DECATUR — No musician playing in a tribute band would deny that there are a lot of Eagles tributes out there.
It’s easy to see why — the Eagles are as popular today as ever, and stand among the most commercially successful rock acts of all time, with nearly 150 million estimated records sold to date.
With such a competitive field, it stands to reason that if you can make a living as an Eagles tribute for over 25 years, you’re probably among the top of your class.
“Our main thing is that we try to package all of the music into a real, true show or concert and not just a collection of the hits,” said Wade Hogue, lead singer for nationally known “salute to the Eagles” group Hotel California, which will perform at Decatur’s Kirkland Fine Arts Center on the campus of Millikin University on Saturday evening. “We don’t try to look like the Eagles, and we do it our own way, with our own vibe. We focus on being a great country rock band, because that’s what the Eagles really are.”
When Hogue founded Hotel California back in the late 1980s, there were fewer Eagles tributes to contend with, which let them get off to a fast start. Hogue was a successful club player at the time, but longed for a chance to play bigger venues. He began thinking about putting together an “end-all, be-all” tribute band, but considered other groups besides the Eagles as well.
“I liked the club scene but I really wanted to play the festivals, the performing arts centers and the big theaters,” he said. “So I considered other bands as well, like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But I’m glad I didn’t form that group, because although CSNY has hits, it’s nothing like the Eagles.”
The Eagles reside in a class of their own, bridging genre gaps between classic rock and country/folk music, with dozens of classic hits like “Take it Easy,” “Tequila Sunrise” and of course, “Hotel California.” For Hogue, it was the band’s writing and lyrics in particular that always made the group stand out to him.
“The writing of their songs, I would compare it to painted masterpieces,” he said. “When you perform it, every line has to be delivered just right to replicate the magic. And the fans are looking for perfection; they know if the guitar solos or harmonies aren’t exactly right.”
Hogue and Hotel California have taken the act inspired by those lyrics to every conceivable style of venue, including “sit-down” performance arts centers like Kirkland, where the singer says the group works extra hard to slowly draw a crowd out of its relaxed position and onto their feet.
“The sit-down ones are a little intimidating because it’s a little slower, but you do your show and win them over,” he said. “You know you’ve done a good job when you go to the meet and greet afterward and someone says ‘You guys sound just as good or better than the Eagles.’ We get that a lot.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be able to align oneself with decades of goodwill and adoration for a band like the Eagles.
“Their music is infectious and timeless, and I think the key is that the songs mean all kinds of things to different people,” Hogue said. “The people we play for who were Eagles fans in high school, they have great memories they associate with this music from places like the drive-in movie theater. Sometimes when they hear it again they just can’t help getting out of their chairs to dance.”