Rockaway (by the) Beach: An eclectic annual homage to one of rock’s most influential bands

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One of the defining moments of my journalism career came courtesy of the Ramones.

I was a cub reporter at community radio station WMNF when President Obama and VP Joe Biden came to University of Tampa to announce funding for high-speed rail (which Governor Scott later axed). Media were situated on a scaffold opposite the stage; I arrived early, made sure all of my equipment was working and found a spot. Notebook out, phone silent.

I’d been listening to Pandora on my temperamental Blackberry Pearl during the walk from the parking garage to the venue, and shut it down before going through security — or so I thought.

Biden was several minutes into his speech; the large crowd was silent.

Out of nowhere, drums.

Then, the famous riff to the Ramones cover of “Needles and Pins,” and the lyrics: “I saw her today/I saw her face/it was a face I loved...”

I shuddered under the contemptuous glares of colleagues. A student rolled her eyes: Really?

I fumbled with my phone and eventually shut it down.

At the time, I thought interrupting the vice president by way of a crap phone and the Ramones would get me banished from journalism.

Now, I fondly see the incident as  a reminder that while I may have a fruitful career in news, there’s no way I’ll ever smooth out my rough edges (in which I take pride).

And that’s what the Ramones, in many ways, are about — the rough edges. As bands in the 1970s were getting more inclined toward spaced-out, unnecessarily long tunes (Ted Nugent, anyone?), the Ramones stuck with what they knew — catchy, structured tunes for which brevity was the soul of wit.

And as many try to label them as a punk band that sang about sniffing glue, doing so underestimates their place in a musical universe in which the range of styles that influenced them, and which they influenced, was wildly diverse.

That’s why it’s wonderful that Mike Maresca has been putting on a Ramones tribute annually at Dunedin Brewery for 12 years. 

The event always takes place around Joey Ramone’s birthday, May 19; this year’s bill includes Doll Parts, the Pretty Voices, Boney Fiend (Maresca’s band, this time featuring Car Bomb Dave), Pig Pen, Cocoa horror-punk act Lazaras, Double D Combo and others.

Boney Fiend has played the tribute since its inception; Doll Parts is playing the tribute for its sixth year.

“There are people that know who the Ramones are and then there are people that love the Ramones. We love the Ramones,” said Stacey Strickland, guitarist and frontwoman for Doll Parts, which she said has been described as “the Ramones with a pack of Pixie Stix.” (DISCLOSURE: This writer is in a separate project with Strickland.)

click to enlarge DO YOU WANNA DANCE?: Doll Parts add their own feisty rock style to the Ramones Tribute's varied sonic palette. - Courtesy, Doll Parts
Courtesy, Doll Parts
DO YOU WANNA DANCE?: Doll Parts add their own feisty rock style to the Ramones Tribute's varied sonic palette.

The band list makes for a diverse range of rock sounds, even if, unlike other tributes around town, there's no limit as to how many times a given Ramones tune can be played over the course of the night.

“I think it’s really cool, the way [other tributes] do that, but with the diversity of the bands I’m going for, if you hear Lazaras do ‘53rd & 3rd’ and then you hear a rockabilly band doing it, you didn’t hear the same song twice, really,” Maresca said.

But don’t expect to hear “I Wanna Be Sedated” nine times, he said; most of the bands are fans, and thus don’t typically pick the Ramones’ best-known material. Boney Fiend The Pretty Voices, for example, is doing a set consisting of songs the Ramones themselves have covered, like the Rivieras’ “California Sun.”

While the event brings in a relatively diverse range of acts (there’s even a rapper slated for next year), Maresca said some years have brought in bands with members that were less than enthused about playing the Ramones’ notoriously simple tunes — a few jam bands (Dunedin Brewery’s typical fare) in particular seemed to phone it in.

“We would have one guy who was into it, and the rest of the band was like, ‘I don’t care about that,’” he said. “So when they showed up, you could tell that they really weren’t into it and didn’t work on making [the songs] their own.”

That’s one bummer about the Ramones: they’ve been labeled a punk band, so people who don’t like the Sex Pistols assume they won’t like the Ramones. But you can trace the musical lineage of any jam band back and find their influences are rooted in the same place as those of the Ramones.

“They were much more than just a punk band,” Maresca said. “They were a rock and roll band. They weren’t trying to be shocking and they definitely weren’t doing the kinds of things Johnny Rotten was doing... They just wanted to play rock and roll. I think a lot of musicians get that, and a lot of fans seem to as well.” 

Even if not everyone is ready to embrace the band, showing off the many ways the Ramones’ sound can be interpreted can help draw in new fans — especially in a place like Dunedin, where tie-dyes can seem to outnumber leather jackets.

“I know some people are being converted, [that it] opens their eyes to different stuff,” Maresca said.

People who, of course, are a little rough around the edges. 

12th Annual Ramones Tribute Feat. Boney Fiend, Double D Combo, Doll Parts, Lazaras, Pig Pen, Pretty Voices, Saganaki Bomb Squad, The Jayson Engelke Orchestra, The Jordones. Sat., May 21, Dunedin Brewery, Dunedin. 8 p.m. FREE.

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