Sierra Nights Live concert series kicks off with Nirvana tribute

Nearvana, a Nirvana tribute band out of Los Angeles, performs during the opening Sierra Nights Live concert at Sierra Vista Mall, May 10, 2018. (Valerie Shelton/Clovis Roundup)

Sierra Vista Mall’s new summer concert series Sierra Nights Live kicked off Thursday, May 10, with a tribute to 90s alternative grunge band Nirvana.

The tribute band aptly named Nearvana set the tone for the series, which Sierra Vista Mall communications director Natalie Khan said will differ from its series of the past by bringing an edgier sound to mall goers and music patrons.

“The difference is we went toward more of our 90s alternative, a little bit of grunge in there, and of course we’ll still have an AC/DC tribute band but we want to be a little edgy and more out there,” Khan said.

Nearvana bandmates Ron Foster (guitar and lead vocals), Ken Kopkin (drums), and Andy Scher (bass) were more than happy to oblige and introduce the concert series style, opening with hits like “I’m on a Plane.”

The trio said when 105.1 The Blaze, the local station partnering with the mall for the series, called and asked them if they’d be the opening act, the Los Angeles-based group couldn’t resist the opportunity to come perform in the Central Valley. They have performed in the area previously at Fresno’s Starline club in the Tower District and said they always experience “mad crowds” when they come to Fresno and Clovis.

“Every show has been really successful up here,” Foster said. “I’ve had people come up to me after shows and say ‘thank you so much for doing this, I’ve always wanted to see Nirvana live and had no idea what they would sound like or look like’ so a lot of people love it and it keeps us going. When you get people like that after a show, it just makes you want to get to the next show and do it all over again and make people happy. The crowd response after the shows and how much they love the show and the fact that we brought a live Nirvana show to their town, people just love that and we feed off that.”

Nearvana has been bringing the sound of Nirvana to live audiences for the past 10 years—longer than Nirvana was together—traveling as far as Honolulu to do a show. They have even performed in Seattle several times, as well as Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington. Scher said Cobain’s grandfather even came to one of their shows.

Before becoming Nearvana, Foster, Scher and Kopkin performed together doing various covers and tributes. In total, they’ve been jamming together over 20 years. The concept for Nearvana all began when Foster went to the skate park with his pal John Silva, who just happened to be Nivana’s band manager. They got to talking about why there was no tribute band for Nirvana on the west coast and that led to Foster’s eureka moment.

“I asked John ‘how come there is no Nirvana tribute band here in the western United States?’ and he said ‘I don’t know, you look like Kurt, how about you dye your hair blonde and you go for it’ and a lightbulb went off in my head and that is really how the band started, just having a discussion with Nirvana’s band manager,” Foster said.

Kopkin was on board with the idea instantly, having wanted to form a tribute band since Cobain’s tragic passing.

“After Kurt passed away there was no way to hear Nirvana live anymore so that is why we thought that music is really great, especially when it is live and loud and powerful. That is something that people aren’t doing anymore so we’re going to do that and keep his memory alive,” Kopkin said. “It is really a way to expose people to what they were like as a live band because that is not an option anymore.”

Scher was more than willing to take up the Krist Novoselic persona as bassist as well.

“We’ve been friends for over 25 years and Ron just said ‘hey, let’s start a Nirvana tribute band’ and I’m kind of tall like Krist Novoselic so it worked out pretty well.”

A packed crowd at Sierra Vista Mall seemingly agreed as they cheered for Nearvana and chanted along to Nirvana’s most popular hits.

The 90s alternative style fun will continue every second and fourth Thursday in May, June and July. Next up on May 24 is Dave’s Not Here, a Foo Fighters Tribute band. Other bands performing this series are Green ToDay: A Tribute to Green Day, Jaded Band, Flannel 90s Band: Alternative and Grunge Rock Tribute, and Fuse Box.

In addition to live music, each Sierra Night Live show will be followed by an after party hosted by No Surrender Adventure Park, which will have laser tag game specials, as well as food and drink specials. During the show, there are also numerous food vendor booths and the famous beer garden, hosted by the Fresno Rugby Club. The beer garden opens at 6 p.m. before each show and concerts start at 7 p.m.