(NOTE: This is one in a series of stories previewing Decatur Celebration entertainment acts.)
A striking resemblance to a recognizable musician isn't in and of itself a roadway to work in a tribute band.
But it didn't hurt Steven Tyler doppelganger Neill Byrnes, who fronts the Aerosmith tribute act Draw the Line.
Draw the Line plays a pair of sets at this year's Decatur Celebration, appearing on the Funfest Stage on Friday, Aug. 3, at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
In 1991, Byrnes replaced the singer of a Boston band called Mass Production. The band did “blues-y rock,” including a number of Aerosmith songs. Introduced to the band as “a guy who looked like Steven Tyler,” Byrnes auditioned and joined the band in June.
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“By August, we had a national agent,” he said. The band devoted itself exclusively to the best-selling American hard rock act in history. That has led, in the time since, to more than 2,000 shows.
Byrnes said genuine comraderie is key to the five-man group's success.
“We're from Boston, too,” he said. Aerosmith was founded in the city. “We've got a similar mentality. We're also good friends, and big fans of Aersomith, and of Deep Purple and The Yardbirds. And of bands with that lead singer-guitar player dynamic, like the Stones and Led Zeppelin. That's what we grew up listening to. It's a natural chemistry.”
Aerosmith's recording history spans in excess of three decades, and they're a band with nine top 10 albums and 25 hit singles. Fans often split the group's work into pre- and post-1987 reunion.
“We play a good mix of the reunion stuff,” Byrnes said, “from 1987 on, and the 1970s stuff. The majority of people want to hear the old stuff, but we have to play the hits, too. There is that part of the audience.”
Aerosmith's best-charting hits like "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," "Angel," "Love in an Elevator" and "Janie's Got a Gun" are all post-reunion songs. But some of their better-known efforts, like “Dream On” and “Walk This Way,” date to the 1970s.
“When we play in front of people who only know the newer hits and we play an album cut from the 70s, that's when people will come up and ask what we're playing, and give us all kinds of compliments.”
The compliments also are earned thanks to an eerily similar appearance to the real band.
“It's a constant process,” Byrnes said of the mimicry. “We always go back and look at the videos, and we watch them in person. YouTube is the greatest thing ever. We constantly work at it. It starts to be part of your personality.”
The band is a regular feature of summer and fall festivals throughout the state.
“We get to Illinois and the rest of the Midwest every year,” Byrnes said. “Summer and fall is the time we do those shows. The appetite for rock is still so heavy there. There used to be a nightclub system where we could pick up weeknight dates when we playing shows. But that's kind of died around the country.”
Draw the Line has a special pedigree. They've been endorsed by the original band. Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, unprompted, praised the band in a radio interview, and the group used the audio on its website to further impress anyone visiting.
“We've been very fortunate,” Byrnes said. “When Steven Tyler endorsed us on the radio, we got a tape from the station and went through all the legal stuff so we could use it. They've come to see the band a few times. It would have been easy for them to disagree, but they didn't.”