Nirvana Night: Kurt Cobain Birthday Tribute Show at Seattle’s Hard Rock Cafe

By Kurt Clark /

On February 24th, three bands got together at The Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle for a show to celebrate Kurt Cobain’s birthday on February 20th .  This year he would have been 51 years old.  It didn’t surprise me at all that a show like this was in the making; the impact Nirvana had on music – especially in Seattle – is without question. Even my oldest son listens to Nirvana, and he was born seven years after they performed their last show together.  The message is universal, and based on feelings all of us have felt at one point.

The music still speaks to many.

Aberdeen’s Juliet Tango opened the show, playing Nirvana songs plus others from the same punk and rock genres.  The band is a duo – fronted by Joe Ty and with his wife Ripley on drums.  Their sound pulls from rock, punk and outlaw country – an intriguing combination when witnessed live.  When Joe plays, the audience easily forgets there is no bass player in the band.  Ripley keeps a solid HARD beat while keeping an eye on Joe’s movements and chords.  The two play completely synchronized.  

Juliet Tango
Kurt Cobain Birthday Celebration at The Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle WA, 24 February 2018. Photo by Kurt Clark / NehiStripes Musiczine – Seattle /

Halfway through their set they brought out their guest drummer Aaron Burckhard – original drummer for Nirvana through late 1987.

Aaron Burckhard
Juliet Tango plays the Kurt Cobain Birthday Celebration at The Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle WA, 24 February 2018. Photo by Kurt Clark / NeHi Stripes Musiczine – Seattle /

Aaron and Joe are longtime friends, and he was thrilled to be part of the event.  The crowd showed their enthusiasm for his attendance by lining the stage with their smartphones, to shoot photos and videos while he played.  Aaron truly looked like he was in his element; he sat at the drums and pounded the daylights out of them with strength reserved for drummers half his age.  Listening to him play was like listening to the early Nirvana songs all over again.  After three songs he handed the kit back to Ripley, and left the stage to the sound of loud applause.

Heart Shaped Boxes – the only all-female Nirvana tribute – came on next.  Debra was on duty for Vocals and Guitar, T-Rex on Bass, Ms. Em on Drums, and Reese T played Lead Guitar and provided backup vocals.  The band’s ties and button-down shirts belied their gritty loud renditions of Nirvana songs. Part-way through the show Aaron once again came on stage and accompanied one of their songs on tambourine. Ms. Em had the calm look of a librarian while sitting at the kit, and reminded me a Ringo Starr as she played with efficiency and power.  T-Rex jumped and moved as she put her bass in all sorts of upright angles.  Her bass lines were perfect.  Debra cut a perfect image of Cobain on stage, with a similar hairstyle and signature cheap “mod” sunglasses; her stage presence was calmer than the other musicians, and gave priority to providing the crowd with authentic guitar licks and vocals.  Reese T got into the show, expressing the emotion and drama that so many people feel when listening to Nirvana’s music.  It was clear these songs really moved her.

Heart Shaped Boxes
Kurt Cobain Birthday Celebration at The Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle WA, 24 February 2018. Photo by Kurt Clark / NeHi Stripes Musiczine – Seattle /

Lithium headlined the show – with Caleb Mendoza on guitar, Doug McGrath on bass, and Lonnie Smith on drums.  When they started this Nirvana tribute there were no other bands paying homage to Nirvana songs.  So they started one to fill in the musical gap they saw.  Their stage show was loud, hyper and authentic to the music of Nirvana, with Caleb picking up on Cobain’s signature growl in his vocals.  He told me before the show that he attended Nirvana’s last Seattle concert in January 1994, and that the show had a huge influence on him as a teenager.  The crowd really responded to the energy in their set, by dancing and singing along. Doug and Caleb both spent time in the audience while playing, which brought on even more enthusiasm in front of the stage.

This tribute show really brought the music alive and, based on the ages of people in the crowd, gave it traction for a whole new generation.

In Memory of Kurt Cobain 1967-1994

Several of the musicians mentioned afterwards that they felt a level of energy at this show that was exciting and positive.  The fans loved the music.  The musicians were interacting with the fans.  Together, everyone simply let the songs flow through them.  It was a fantastic night.  I’m looking forward to a show like this again in the future!

Edited  by GrungeGal50 (Admin/Editor)