Limelight puts spotlight on the music of Rush

Lou Caldarola has discovered there aren’t many casual fans of Rush.

“You either like Rush or you hate Rush,” he said. “There’s not really a middle ground.”

For 15 years Caldarola has been playing for the faithful with the Rush tribute band Limelight, and the group will make its first appearance at the Warren Community Amphitheatre as part of the River Rock at the Amp concert series on Saturday.

Caldarola remembers hearing earlier songs on the radio, but it was the band’s 1981 album “Moving Pictures” that started his fandom.

“A friend said, ‘You’re a drummer, you need to hear this album.’ I got ‘Moving Pictures’ and that was it,” Caldarola said.

While Rush is a power trio featuring Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, Limelight is a quartet with Rob Jackson on lead vocals, Steve Schnaper, bass and keyboards; Eric Strom, guitars and foot pedal keys; and Caldarola, drums and percussion. That creates a different feel to the live show.

“It’s similar to a Rush show in the way we put it together, but it has the energy of a frontman running around and energizing the crowd,” Caldarola said. “We try to do a little bit of the modern look, the way the guys look on stage now, with the addition of a frontman. But it’s really about the tones and the sounds and the music itself.”

All of the members have played in other rock and progressive rock bands, and three of them were in a band called Your Name Here when they saw the growing popularity of tribute bands in their home state of New York in 2002 and decided to create one dedicated to Rush.

“It was a hobby, a side project from our original thing,” Caldarola said. ” It was a way to stay brushed up on our chops and stay busy doing what we love to do.”

Limelight’s setlist spans Rush’s five-decade career, but the emphasis is on the band’s music from the 1970s and early/mid-’80s.

“Rob has that ability to sound like that young, in-his-20s Geddy,” Caldarola said. “Rob just has that kind of voice to do things like side one of ‘2112’ or the Rush medley from the first album. Those are the things that make people go, ‘Oh, Wow!.'”

But Lee’s high-pitched voice, especially on those 1970s albums, is the main thing that makes Rush so divisive. Caldarola said they’ve encountered some resistance from promoters over the years who don’t know if a Rush tribute will appeal to their audience, which Caldarola finds strange since Rush has been able to fill arenas for 40 years.

One of the the places where Limelight always has gotten a good response is in northeast Ohio. The band has played several times at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park and for the Rockin’ on the River concert series (formerly in Cuyahoga Falls, now in Lorain). Then again, Cleveland was the first American city to embrace the Canadian trio’s music.

“We love the folks there,” Caldarola said. “There’s such an appreciation for Rush’s music around Ohio.”

Like many tribute acts, Limelight sees an uptick in interest when its inspiration is in the news. Interest increased when the documentary “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” was released. The band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 also gave Limelight a boost. Surprisingly, the band’s announcement that last year’s R40 tour would be its last full-scale tour hasn’t had much impact.

“We joked early on that we’re tributing a band that people can still go see,” Caldarola said. “When people can’t go see them, maybe we’ll notice a big jump in the the interest. Currently? Not really. It’s still good, there’s still an interest but it hasn’t jumped.”