Published in the Lake Champlain Weekly
March 6, 2019
By Joshua Miner
Like many fans of the Eagles, drummer Jon Weiswasser first heard the band on his father’s record player. As he spun the unbelievably successful Their Greatest Hits vinyl, a new world was opened to Weiswasser. From that point on, the album would unknowing serve as an ever-present soundtrack for not only his own life, but millions of music fans growing up all over the world.
The Eagles Their Greatest Hits album is not just a collection of iconic radio singles compiled by the band. In fact, it held the title for the United States’ best-selling album of the 20th century for many years until being surpassed by Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 2009 following the late singer’s death. Ultimately going certified platinum 38 times, the album retook the mantle of best-selling album in August of last year, solidifying its place in the American psyche.
“It’s funny because my dad being a musician in my house growing up, there was music playing. When he came home on the weekends, the record player was on all weekend long,” Weiswasser recalls fondly. “One of the records in rotation at that time for him was the Eagles’ Greatest Hits. That was my earliest exposure to the music. And I mean, what an album to be exposed to!”
The writing and craftmanship of the band set The Eagles apart from most other acts out there today, Weiswasser says. One thing that continues to keep them relevant is their appeal throughout the generations, bridging the gap between young and old.
“To quote Don Henley, their audiences range from ‘2 to 92.’ So I thought, what better band to try and go out there and emulate than the Eagles. So that’s what we set out to do,” Weiswasser expounds “But, it took about a good year to find the right combination of musicians and vocalists to be able to pull this thing off.”
The band’s permanent lineup now features J.D. Kelly on lead vocals, John Gaechter and Ken Darcy on guitar and vocals, Frankie Reno on keyboards and vocals and Dennis Espantman on bass.
The ability for everyone in attendance to engage in the music makes the songs that much more real. Weiswasser says it’s common for people to approach him after the show, telling him how a certain song helped transport them to another place in time.
Flashing them back to particularly happy memories, perhaps when Take it Easy was on the radio years ago, the music helps fans to relive days gone by.
“It all starts with the song. They were amazing songwriters. Again, their catalog of music, their library, it’s hit after hit after hit,” Weiswasser explains. “We do almost a three-hour show, and people sing along to every single song, you know the words to the entire show. There are few bands out there that can really claim to have [that many] hit songs in their catalog. That differentiates them from the majority of the other bands out there.”
The way in which drummer Don Henley, guitarist Glenn Frey, bassist Randy Meisner and guitarist Bernie Leadon’s voices blended together was melodic perfection, Weiswasser says. It’s this combination of multiple talented musicians, songwriters and singers which collectively raised the profile of the group in creating such a unique and instantly classic sound.
“When you hear an Eagles’ song, you know it’s the Eagles, you know those harmonies. They’re second to none, they’re beautiful.”
This blending of harmonies was one of the early challenges for the band, as they strove to recreate that one-of-a-kind sound.
“For us, when we put this act together, getting those harmonies to sound like the Eagles was a very, very, very difficult thing to do. There’s four or five-part harmonies on the majority of the songs we do. And it was tough to find the right guys that could sing those. They have really great ranges, and beautiful voices, and so it was difficult to try and pull that off,” Weiswasser explains.
Over the years, however, the band eased into their roles and the blending of melodies became second nature for the group. Over the past few years, the tribute band has garnered fans all over the country, with Weiswasser saying one couple in particular has nearly 100 shows under their belt.
At about 100 dates booked for their nationwide tour this year, the band shows no signs of slowing down.
“We have some very loyal fans that will follow us. Some of these people will follow us up to six hours away from home. We have this couple that comes out to see us, they’ve been to 95 shows I think now, in the last couple of years,” Weiswasser says. “They just keep coming back. And it’s because this music moves them, it does something for them, and I love to see that.”
The love Eaglemania’s fans have of the music makes the work so much more rewarding, says Weiswasser. And what makes it even more special, is to see generations of fans from grandfather to grandson, grandmother to granddaughter, all having the time of their life together.
Weiswasser is always conscious of how important every second of the show is for fans. With so many songs holding a special place in fans’ lives, he makes covering the essentials a number one priority for the band.
“You’re making an impact on someone’s life. The fact that they’re coming out that often and that they’re enjoying themselves that much. That’s a really good feeling. It’s a very satisfying feeling for us as a band and me as a musician.”
While they know many of the bands’ more obscure songs, which hold a special place in their own lives, they are always thinking about what the fans want and how to balance the setlist.
“The real estate on that setlist is very valuable,” Weiswasser explains. “So whatever we put in there, even if they may be songs that we love that are maybe lesser known songs; if we leave out one of the hits to put in a B-Cut or something that people aren’t so familiar with, we hear it at the end of the night. I always miss the song that’s somebody’s favorite, because you just can’t get to them all.”
With so many songs held dear by droves of fans all over the world, three hours could never be enough. But while you may only hear 19 of your favorite 20 Eagles songs, Weiswasser promises fans they will never be disappointed with an Eaglemania show. While they love playing the music, their first mission is to make sure the audience is always satisfied.
“That’s one of the reasons why we play for so long. Our agents are always telling us: ‘Cut the show shorter.’ Some of the venues don’t like to be there all night like that. But the people who pay for these tickets and come to see these shows, they love it. They’re getting their money’s worth. They’re getting a good three, four-hour show. And they’re hearing all the songs that they grew up listening to.”
With the Eagles in constant rotation in car radios across the world for nearly 50 years, the music has become enmeshed in the fabric of so many people’s lives.
This is never more apparent than when he sees the reaction of audience members blissfully recalling powerful moments from their past.
“To me, it’s sort of the soundtrack of my life growing up. That music was part of so many things, and so many different experiences for me personally, and when I hear it, it takes me back to a different time in my life. Music has the power to do that to a lot of people. It triggers a memory, it takes you back to a simpler time, a better time, or a sad time. It depends on what that song meant to you when you were hearing it back then,” he explains. “We hear that every night. And it’s nice that this stuff means something to someone. It’s nice to see the reaction when they hear the songs that they love.”
As a soundtrack to people’s lives and a gateway to many powerful emotions, Weiswasser approaches the show as if it were a Broadway musical. People know and love the performance, and have a certain expectation of what they’re going to see. Whether it be the first or twenty-first time they’ve seen it, their love for the hits never wanes.
No matter how many times Weiswasser plays Take it to the Limit, for instance, it never loses its power over him.
“My favorite song of the night is Take it to the Limit. That song, I get goosebumps every time we do it.”
Of course, fans never let the band forget to play hits such as Hotel California and Desperado, which hold permanent places in the setlist.
Weiswasser feels grateful for the chance to make a life out of his love for the Eagles, and grateful he was able to turn his dream into a reality.
“It’s a wonderful way to make a living,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and making a living as a musician is difficult, very difficult. And the guys that succeed at it, my hat’s off to them, because it’s a tough life.”
As they enter the theater, they know the shoes they must fill are huge. But the group is up for the task, night after night. As the lights go down and the hits start rolling, Weiswasser says it isn’t long before the room loosens up and a great night of music is enjoyed by all.
“People are coming in, I think they don’t really know what to expect when they first see us. And you know, the word tribute to some people can have a negative connotation, or a ‘cover band’ can have a negative connotation. So it’s interesting to see after the first couple of songs when people’s eyes are lighting up, you know you sort of won them over. They’re believing in what they’re seeing now. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Eaglemania will perform at the Strand Theatre Friday, March 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $29-$49 for reserved seating and can be purchased at the door or online at standcenter.org.