BATH, Maine — Twenty-one years ago, Gerald Brann had a dream—a musical dream.
After earning a degree in music and playing keyboards in a variety of rock bands for years, Brann wanted something different.
He wanted to be the guy playing and singing up front, not just supporting the band, but leading it. He decided he should start a tribute band, an idea then just starting to become popular.
"And as a keyboard player, there were only a few options: Billy Joel or Elton John. But [choosing] Elton John was a no-brainer for me. I’ve loved the music forever, have kind of the same vocal range and playing style, and I had to do it," Brann said, sitting at his keyboard.
He spent months planning, learning, and practicing the music, then recruited a band to join him. He knew a lot of musicians and called some he had played with in the past to ask them to join.
But that proved a somewhat surprising challenge, current band members said, because the Elton John music was composed for the piano, and was very challenging for guitar players.
"You can take deep dives on almost every tune,” guitarist Rich Daigle, who has played with Brann in bands since they were teenagers, said. "For a guitarist, the chords are from the piano so it's so greatly different that you could never get bored with it."
Fellow guitarist Mike Tosier agreed.
"It was difficult as everybody else said to adapt to music written by a piano player because the keys are very different from anything I’ve ever played before," he said.
"We were familiar with the music because it's Elton John, but I had to really ring my A-game because there was quite a lot going on for a bass player," Mark Kavanaugh added.
Drummer Kevin Ostrowski said he had misgivings as well, until he went to a practice session and listened, and was hooked.
"I don’t think I ever missed a practice and I never missed a gig, and it's been 20 years, 21 years."
Ostrowski has been with Brann from the start, while the others—even though they were all friends of Brann’s before—have joined in the years since.
And over time, the band officially known as "Yellow Brick Road, A Tribute to Elon John," has gained a following. They play about 35 performances a year around Maine and a big piece of the country. Brann says they try to capture the spirit of Elton John’s live performances during the 1970s and 80s.
"We’re trying to give them the experience of seeing a live Elton John concert. So we aren’t a tribute to the album, we are a tribute to the artistry of performing live," he said.
Brann said audiences have been enthusiastic while cheering, singing along, and sometimes dancing in the aisles.
"When you present it in this live format and the band is jamming, this energy and jumping on the piano, and the audience is on their feet—it's incredible," Brann said.
The impact on the audience includes Brann performing in reproductions of costumes Elton John wore in shows of that era: rhinestones, flashy colors, outrageous sunglasses—even a Donald Duck outfit mimicking the one John wore in a Central Park concert. All part of the performance the audiences cheer, and give Brann the "out front" role he wanted.
"I was always in the corner, against a wall [playing keyboards] all night. Now I’m doing handstands on the piano and dressed as a duck."
After more than 20 years of performances, band members said they have come to love the music and the performances, and the cheering audiences.
All five have day jobs, ranging from Brann, who is an electrical engineer at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, to Kavanaugh, a professor at Kennebec Valley Community College.
Drummer Kevin Ostrowski—a meteorologist for the state of Maine—said Brann is the best performer he’s ever played with, and that he intends to stay with Yellow Brick Road as long as the journey lasts.
"I think everybody now, having had the experience of playing in bars, recognizes the good thing we have and want to ride the wave."
For Brann, who does everything from singing and playing to making his costumes and handling concert bookings, their success is gratifying.
"It feels amazing, incredible," the singer said. "Its what you’ve always wanted since you were a little kid playing on a guitar, keyboard, drums, whatever. You imagine you’re on a big stage with the audience freaking out. And I feel so privileged to be able to have that experience."
The Yellow Brick Road tribute band’s schedule can be found on their website or on the Yellow Brick Road Facebook page.