Frank Zappa was one of the most eccentric and original composers of the 20th century, and musical director Trever Veilleux’s annual Big Island Zappa Tribute concerts have received global recognition as well as accolades from Zappa family members. In a sense, these shows have put Hilo on the map of places that pay tribute to the avant-garde rock musician.
The 2017 documentary Zappa U covers Veilleux’s work with the UH Hilo Jazz Orchestra (UHHJO) over the years and has nearly 30 thousand views on YouTube. Zappa fans, many not from the Big Island, have commented about UHJO’s performances: “I think Frank would have loved this!” “Definitely adding seeing this show to my bucket list.” “It makes my old heart sing to know there are generations behind me who are dedicated to keeping Frank Zappa’s music alive.” But perhaps the most interesting comment was “You guys need to take this show on the road!”
Since 2018, Veilleux and the UHJO have been trying to do just that. They want to take their Frank Zappa tribute show to Germany and participate in the 2020 Zappanale Festival. Besides their gofundme page, the musicians have done several concert fundraisers, and have two more on December 11 and 12. I recently spoke with Professor Veilleux about a variety of Zappa topics including the approaching concerts.
What can folks look forward to at the Zappa 7 tribute concert?
A great band playing great music. I feel like this is one of the best groups ever in terms of technical ability. They get a little easier and it’s sounding a little tighter.
Are you playing any different material from the Zappa catalog that you’ve never covered before, and are there any new players this year?
All of the above. We’re doing “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” from Roxy and Elsewhere. That’s a song that I’ve been wanting to do for years, and it’s super difficult to play. We’re also going to play a song from Joe’s Garage called “Catholic Girls.”
At the University, we always have new students coming in. There’s a handful of new student players and also sitting in with the band is a professional keyboard player, Ed Bisquera, who has been playing professionally forever. We have some returning players like Elizabeth Sekona Robinson on the violin. It’s a really good group! I’m playing more guitar myself than in past shows because our guitarist Roger Winter is touring Asia now.
Is there any part of the Zappa catalog that you haven’t explored yet?
I think we’ve covered pretty good ground as far as his touring bands go. We’ve never tackled any of his orchestral music, but that’s not really what we do. There’s still, you know, hundreds of songs that I’d love to do… we’re still kind of just scratching the surface in some ways.
Can you briefly describe your onstage guitar gear?
I just recently stopped using an amplifier. I found a company in New York called Tech 21. It’s all analog, and when you plug a guitar in, it goes right into the house P.A. It sounds like a mic’d guitar amp. For this show, I’ll probably be using my Ibanez Steve Vai signature model guitar. Our guitarist Roger Winter loaned me his Gibson Frank Zappa signature model to use. He’s currently on tour in Asia.
Talk about the 2020 Zappanale Festival and your fundraising projects to get there.
We were invited to perform at the Zappanale Festival in Germany. We were hoping to go this past July, but we didn’t quite make our fundraising goal. The festival extended our invitation and said if we could make it July 2020, then we’re still welcome. It’s looking like we’ll be able to bring a smaller version of the band to Germany. I’m feeling really positive. We’re a few thousand dollars away at this point and have raised about 80% of our travel budget so far! We have over $18,000 now, and I think if we can get up to around $22,000, we can make it happen!
Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
I’d like people to know that this will be an entertaining and well-received show, regardless if you’re a Frank Zappa fan, or if you’ve never heard a Zappa song. I know you’re going to have a great time!
If You Go… Have A Good Show!
Tickets for the 2019 Zappa Tribute Concerts (December 11 and 12) are open-seating and priced at $12 for General, $10 Discount, $5 Students w/ Valid ID & Children 17 & under. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. For more information, or to order tickets, contact the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center Box Office at 932-7490 or online at artscenter.uhh.hawaii.edu.
Photos: Steve Roby