Leonid Vorobyev was jogging near his Moscow home four years ago, trying to think of what to get himself for his 60th birthday, when a song got stuck in his head.
It was “Brand New Love Affair” by Chicago, and it gave him an idea. He would start a Chicago cover band. And Leonid and Friends was born.
The idea would eventually earn him and his friends thousands of fans and take them on a national tour across the United States.
The cover band sensation will play to a packed house at The Devon Lakeshore Amphitheater on Saturday, July 13. Only lawn seats are still available for the show. All other seats, including a $100 VIP meet and greet offering, have sold out.
Devon General Manager Mike Wilcott first heard of the Moscow-based band when a co-worker mentioned them to him. Wilcott checked into the band, and his interest was additionally piqued when a promoter with interest in working with the amphitheater mentioned the group as well. In April, Wilcott reported ticket sales to 14 different states, including Arizona, Utah and Georgia.
The Leonid and Friends Facebook page has almost 100,000 views, and the group’s YouTube videos have more than 10 million views.
Members of Chicago count themselves among the band’s fans. Danny Seraphine, Chicago’s original drummer, played a few songs with Leonid and Friends at a concert in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Chicago even helped Leonid and Friends find a singer. Vorobyev was looking for someone who could emulate the tricky vocals of Chicago singer Peter Cetera.
Serge Tiagniryadno answered the call by sending in a demo.
“I just sent it in and forgot about it,” he said.
Tiagniryadno lives in Kiev, Ukraine, quite a distance from Moscow. But Vorobyev loved his voice. They worked together from separate studios for months before finally meeting in person.
There’s something special about the music of Chicago, Tiagniryadno said. It straddles several genres, is simple enough to capture listeners’ attention but complex enough to appeal to the most discerning music lovers.
“I think it’s very positive,” he said. “It’s easy to listen to, difficult to play.”
Vorobyev spent decades as a sound engineer. He called in favors from musician friends to recruit them into the band. He was doing it for fun, and he thought Americans would hate it.
Instead, the music video exploded in popularity. It was released in late 2015, and within a few weeks Chicago shared it on their site.
“I was not ready for that, because I did it for myself,” Vorobyev said.
Members of the band say they’ve overwhelmed by their success.
“After it happened, we started to believe in miracles,” said singer and guitarist Vasilii Akimov.
Akimov had always heard it was difficult for a band to make it in America, and is grateful to be one of the exceptions.