by Katherine Hafner
About a dozen years ago, Melanie Waters had a casual conversation at a party that would change the course of her career. She’d been chatting with the owner of a local 1970s-themed band about the group’s success. A few drinks in, he said he just didn’t think an ‘80s-themed band would work as well.
Waters, a longtime musician, took that as a challenge and from it The Deloreans, one of the most successful cover bands in Tidewater, was born. The band’s first show – held Feb. 29, 2008, at the now-defunct H2O bar in Virginia Beach – was packed wall-to-wall with friends and family. Word of mouth over the ensuing 12 years has helped the rest of Hampton Roads latch onto the idea of an ‘80s cover band.
And latch onto it they did.
“The timing could not have been more perfect,” says Waters, now 36, who owns the band and stars as her alter ego, Melanie Delorean. “If you think about generationally who’s buying drinks (and) whose kids are getting married, we just struck it right at the right time.”
The Deloreans pop up on flyers and festival lineups across the region, drawing crowds in the thousands. They’ve performed for sailors aboard the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman and as far as the Dominican Republic.
Sure, playing on ‘80s nostalgia is at the band’s core, but the musicians say their success doesn’t just stem from the bright colors, legwarmers and leather jackets they wear; they also tug on people’s heartstrings, the way only music can.
“It’s not a one trick pony and it’s not a one-level show,” says Rianna Pellino, 39, aka Rianna Delorean.
On Leap Day in late February, The Deloreans celebrated its 12th anniversary with a big show at The Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery in Hampton. Fans packed the space by the stage, some dressed in ‘80s garb themselves. After a few words from Waters’ mother, the band came out swinging with Kool & The Gang’s 1980 hit “Celebration.”
“Footloose” and “Hungry Eyes” followed. “Kevin Bacon,” aka 27-year-old singer Kevin Fafard, clad in a hot pink suit, belted out A-ha’s classic “Take on Me,” high notes and all.
“We play every genre of music you can think of: pop, dance, rock, new wave, hip-hop, R&B,” says Waters, who sings and plays bass and keyboard. “People come up to me and they say, ‘I hate ‘80s music, but I love you guys. You make me like ‘80s music.’ And that’s one of the biggest compliments.”
The band, named for the iconic 1980s vehicle from the Back to the Future trilogy, includes a rotating cast. It’s an ensemble of about five to eight, depending on family obligations and whether travel’s involved. Besides Waters, members from the band’s early days include Tommy Hageman, 43, aka “Tommy Hagar,” and drummer Cary Greco, 41. Others, like Fafard and Melissa Gregoire, joined along the way. (The band played at Gregoire’s wedding, and she was thrilled when later asked to audition.)
One of its founding members, Windle “McFly” Sverresson, best known as The Deloreans’ own Billy Idol, left the band recently.
“Everyone’s our biggest fan, which is an honor,” Pellino says. Band members are often regaled by stories of first dates at their concerts that lead to marriage vows. There was once even an onstage proposal.
James and Lisa Farias drove from Richmond for the anniversary show in Hampton. The married couple had one of their first dates at a Deloreans show in Williamsburg a few years ago and quickly realized they were both “obsessed” with everything ‘80s. The couple booked a hotel room and made a weekend out of celebrating the band’s 12th year.
“We told our Uber driver it was a huge concert, and to us it is,” James says.
Joan LaRock, 67, lives in Virginia Beach and has heard the band at least 10 times, she says — at graduation parties, at Oceanfront events. She was there in February for a girls’ night with friends.
“They put on a good show and they’re fun to watch,” LaRock says. “They’re the perennial popular band.”
Backstage before the Vanguard show, the band slumped on a couple couches to chat about their experiences over the years. Greco, who goes by “Cary G,” remembers his first show being at a Chinese restaurant. Another time at Greenies in Ocean View, his rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump” resulted in “a Volkswagen-size hole in the deck” thanks to an energetic crowd that took the song’s directive to heart.
Vocalist Pellino says she was a Deloreans fan first and Waters’ high school friend. She’d been living in New York when the group got under way and watched its progress from afar. Pellino joined when she returned to the area.
“I like to think it’s been a forward movement,” Pellino says of each time the ensemble has grown. “Everybody brings different things to the band.”
One three-hour show can contain up to 50 songs, Waters says, often cut into medleys. The band knows 140 songs and is often adding more to the repertoire. For Waters to approve a new song, it must not only have been an ‘80s hit, but also stood the test of time.
Waters calls the songs onstage through a talkback mic, so the band must be ready for anything.
Selections depend on the vibe of the room: if the energy is already strong, maybe they’ll take a chance on a non-megahit, like George Michael’s “Father Figure”; if the audience needs a boost, there’s always “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
And everyone gets a turn at center stage. “Every single one of us can be a frontman,” Pellino says, adding that cover bands tend to get a bad rap. “People think, ‘Oh, you’re a cover band, you’re taking the easy way out’ and all that,” Pellino says. “But we play so many genres, we have to know what we’re doing.”
They rehearse once a week, she says – even the songs they’ve played for more than a decade. “We make sure we’re not just being lazy on certain notes. We’re trying to play it as is,” note for note with the original.
That precision is what strikes a nostalgic chord for many in the audience, says lead guitarist Hageman. People tell the band it’s like “every concert I’ve never seen,” he says, or reminds them of something they danced to at prom.
“Music is transportive,” Pellino says. “You hear a song and it takes you back somewhere.”