Steve Baker has been working in music his entire life. He is a trumpet player and vocalist for Bull City Syndicate, a Durham-based variety act that originally formed in 1993. He has played in the Triangle area for years, including Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. But his show on Halloween night will be particularly special.
It will be his first performance at Cat’s Cradle with his son, Duncan Baker.
Duncan, 20, and Steve, 59, only started playing together in the last year when Steve formed Stardust to Ashes, a David Bowie tribute band, with some of his Bull City Syndicate bandmates. The collaboration came when Steve wanted to move the Syndicate’s bassist to keyboard.
Steve asked Duncan, who happens to share a name with David Bowie's only son, to be his replacement.
“I felt like, with us doing Bowie’s stuff, we would be better served for me to move Randy (Ines) from bass guitar over to piano and keyboards for the Bowie project,” Steve said. “And my son, even as young as he is, he’s just a phenom and freak of nature musician. He has total mastery and control over the bass guitar.”
The father and son duo, along with a handful of Syndicate bandmates, have been performing as Stardust to Ashes since Dec. 30, 2018 and have become the most in-demand David Bowie tribute band in the Mid-Atlantic, according to the band’s website.
The band will perform at Cat’s Cradle on Oct. 31, and attendees are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show begins at 9 p.m.
“Doing a Bowie gig on Halloween in a college town – I really can’t think of anything better,” Steve said. “Halloween shows can be crazy and fun anyway, and they should be, but to have an overarching theme of someone that is so iconic for his costumes? That’s kind of a perfect fit.”
Steve lives in Raleigh, where Duncan was born and raised. Duncan moved to Chapel Hill two years ago, where he works at Starbucks on Franklin Street and takes college classes online.
He is not taking his opportunity with Stardust to Ashes for granted.
“It’s great for our relationship because, outside of music, we don’t see each other that often,” Duncan said. “It’s been fun. I’ve always loved all the people in his band. I started out in your typical rock bands and whatnot, so to be in a more professional environment, but having fun at the same time, has been a pleasure.”
But there is a twist of irony to Duncan’s experience with Stardust to Ashes — Duncan does not think very much of tribute bands.
“I am a firm believer that most tribute bands are pretty awful," Duncan said. "I don’t enjoy them. I think the majority of them are extremely cheesy, and I would never pay money to go see a tribute band; it just so happens that I’m in one. I think we do a good job of presenting to whoever comes to see us that tribute bands can be good. We’re not cheesy. We take the music extremely seriously, and I think we do David Bowie a lot of justice.”
Duncan referred to his bandmates as the main reason why Stardust to Ashes is a worthwhile musical act, for himself and audiences.
“The people that I’m fortunate to play with in this band are all unbelievable musicians,” Duncan said. “Probably, to this day, the strongest musicians I’ve ever played with. They blow my mind every time I get to play with them.”
The Halloween night concert is also exciting for Frank Heath, owner and operator of Cat’s Cradle since 1986. Heath grew up during the height of Bowie’s career and said he thinks it takes a lot of courage to tackle a tribute band for such a prolific performer.
Heath became aware of the band after one of the Cat’s Cradle’s booking agents attended a Stardust to Ashes show over the summer and worked to schedule a date for them to perform at the venue.
They decided Halloween was the perfect fit.
“I feel like with there being a local angle, as opposed to it being a tribute act from elsewhere, that kind of ties in a little bit better to the Cradle’s mission, which is bringing everyone together from around the area,” Heath said. “We always take it as a challenge to try and find something that is unique for Halloween or New Year’s Eve or whatever occasion it is. This is an event that fits the bill as far as we’re concerned.”
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