One Halloween a few years ago, DaVaughn Weber dressed up as Prince and won a costume contest.
And a second. And a third. And a fourth.
People had been telling Weber that he was a dead ringer for the late pioneering pop icon since his early teens, but those contest wins — and $2,000 in prizes that came with them — convinced him something special was going on. Weber, a Prince fan since he was a toddler, began to work as an impersonator at mostly private events.
Around the same time, Michael Lesko’s newly formed Prince and the Revolution tribute band hit a wall. Its lead singer — Lesko says “[he] didn’t look much like Prince but could really sing” — quit. Lesko needed to quickly find another singer and asked his bandmates to give him a week.
It took him two.
But then he saw a video of Weber on YouTube. Even though Weber was listed as living in South Carolina, Lesko gave him a call and asked if he was interested in joining his band, based in Columbiana, Ohio. In a twist of fate, Weber had just moved from South Carolina back to his hometown of Akron — just an hour west of Columbiana.
“So, Prince is in Akron, we got the Revolution an hour outside Pittsburgh in Columbiana … we’re like, we’ve gotta get these two together,” Lesko says.
Over the past year and a half, the Prince Project has honed what Lesko says are the three keys to having a successful and accurate tribute band: the music, the look and the performance.
“You have to be as accurate as possible, and people really connect to that,” he says. “They remember little details in songs, these very famous songs: ‘Let’s Go Crazy,’ ‘Purple Rain,’ all that. … If you catch those, then people go crazy.”
It’s not an easy process, though. Much of Prince’s music is sonically complex and very difficult to replicate in a studio, let alone in a live performance.
“There’s a ton of production in [the music]. Trying to bring that same sound to the live stage was our big challenge,” Lesko says.
By combining musical skill and a talented sound guy with complex lighting and detailed costumes, the Prince Project transports attendees back to the 1980s. Recreating the ‘80s is part of why Lesko wanted to form a Prince tribute band in the first place.
“My wife never had a chance to see [Prince],” he says. “And I swear to God, to this day, I almost think that’s another reason why I started this band, so I could get her as close to a Prince concert as I could.”
The Prince Project
6 p.m. Thu., July 12. Jergel’s Rhythm Grille, 103 Slade Lane, Warrendale. $10 in advance, $12 day of. jergels.com