WORTHINGTON – With a 12-person lineup including a horn section, the band Viva Knievel – not to be confused with the 1977 film of the same name – may well be the greatest rock band to ever perform at the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and MusicFestival.
“We wanted to step it up,” said Barry Roberts, who is the regatta’s music chairman and board member. “What’s a really cool cover band and a party band that would be nice, and it’s gonna get people talking?”
Viva Knievel, a Minneapolis-based high-octane cover band, was the answer, and they’ll play at 9 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re going to take the leap and rise to the challenge,” said Viva Knievel drummer Mark Schwandt.
The group’s name was inspired by motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, who took risks and took big leaps through canyons and buses, most famously in the 1970s – and when he started, Viva Knievel mainly played classic rock from the same era. Its members were all original artists with their own original bands, and they got together to perform at a wedding. It was almost a kind of social club, Schwandt said.
“When people were moving across the country and taking on new jobs or expanding their families, it was a way for us to maintain our friendships and maintain communication,” he explained. “In almost a decade now, it’s become almost a machine, and we’re very proud of that.”
It’s a simple concept for a band that proudly calls itself a “fearless American wrecking ball” on its website, vivaknievelband.com, which claims it will bring “chaotic stage shows, life-saving patriotism, face-melting guitar solos and earth-shaking renditions of all your favorite songs that other bands are too scared to play.
It’s no idle boast either, as the band plays a dizzying array of wildly disparate tracks from wildly different genres.
“They do a lot of punk, a lot of Top 40, a lot of party stuff,” Roberts said. “They like to hit virtually every genre” except country.
Sure, an audience might hear “Rock the Casbah” or “Let’s Dance,” but they’re just as likely to hear “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend, “When You Were Young” or “Uptown Funk” by The Killers. “Fatboy Slim and Bruce Springsteen are both on the setlist, along with The Heavy, U2 and Jimi Hendrix.
“We’re such music lovers that the joy of what we do is also getting these songs exactly right,” Schwandt said. “Recreations to a T. As far as the keys, as far as the performances, we really try to break them down and not do song interpretations, but try to play them verbatim – how hard can- get closer to the original recording?”
Viva Knievel is also picky about what it plays, choosing only the songs that its members really like.
“We recently recruited a new keyboard player by the name of Jack Kolb’Williams, and he’s a star,” Schwandt said. “A great pianist and a great drummer.”
Now the band has three percussionists, and as a result Viva Knievel added a lot of percussion to their set, with all three taking turns playing drums. The band will change instruments on stage and feature many different singers within their lineup.
“People aren’t sure what to expect, but it’s going to be a very entertaining show, and (it’s) one of the best cover bands in the Midwest,” Roberts said. “They only do a handful of dates a year. We are lucky to be able to bring them here.
“We’re very excited to come to Worthington, and just got our new live show ready for the summer,” Schwandt said. “We’re as excited to play it as I hope people are to see it.”