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Local band 'Look Sharp' demonstrates the role of cover bands in Milwaukee's music performance scene

Band leader Brian Wooldridge (left) performs alongside cover band Look Sharp during a performance
Johnathan Gundlach
Look Sharp
Band leader Brian Wooldridge (bass) performs alongside cover band Look Sharp during a performance

Regardless of your thoughts or impressions of them, it's indisputable that cover bands are a significant part of the local music scene.

Whether at State Fair, church festivals, Summerfest, or even touring cover bands at venues like the Riverside or Pabst — they pay tribute to artists by mimicking the original songs as accurately as possible.

Musicians and music enthusiasts often have various and conflicting views on cover bands and their musical merits. Brian Wooldridge, the founder and leader of the Joe Jackson cover band, Look Sharp, experienced both spectrums of these opinions over his musical career.

Wooldridge spent 20 years performing original music before starting a cover band four years ago. He admits to once looking at cover bands as having less merit than original music creators.

"As a younger man, I was probably a snob about certain things in music, and that still carries over once in a while. I try to remind myself to let it go, but there's always [the thought of cover bands being] cheesy or can't write original songs," says Wooldridge.

After his band decided to retire due to ongoing health issues, Wooldridge found musical inspiration while listening to an album by Joe Jackson.

"I was listening to Look Sharp by Joe Jackson and I thought, 'man, these songs are great [and] the bass playing is a lot of fun," says Wooldridge.

After successfully pitching the idea of a Joe Jackson cover band to a fellow musician and experienced cover band member, two additional members quickly joined and the four-person group was formed within that week.

Since having the idea and forming the group, Wooldridge has gained a deeper appreciation for the role of cover bands, noting that it requires a particularly strong stage presence and highly developed musical skills to engage and excite an audience that already knows the music.

"[Music has] an emotional attachment. You grow up, you fall in love with certain music... So if a band comes along and they're able to reproduce that or some level of that, it's fun to relive it and get that emotional attachment again," says Wooldridge.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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