Your Official THON 2019 Cover Band Power Rankings
By Matt Paolizzi and Mikey Mandarino
While big-name acts have become the norm at THON in recent years, there’s nothing quite like watching a really good cover band tear up the Four Diamonds stage. But which of this year’s bands was the best?
Before we dive in, none of the cover bands were bad, but some bands were better than others. Performing at THON isn’t easy — especially when you have a set at 3 a.m. and can’t seem to get the dwindling crowd going.
Without further ado, here’s our power ranking of the best cover bands at THON.
Kalicade tossing “Zombie Nation” into its performance was an awesome moment, and drummer John Davis teased the audience with a nice drum solo in the middle of the performance. Both of those moments, however, were way too short, leaving most of Kalicade’s performance filled with basic remixes of popular songs.
The band’s remix of “Cinema” by Benny Benassi was well-done and its take on “Radioactive” was great…and this is coming from someone who hates Imagine Dragons with every fiber of their being. There just could’ve been some more originality and bold choices.
8. No Bad JuJu
Nothing is worse than when a band has horn players but doesn’t use them in every song. There were moments of damn-good playing from No Bad JuJu, like the “Havana/Smooth” mashup. It flowed so well and felt well-rehearsed.
Unfortunately, these moments of brass-induced bliss were few and far between. Most of the time, we couldn’t really hear the horns, and for many of the songs they didn’t play at all. I thought it was all due to some sound mixing issues, and it very well could’ve been, but the horn players were underutilized regardless.
A trumpet solo in the middle of “Crazy In Love” and the big-band style take on “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran were awesome, but a lot of No Bad JuJu’s other covers were bland. Everything was played well, but again, some more creativity would’ve served this band well.
While the Corner Brothers’ six-song set wasn’t the longest, these first-time THON performers made their mark.
So many cover bands perform the same songs over and over again to make you feel like they all came together and agreed on playing the same stuff (*cough* “Uptown Funk” and “I Want You Back” *cough*). We got great, well-known sing-alongs like “3 a.m.” by Matchbox Twenty, Rusted Root’s “Send Me on My Way,” and “Piano Man” with a harmonica.
The Corner Brothers even got creative with their instruments by bringing out a rainstick for a cover of “Africa” by Toto during THON. The crowd loved them too, singing along with everything, especially their closer, 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” For a 1 a.m. set, that’s pretty impressive.
This band could’ve ranked higher, but it just didn’t play long enough to merit it. Still, we really enjoyed the Corner Brothers and hope they come back.
6. Burn Unit
We’re still a little unsure what to make of Burn Unit. We liked some of its original cover choices, like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These),” “Walk Like and Egyptian,” and the under-appreciated “Any Way You Want It” instead of “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. The lead singer also proved her worth by nailing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” which is notoriously hard to sing.
Overall, the rest of this band’s tracks came across as run-of-the-mill covers which didn’t really add anything interesting to the performance. Burn Unit felt like it was going on forever before suddenly leaving the stage, but there were some highlights sprinkled in its performance.
5. Red Hotts
It felt like the Red Hotts were playing for hours, but we liked a lot of what the band brought to the table. There was plenty of variety, and the lead singer had an infectious energy. The band deserves props for putting Prince’s “Kiss,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious,” and Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” on the docket as opposed to the songs replayed over and over again every hour.
Red Hotts were better than your average cover band, but there really wasn’t anything else that wowed me about this band. I didn’t get the same amount of creativity like I got from The Brass Cadillacs or the showmanship from My Hero Zero or the Rockets. I recognized their talent, but just couldn’t get into it.
SouthPaw genuinely killed it. This band was loud, energetic, and funny, which is everything you could ask of a THON cover band.
We though its setlist was a little bland, though — for every unique song by The Fray, you had a “Mr. Brightside” sprinkled in. Even so, tracks like “Beverly Hills” by Weezer really got the BJC going.
These guys played “I Found A Way” — the theme song of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh. How could SouthPaw not earn a place in our hearts after that? We also really enjoyed its take on “Ocean Avenue” by Yellow Card. It’s played to oblivion by almost every bar band, but we found SouthPaw gave the track a new lease on life.
This group could’ve been ranked much higher if it went for some more unique covers, but in its defense, cover bands are always dependent on crowd pleasers.
While good horn playing is a cornerstone of any ska band, The Brass Cadillacs really kicked things up a notch. The BJC needed a dose of this band at 2 a.m. Sunday to wake up.
Brass instruments aside, these guys were really good. The setlist was varied, and each cover had the band’s little ska touch. The biggest highlight was the four song stretch of “Blister In The Sun” by the Violent Femmes, “Come On Eileen,” “Take On Me,” and “99 Luftballoons.” All four of these were done so well with additions to make these songs the band’s own.
They also balanced the nostalgia factor well, going back to old 2000s hits like “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne and “Dirty Little Secret” by The All-American Rejects.
There was a lot of effort and passion put into The Brass Cadillacs’ performance. Songs like “1985,” “Stacy’s Mom,” and “Sk8er Boi” were all staples at THON, but this band sounded different enough to almost make them feel unique.
2. My Hero Zero
Jason O and My Hero Zero are a favorite in State College bars, and the band’s performance just before the final four kicked off was fantastic.
We loved hearing “Closer” by the Chainsmokers from this group, and the mash-up of “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry’s “Firework” was awesome, too. It’s always fun seeing other members of a band get a crack at singing, so watching Jordan Thompson and Mike Lee sing “All the Small Things” by Blink-182 and “Sweet Caroline,” respectively, was great.
That’s not to mention how well My Hero Zero knows its audience — it belted out Penn State favorites like “Hail to the Lion.” That’s to be expected from a local outfit, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
1. The Rockets
There was a lot of pressure on The Rockets, who replaced Go Go Gadjet as THON’s closing act. Stepping in for an 11-year fixture is no easy task, but The Rockets’ diverse set and high energy revved up the Bryce Jordan Center.
From Cardi B to Rick Astley, The Rockets brought a little bit of everything to its set in the final hours of THON. There were some awesome transitions between songs sprinkled into the band’s performance — one of our favorites was the smooth-as-ice transition to “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses.
Recency bias may be kicking in here, but The Rockets definitely lived up to Go Go Gadjet’s Final Four legacy and then some.
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About the Author
Penn State ranked just outside the top 100 in this year’s Forbes’ list of the top colleges in the United States.
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