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With news that Bruce Springsteen tribute band B-Street Band has pulled out of Thursday’s Garden State Inaugural Gala in Washington — the band said the decision was in deference to The Boss himself — the Donald Trump inauguration finds itself down yet another scheduled act. The move comes just days after original Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday sent organizers her own regrets, citing a “lapse of judgment.”
But one act that is not backing down is The Reagan Years. The five-member outfit from Mt. Airy, Md., bills itself as “the East Coast’s original ‘80s tribute band.” They’ll be powering through their well-honed roster of big-haired hits — everything from A-ha’s “Take on Me” to the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin‘” — at the sold-out All American Inaugural Ball, which will be held Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. The band has endured a “shellacking,” as founding member Sy Seyler puts it, but, as he explains in this conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, he sees the gig as bigger than any one man or even one party. On Thursday, The Reagan Years will be rocking out for America herself.
Congratulations on what I’m guessing is the highest-profile gig you’ve ever played.
You’re probably right, though we did a welfare tour through Europe last year with the Air Force and Navy. That was great exposure as well.
How long have you been at it?
The keyboard player and I started the band a little over 20 years ago. I consider us to be the pioneers of the ‘80s tribute. We cover the gambit of ‘80s hits — pop, rock, new wave and heavy metal.
I watched some of your videos and was impressed that you could tackle everything from Def Leppard to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. What do you play?
Thank you. I’m the drummer, but I sing lead vocals sometimes. I sang the Frankie song.
I was wondering if, when you were playing some of these more conservative venues, you were going to change the lyrics of that song, which go, “Relax, don’t do it, when you want to come” — but you sang them as written.
We try to stay very true to the original song. It’s not a mockery of the ‘80s. We’re paying homage to the stars when we were young and coming up.
Your name, The Reagan Years, obviously refers to the ‘80s, but does it also pay tribute to Ronald Reagan? Were you a fan?
We picked something that was iconic of the ‘80s. We could have called it The Rubik’s Cubes or The Acid-Wash Jeans. But I thought The Reagan Years said it all. So there’s no political message there. Correct. For the longest time, our slogan was, “No voodoo economics, just great music.”
I’m old enough to remember what that refers to. So did the name help you get this gig?
I’d say it didn’t hurt. In previous years, we were on a shortlist for inaugural balls. But I was told, if the Democrat gets in office, you don’t stand a chance in hell. This year, it didn’t knock us out of the running. There have been a lot of headlines of acts being reluctant to play.
Was there ever any reluctance on your part?
When we got the call, I didn’t think twice. For years, I’ve wanted to do an inaugural ball. So yes, we’re in! We wanted to play when Barack Obama won the election. We all thought it was great. And then, two weeks later was when the website went up, and we took quite a shellacking from people saying, “How dare you support this bigot, womanizer, horrible man?” But I was like, “Hey, you missed it: This is a wheel in the cog of the system of democracy. It’s a bipartisan event.” As much as it was a celebration when a democrat went into office, it’s a celebration when someone else does. It’s not even a celebration of the man. It’s a celebration of the democratic process.
And yet you have this unprecedented thing where all these Democratic politicians are boycotting the celebrations. Has that changed your feeling about performing?
I guess I kind of feel like I made a commitment to play an event. It was based on a certain set of ideals. It was part of this American process and a celebration for the nation. Not toward any one person, but it’s part of the process. So I’m keeping my commitment, yes. I’m playing the ball.
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