One of the biggest challenges that cover bands face is standing the test of time. Cultural shifts, generation gaps, economic swings, and musical evolution all play a part in determining the fortitude of working musicians. While many bands will encounter obstacles and wither away, there are a select few who are able to persevere through all of the difficult trials. One such band is New Orleans’ Burger N’ Fries.
Dating way back to junior high school, neighborhood friends Brian Burger and Rolando “Rolo” Nava Chicas began jamming instrumentals on a bass and borrowed drum set just for fun. With a guitar player rounding out the three piece, the boys started playing talent shows at school and local parties. A couple years later, the band secured some legitimate gigs at pool halls around town.
By the time Brian and Rolo were of drinking age (which was 18 back then), the band was playing the big bars around the Crescent City. Although they had stuck with the same guitar player for the previous five years, he then moved on and the band was forced to use different guitarists going forward.
“To me that was the main thing, because if it wasn’t for me and Rolo sticking together, I don’t think the band would even have lasted this long,” Burger states.
After going through “hundreds of names,” the band eventually settled on its current brand through a suggestion from a friend:
“Burger is your last name, so why don’t you just say Burger “N Fries and just go with it?”
Brian adds, “A lot of people thought it was stupid in the beginning, but it’s worked out. We stuck with it.”
Over the years the band has gone through a rotation of singers, but has still been able to stay relevant by utilizing guitar players who could sing. They also became competent vocalists themselves.
“Lead singers would come and go,” says Burger. “Me and Rolo did a lot of the singing back then. Actually Rolo became a better singer now. He just kept getting better over the years.”
“We were a three piece starting out but then if a lead singer would want to come join in, we would use [them], but if it wouldn’t last we would go back to three [with me and Rolo singing].”
For a band to endure as long as Burger N’ Fries has, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and perseverance — and with the foundation of a solid rhythm section, Burger & Co. have done what it takes.
One of the most important aspects of the longevity of a band is the ability to network and market. Having worked with this band for a brief period of time, I learned that Burger is one of the best there is at the game. Everywhere we went and played, Brian had business cards at the ready and would always be hustling to get work.
One such event was a Mardi Gras parade where we were scheduled to ride a float and play live for the revelers in the crowd along the parade route. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t agreeing with us that morning and greeted us with light rain showers.
It was decided that we would still ride the float without playing so our gear wouldn’t get soaked, but rather pump music through the speakers and just sing along. It worked out great (and we still got paid).
When the ride was completed there was an after-party at a local venue. There were hundreds of people in attendance and a huge stage, but no live band was scheduled. Burger quickly located the club’s manager and talked her into letting us get up and provide entertainment (and pay us). We had to piece-meal the show together but it turned out well for all parties involved.
These days, Burger N’ Fries focuses primarily on wedding and corporate work. They’ve maintained a steady Saturday night gig for the last three years at an exclusive hotel in the French Quarter. For weddings, Burger will go up to as much as a six-piece band to get the job done.
“We have a keyboard player, two horn players and a female singer that we can call,” states Burger. “It depends on what the budget is for the people hiring us. I target that as soon as I start talking to [them].”
In addition to discussing the financials, Burger asks the pertinent questions such as what their specific needs are, how much space is available for the band, the size of the venue, and which version of the band would the most appropriate.
The value of this practice cannot be overstated. Communication with any and all people in the business is a must if you want to get consistent work, and Brian Burger has excelled at maintaining this productive habit.
His determination and ability to communicate keeps his band fresh, and with a turn-style approach to hiring musicians, the band gets steady work.
The Big Easy is loaded with professional musicians — many of whom can sit in on a gig at a moment’s notice. Forging relationships with this community is essential in achieving success in any circumstance.
Although the guys get the frequent big money gigs, they still strip it down for the more intimate setting.
“We mainly target restaurants,” Burger says. “We go down to acoustic so we can keep it light,” referring to a steady Thursday night gig that they’ve also held for several years.
Rather than take the set list approach as far as song selection goes, BnF relies primarily on requests from the crowd. His players know thousands of songs, and are able to pick most things up on the fly.
“We can nail 90% of the requests [people] make. That’s fun, because don’t ever have to worry about a song list and you’re always pleasing the crowd and what they want to hear. Plus you get good tips.”
When it comes to keeping things together and moving, Burger is smart enough to know to emphasize what is truly important.
“The thing I have to do is keep everybody happy. I do my best to keep a balance so everybody stays busy and makes plenty of money.”
He adds: “I never thought cover bands could make this type of money, but you can actually make a living doing covers if you do it right.”
Check the video below of a recent performance at a private wedding: