There are certain crucial aspects to running a cover band that make them stand out. In a city where there is live music everywhere, it’s not easy to compete for a crowd. A band has to employ the right mix of song selection, image, energy, and especially the know-how to entertain an audience. One of the finest examples of a band that hits all of these marks is New Orleans’ Chicken on the Bone.
The band was formed in the early 2000s by bassist Robert Heindel and played various bars and clubs in the New Orleans area. Although he’s a retired police officer, Heindel has an intuitive knack for managing a band. After playing the circuit under a different name, he came up with the new branding while out for some food with the kids.
In the early part of this decade, Heindel got a fortunate call to sub for a band on Bourbon Street…and they’ve been a staple there ever since. Self-described as “road warriors,” COTB play long gigs – and they’re not for the weary. On Fridays and Saturdays, the band plays up to twelve or thirteen 45-minute sets! At about 10 songs per set, they easily surpass 100 songs on stage twice a week. That’s a LOT of playing!
While some bands will select a setlist of songs that they like, Heindel knows better and sticks to the most popular cover band fare. “We’re drink sellers. That’s what people want to hear and that’s what’s making you money.” Because the crowd turnover is so frequent on Bourbon Street due to no admission prices and the ability for patrons to walk in and out with drinks, the band simply repeats the hits. Heindel adds, “Sometimes I’ll play “Brown Eyed Girl” five or six times a night.”
Chicken on the Bone doesn’t go the t-shirt and jeans route when it comes to wardrobe on stage. You’ll always find the band dressed in flashy suits with vibrant colors, hats, and sunglasses. “Bottom line is that people listen with their eyes for the most part,” says Heindel.
Adding to the visuals is an array of merchandise strewn about the front of the stage. This band isn’t shy about hawking their wares, and they offer a wide selection of branded goodies for patrons to purchase. In addition to CDs and several different styles of t-shirts, there are custom made crocheted chickens available to own. The creator takes care of all merch transactions during the show, and even gets a cut of the overall revenue.
One of the greatest things about this band is the way they embrace modern technology and marketing opportunities. “We take pictures and videos at every show and post them on Facebook,” states Heindel. “People love it.” They also promote the use of Venmo – a popular payment sharing app which allows the band to execute cash free transactions for goods, as well as receive tips for services. They go even further by offering their materials on Etsy – and promote all of this by handing out business cards at every gig.
Due to the built-in crowd nature of Bourbon Street, no band ever has to promote themselves, but Heindel wants all of his bases covered: “I kinda look at [the] bigger picture. Tomorrow everything could change. I don’t want to not have myself marketed across the globe.”
With over 6,500 followers on their Facebook Page, the strategy seems to be working. There are over 8,000 photos posted, hundreds of videos, and constant activity on the world’s biggest social media platform. The band also has a website, but as Heindel puts it, “Facebook has everything I need.”
But the band’s secret weapon carries two X chromosomes and dominates the show. After only using exclusively male singers, Heindel decided it was time to have a female front the band. Powerhouse vocalist Sarah Rudolph, who initially auditioned as a drummer, joined the fray when several other ladies before her didn’t make the cut. “Sarah is amazing,” says Heindel.
Check out the band’s recent version of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” below.
In a city that is known worldwide for live music and greets millions of tourists every year, it’s easy to get complacent and do the minimum. Robert Heindel and Chicken on the Bone refuse to rest in comfort. It’s no accident that this band plays between 30-40 sets a week. With Heindel’s vision and dedication to the craft of this business, they deserve all of the success that they’re enjoying.