said Canell, who channels the legendary guitarist on stage during shows. “It’s surreal. I never thought I’d be doing this.”
Who’s Next will grace the Memorial Park Amphitheater stage on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. to perform rock opera, Tommy. Canell, a Mineola resident who also owns Bedquarters on Jericho Turnpike, said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to play in his hometown for the first time.
“It’ll be great to play in my hometown. To do this performance of Tommy in Mineola is really special to me,” said Canell. “We’ll be doing the rock opera in its entirety and bringing in a few other musicians. It’s something we did 10 years ago and it’s very popular. We’ll do some of the best hits as well.”
The performance will also be a special one for Conte, whose first song during auditioning for Who’s Next was the “Overture” from Tommy.
“It’s been truly an amazing journey for me, personally, playing in Who’s Next,” said Conte. “My childhood and musical hero is John Entwistle, and after 35 or more years, I finally get to be him in Who’s Next.”
Though channeling The Who gives these dedicated fans a chance to live out their dream, performing is physically demanding. But that doesn’t deter the members from wanting to keep rocking out for as long as they can, to continue to keep the music of The Who alive for as long as possible.
“We do it for the music,” Canell said. “The best reward is seeing the smiles on the younger generation and seeing the kids enjoy the music. We enjoy this and we’ll go for as long as it’s possible.”
Find out more about Who’s Next at www.whosnexttribute.com.