King’s Highway travels from opening act to Amp headliner

Tim Eastgate has fond memories of the Warren Community Amphitheatre.

King’s Highway, the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ tribute act that he fronts, played its first big outdoor show at the venue last year, opening for Almost Journey.

“My son (Cory), he and the bass player at the time had never been in front of that many people any place,” Eastgate said. “It was just fun to watch them try to breathe as they were walking on. The tempo man, I think he started the first two songs just a little fast.

King’s Highway return to the venue this Saturday as the headliner with the Pat Benatar tribute Invincible and Dead Flowers opening for them as part of the River Rock at the Amp concert series.

That’s not the only difference. When the band played Warren last year, Petty still was alive and on the road. Petty died Oct. 2, 2017, at age 66.

“We were a tribute to Tom while he was alive because we loved it, that music,” Eastgate said. “When he passed, we were all devastated. A couple days after, the phone started ringing (with job offers). Now, when we’re on stage, it’s let’s do this for the memory of Tom. Everything’s changed to that perspective — he’s gone and we’re here to carry his memory on.”

Eastgate grew up in the Barberton area but moved to southern California to pursue music. His band, Vinney Bonne, opened for such acts as Warrant, The Motels, Oingo Boingo and the Beat Farmers, and his group Favorite Son played with acts from Gary Puckett and The Righteous Brothers to No Doubt.

When he moved back to Ohio, he was in in a Styx tribute band, Grand Illusion, as well as playing covers in bars where, Eastgate said, “I got fed up with making $80 for jumping up and down for three hours. I wanted to be in front of more people. I love Tom Petty. He’s one of the greatest to put pen to paper. I decided to do this after getting out of the Styx tribute, and it’s been really taking off … That’s the thing for me, playing in front of large crowds and escaping reality for a few hours.”

Eastgate said Petty’s genius is in his simplicity, both as a songwriter and in the arrangements of the Heartbreakers. He believes Petty’s and his band’s talents sometimes are under-estimated, even by their fellow musicians. When he was starting King’s Highway, he approached the keyboard player from Grand Illusion, who initially passed.

“‘Styx is so keyboard loaded, I think it’s going to be pretty boring,’ he told me. A couple weeks went by, and he said, ‘You know what, I’ve been listening to that Benmont Tench guy. He’s a simplistic genius.'”

King’s Highway started as a six-piece band, but this year they’ve added two female backup singers to fill the role the Webb Sisters filled on Petty’s 2017 40th anniversary tour.

“We call them our ‘American Girls,'” Eastgate said. “And one of them slides over and plays the part of Stevie Nicks (on ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’).”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had more than 40 rock radio hits in its 40-plus years as a band. “King’s Highway,” the song that gives the tribute act its name, isn’t one of the first ones that comes to mind, but Eastgate it was an important song to the members of the band.

“Four of the members are recovering addicts, long-time recovering addicts, so we’re all relatively spiritual,” he said. “We started throwing names out there and, considering how we are and how we feel about our Creator, why not King’s Highway. It goes along with how we feel spiritually. We know what road we’re on, on the King’s Highway, so it stuck.”

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