Performing at The Rock Yard Saturday, September 19, 2020
By Noe Gutierrez
Live music fans in the Coachella Valley have been left ‘dazed and confused’ since the pandemic devoured all live entertainment. The Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has had to ‘ramble on’ despite new limitations and although it’s been a difficult road, ‘the song remains the same’. ‘Going back to California’…Indio, California that is, is the world’s premier tribute to Led Zeppelin, LED ZEPAGAIN! It seems like the group has been ‘ten years gone’ but the band that Jimmy Page concedes is “the closest you’ll ever get to the real deal” is back again for their yearly trip to the desert. Swan Montgomery (vocals, harmonica), David Thymiakos (guitar, mandolin), Jim Wooten (bass, keyboards), and Derek Smith (drums, percussion) would like to say, ‘thank you’ with a ‘whole lotta love’ and live ‘rock and roll’ music this Saturday at The Rock Yard at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. The show is FREE and guests must be 18 or older to attend. Please be mindful that you are required to wear protective masks and adhere to Fantasy Springs’ social distancing protocols. To make it easier to digest, The Rock Yard invites guests to get creative with their masks launching the MASK-QUERADE CONTEST every Friday and Saturday. Attendees are encouraged to wear their coolest protective mask with the winners receiving dinner for two at The Bistro or POM. Awards will be announced on stage at 9:30 p.m. Los Angeles rockers STEEL ROD get the music started at 7:30 pm.
The group has toured the world including the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and South America performing sold-out shows worldwide in major international venues, concert halls and performing arts centers. They have been featured on AXS TV’s World Greatest Tribute Bands and have shared the stage with drummer Jason Bonham for a performance of ‘Rock and Roll’.
In January of 2004, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page himself attended a Led Zepagain show at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. He was absolutely astonished at the bands’ accuracy asserting to the band, “It’s amazing how much you sound like us. You must have grown up on this because you were inside the music, and you paid attention to detail in your presentation…I can tell you guys really love our music!” This chance meeting led to the band attending Led Zeppelin’s 2007 Reunion Concert at London’s O2 Arena at the behest of Mr. Page.
Combining the bona fide Zeppelin sound and look with the classic equipment and costumes, Led Zepagain is looking like the closest thing you’ll ever get to another Led Zeppelin reunion!
Born in Drogheda, Ireland, Swan Montgomery is an Irish entrepreneur, musician, vocalist and producer/engineer. Led Zepagain was founded in 1988 and Swan is the longest serving member. Swan was also invited to perform on stage with The Who vocalist Roger Daltrey. As a solo artist, Swan released an album of original World Music called ‘Ogham’ in 2019.
Coachella Valley Weekly spoke with Montgomery in anticipation of Led Zepagain’s return to The Rock Yard.
CVW: The Rock Yard is a very unique venue. What’s your favorite part of performing there?
Montgomery: “It’s up close and personal which is really cool… fans are right in front of the stage with no barrier and we can see their faces. We get to feel how they all get into what we’re doing. The crew is great and the sound is fantastic. We’ve always had a great experience there. The music speaks for itself. Paid or unpaid everyone just has a good time and enjoys, us playing Zeppelin music to the older folk bringing back some memories.”
CVW: The pandemic obviously prevented the band from its usual schedule of weekly shows around the world. How have you all held up?
Montgomery: “It’s been about six months since we last performed, as of late, we have done three shows in the last three weeks so it’s nice to be back, but it’s been tough because we were used to a schedule of every week, traveling, flying, on boats, traveling to other countries, it definitely changed our world a bit because we were so used to that pace. When I got back into it I had to work back to that level, back to working out. You play almost 90 minutes, it’s a lot of energy you put out there and you don’t realize that until you stop. I said, ‘Whoa! We gotta get this back!’ It’s been different but challenging.”
CVW: In addition, the fans have had to weather this storm as well. Is there any new-found attitude or feeling with what you’re doing?
Montgomery: “People have been locked down for quite a bit now. To see people’s faces in a different environment, whether social distancing or sitting outside their cars you can see everyone’s face happy and seeing live music and doing something different. It’s good to see that, you can see they’re very happy. It’s a good feeling. As an artist, you still want to give them 100% no matter what, even if we’re still breaking ourselves in, you still go for it. It’s like riding a bike; the band played their first show about three weeks ago and we got back into it, we just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, OK, this is alright!’, so we still got it going on, we didn’t even rehearse, we didn’t see each other for six months, the next thing you know, we’re on stage starting off for the first time, it just felt really good.”
CVW: What’s been the silver lining for you personally with the pandemic? Have you been able to rededicate yourself to other areas of your life?
Montgomery: “Family; with touring and the time away, I haven’t been able to spend much time with my family as I would like to and now with this I am able. Also, being able to do other projects that I’ve wanted to do because I’m a solo artist as well. I have my hands in a few other things. It’s been great to be able to drop back and face some projects that I was working on.”
CVW: We can download Led Zepagain versions of a lot of the Zeppelin classics on iTunes and Spotify. I listened and they are spectacular renditions.
Montgomery: “Yes, they’re on Spotify and iTunes, it’s a tribute album to Led Zeppelin, there’s five of them actually. We just felt we had to go in and challenge that side of things and it came out quite good. At one time Led Zeppelin was not on iTunes or Spotify and Led Zepagain was the only source you could get of Zeppelin music to download. It did quite well and of course Zeppelin decided to put up their music, haha! It didn’t kill it totally because we still do well with downloads. The best thing I’ve seen one time was a listing of downloads on iTunes where Led Zepagain’s version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was above Led Zeppelin’s! I was like, ‘this is impossible!’ haha.”
CVW: I can imagine there are many little idiosyncrasies of Robert Plant and the rest of Led Zeppelin that you’ve had to study early on to provide the full experience.
Montgomery: “I study Plant a lot, his movements, he’s not as animated today as he was back then. It’s like acting, you go up there and portray an era, we’re portraying all the Zeppelin years. We just naturally get into it. I haven’t had much of a problem.”
CVW: I’ve attempted to sing songs like ‘The Immigrant Song’ and it can be a difficult task. How have you remained performing at a high echelon for all these years?
Montgomery: “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’ve been doing it for nearly 33 years, so I worked all that out. I’m not the greatest at doing vocal exercises before a show, I do know a lot about it but I mentally prepare and make sure my voice is in top notch condition and that has to do with taking care of it through sleep, the most important thing, and simple things like tea and ginger and not talking too much before a show. I get myself into the role and psyche myself up. Sometimes out of the gate ‘The Immigrant Song’ is the fourth song so I have to be ready for that. The warm-up is the first four or five songs. We often go with set lists Zeppelin performed, to open it’s either ‘Rock and Roll’ or ‘Immigrant Song.’”
CVW: Getting back up on stage must have felt really good to you and the rest of the band. What did you miss the most?
Montgomery: “I miss the crowd and the vibe that goes along with that. It’s been a blessing too. Sometimes we were in it and we were going like an express train flying down the track and we weren’t thinking about getting off but it’s nice that it stopped for a minute to rejuvenate and do some other things that we’ve wanted to do. Now that things are opening up we’ll get back and we have more energy to be better to do what we want to do.”
Based out of Los Angeles and together for 20 years now, STEEL ROD is Southern California’s premier cover band! They have performed at venues like Staples Center, House of Blues, BB King’s Blues Club, Home Depot Center, Santa Anita Park, Belly Up Tavern and Los Angeles County Fair to name a few. Prior to the pandemic they were performing about 300 shows a year in destinations like Germany, Japan, Iraq, Guam, Canada, Afghanistan, Austria, Puerto Rico, Bosnia, Singapore, Mexico, Malaysia, Kosovo and throughout the Caribbean.
The power trio includes three multi-talented musicians in Rod Pantoja on guitar, Whit Petrell on bass and Johnny Reyes on drums with each of them providing lead and background vocals. With an inventory of 800+ songs spanning R&B, Pop, Classic Rock, Top 40, Alternative, Country and Metal, the band has made a name for themselves.
CV Weekly spoke with Petrell about the band and their history.
CVW: Steel Rod has been performing at The Rock Yard for quite some time now. You are also well-known throughout Southern California. How far-reaching is Steel Rod?
Petrell: “Johnny and Rod both live in Whittier and I live in Huntington Beach. The majority of our shows are based in L.A., but we still go to Las Vegas, and of course Indio and in the past we’ve done USO tours overseas and in the last 4-5 years we’ve been doing cruise lines out of Ft. Lauderdale. It’s been great to connect with so many people in our region and around the country. The cruises have allowed us to know so many people from every walk of life.”
CVW: Being in a successful band doesn’t come easy. What’s the balance between good luck and the grind?
Petrell: “We’ve been fortunate and we’ve also had that go-getter mentality. We’re grateful for all the opportunities placed in front of us and at the same time we’re hard-working guys. We don’t just wait for opportunity to show itself and we do our best to get out there and push our name and try and balance that with having fun and playing good music. Our motto is, ‘let’s just have some fun.’”
CVW: Before the pandemic, the music scene in L.A. could be perceived as cutthroat. How has Steel Rod navigated the treacherous waters of the Hollywood scene?
Petrell: “It’s kind of competitive. There’s a lot of music there. Hollywood is the hub. We’re good friends with local bands like Empty Seat, they opened up for us at House of Blues once. There are a lot of venues to play and a lot of different genres, there are popular Punk, Latin and Alternative scenes. One of the things that separates us from the crowd is we’re a cover band and the three of us come from three different walks of life. At this point, our song list is over 700 songs of all genres of music! When we come into a club, if they need 80’s music and Spanish Rock, we can do that and if they need 80’s Metal and ‘monster ballads’, we can do that too. I think that’s why we’ve become so successful, we can adapt to a lot of different musical environments.”
CVW: Does Steel Rod have any other ‘desert connections’?
Petrell: “Around when we first started, I played at the Village Pub in Palm Springs subbing for Mark Gregg. I think Rod played that show too. Mark’s a great dude. I’ve got nothing but love for him. We filled in for his band and that’s how we got out here. We ended up doing a residency at Fantasy Springs, we had a live karaoke show that we started in 2002 in The Rock Yard. We did it for four years. Since then we’ve developed great relationships with everyone at Fantasy Springs. A huge thank you to Mandi Witkower and Michael Felci, they’ve been great. We played their employee appreciation party a couple of years in a row too.”
CVW: What more can you share about Steel Rod?
Petrell: “Rod, Johnny and myself are the core of the band. We’re a power trio; we all sing. When we’ve played Lit, that calls for more R&B, dance stuff and Top 40. We have other musicians we can add, we’ll bring a keyboard player, a horn section, a female vocalist or a percussion section. This last March we celebrated 20 years as a band! The longest relationship I’ve been in is with two guys! They are my brothers.”
CVW: Do the members of Steel Rod have any other passions or “day jobs”?
Petrell: “We do this for a living, this is our full-time job. We were on a cruise line in February for two weeks and we got back on March 15. We literally came home to everything shut down, no shows, no gigs, no career. Musicians are at the bottom of the list. We’ve been relying on Facebook Live. We had to adapt and pivot as to how we’re going to market ourselves. In working with the cruise line we met so many people from around the world. We’ve opened up to a virtual tip jar. We’re grateful Fantasy Springs has been able to open up a bit. We’re hoping California can start opening up more too.”
CVW: What can you say is your legacy after 20 years of performing live music?
Petrell: “We once performed a livestream show and asked viewers where they were watching from, we had people from Florida, New York, Wisconsin, the UK and Japan! It gave me goosebumps that my career has taken me to a point where I have the ability to touch people’s lives all around the world and I’m just a little white guy from Huntington Beach, ha ha! I’m not some big rock star guy but the fact that we can make somebody’s life just a little bit better by playing a few songs for them and they’re in a whole other country is amazing! It’s surreal.”
CVW: What can The Rock Yard expect this Saturday?
Petrell: “Every time we’re at The Rock Yard, especially when we’re playing alongside Led Zepagain, we bring the full arsenal! We’ve known those guys our whole career, we’ve been opening for them for almost twenty years, you can expect a lot of Rock and Roll, a lot of great attitude, just a lot of smiles, a lot of fun and a lot of yelling.”
The Rock Yard is always LIVE, always FREE and always OUTDOORS. For more information visit FantasySpringsResort.com
2020 ROCK YARD Line-Up:
Fri. 9/18 – FANDANGO (ZZ Top tribute) w/ Classic Rock Revolution
Sat. 9/19 – LED ZEPAGAIN (Led Zeppelin Tribute) w/ Steel Rod
Fri. 9/25 – PICK YOUR POISON (Poison tribute) w/ Triple 7
Sat. 9/26 – PYROMANIA (Def Leppard tribute) w/ Almost Famous
Fri. 10/2 – INXS-IVE (INXS tribute) w/ Anthem Road
Sat. 10/3 – ESCAPE (Journey tribute) w/ Know Illusion
Fri. 10/9 – LOVE DRIVE (Scorpions Tribute) w/ Crimson Crow
Sat. 10/10 – QUEENATION (Queen Tribute) w/ Glorious Bastards
Fri. 10/16 – MOVING PICTURES (Rush Tribute) w/ Steel Rod
Sat. 10/17 – MOTLEY INC. (Motley Crue Tribute) w/ Steel Rod
Fri. 10/23 – AEROMYTH (Aerosmith Tribute) w/ Anthem Road
Sat. 10/24 – VIRVANISH (Nirvana Tribute) w/ Thank You Drive Thru
Fri. 10/30 – JUST LIKE PRIEST (Judas Priest Tribute) w/ Triple 7
Sat. 10/31 – 1,000 HP (Godsmack Tribute) w/ Revolver
Check out Swan Montgomery’s solo album of World Music, ‘Ogham’ on iTunes
Led Zepagain with Jason Bonham on drums performing ‘Rock and Roll’: