Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star on the planet, with her blockbuster Eras Tour criss-crossing the country to sold-out stadiums.
If you can’t snag a Swift seat, one of the world’s biggest Swifties offers the next best thing, at a much more affordable price — Burning Red, a Taylor Swift tribute band, will play the Quad Cities on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m. at The Rust Belt, 533 12th Ave., East Moline.
Gina CC (who doesn’t publicly reveal her last name) is the fiery redhead who takes on Taylor’s tunes with her whole heart and soul. The band bills itself as a show by Swifties for Swifties.
She puts a lot of pressure on her band, since she’s personally a hard-core Taylor fan and doesn’t want to disappoint any fans. “I’m very protective as a Swiftie of other Swifties,” Gina said in a recent interview with Local 4. “I set the bar really, really high. Everything we do, I say, is this authentic?”
They also want to provide the alternative for the many people who cannot afford Taylor tickets. The true Swift continues her tour Oct. 18 in Miami, Fla.
“That is why this has been so successful,” Gina said. “She’s the biggest artist in the world, consistently selling out. You can’t get tickets to her shows.”
“She’s basically become inaccessible for much of her fan base,” she said. “We’re not taking away from anything she’s doing. We’re never going to be taking away from her ticket sales. She could play every night of the week, every week of the month, and still never have enough tickets for everybody.”
Swifties are a community also very active and are insatiable for Swift’s music, so Burning Red attracts fans that have seen Taylor in the Eras Tour (the movie version comes to cineplexes Oct. 13). In Chicago, she played three shows this past June, and Burning Red played there Saturday the same weekend, at Lincoln Hall June 3 (with 300 in attendance). Gina’s band actually went to see her at Soldier Field that Sunday.
“That was my second time seeing her,” she said, noting she saw Taylor during the “Reputation” tour in 2018, also a Soldier Field show.
The Eras show “is such a production,” Gina said. “She just keeps upping the ante, keeps ratcheting it up each time. You think the last time the biggest she could go. Don’t underestimate her; she’s gonna get bigger.”
Swift plays every show over three hours, including everything from just her and a piano, to huge production numbers. “Part of the set looks like a Broadway production, combined with a stadium concert,” Gina said. “She’s covering everything, somehow making everything work in a stadium. It’s a spectacle.”
She actually timed Swift’s several costume changes. One she does in under a minute.
“The speed in which that’s happening is something to behold,” Gina said. “I don’t have mechanisms to help me, so I have to figure out transitions – having the band play something different, pulling focus over here while I’m slipping behind the curtain and changing. I want people to still feel the spectacle of the costume changes. She’s doing it, it’s mind-boggling how fast she does it.”
Fans also dress up for Burning Red shows, like they do for Taylor.
“They are fully making an experience out of it, and we encourage that,” Gina said. “This is a show for you to come have a great time. It’s basically a singalong party. They bring the energy; we’re just there to facilitate a great time.”
Often, people drive hours to her shows, to be part of that live Taylor experience.
Among Gina’s constant faves to sing include “Don’t Blame Me” (also from “Reputation”), “which is like a religious experience,” and the 10-minute “All Too Well,” which sometimes causes fans to scream and cry in the audience.
“When we do ’Style’ the screams that erupt, when that first drum kicks in and they know that it’s ‘Style,’ people just lose their minds,” she said. When they do “Cruel Summer,” that’s the one Swift tells fans to scream the bridge with her, so Gina hears that. “It’s like joyful electricity, just a lot of fun.”
Burning Red also does the hat exchange during “22” (like Taylor does) where Gina picks a fan and gives away a hat. “People are screaming, just losing their minds,” she said. “That’s what happens at her shows, so we’re just trying to make it as authentic as we can.”
An 18-year-old rocker
Gina and her husband John (the band’s rhythm guitarist) live in suburban Chicago, with three teenage kids.
She went to high school partly in Woodridge (a western suburb, where she started playing guitar. In 6th grade, she started playing cello and then viola (through 12th grade), performing in orchestra.
As an adult, Gina re-learned piano, to bring to the Burning Red band, for Swift’s piano songs.
At 18 years old, she became the lead singer and guitarist for the Chicago-based alt rock band Emil Muzz, that had already achieved some notoriety with an appearance on MTV.
At 21, Gina formed Rockit Girl, an all-female pop-punk band and released its debut album, “The Lift Off E.P.”, produced by Louise Post of Veruca Salt.
At 22, Louise recruited Gina to join Veruca Salt as the bassist and co-lead vocalist, filling the hole that Nina Gordon had left after her sudden departure. At a Chicago bar show, Post came up to Gina and the 22-year-old was floored.
“Before I was a Swiftie, I was whatever that was called for Veruca Salt,” she said recently. “Nina Gordon had just left the band, so everyone in the city knew there was a vacancy in the band.”
“They had harmonies, girls playing big rock guitars, just the songs were incredible,” Gina said of the band named for a Willy Wonka character. “I loved Veruca Salt for the same reasons I love Taylor Swift – amazing vocal melodies, amazing layers and layers of harmonies. As a vocalist and instrumentalist, just sonically it really appealed to me.
“Having these chicks on stage wailing on their guitars, it was awesome to me, really inspiring for me as a young female musician,” Gina said. “I was looking to them as a blueprint, how to be a girl in the rock scene.”
Gina was asked to play in the band, and they moved to Los Angeles together. Shortly after, Gina and Louise joined up with Courtney Love and Patty Schemel from Hole in 2001 to form the all-female but short-lived supergroup, Bastard.
“That was maybe for a month; that was very short-lived,” Gina recalled.
Leaving music to grow up
After touring with Veruca Salt about tour years, Gina returned to Chicago to write and record the second Rockit Girl album, “Bright Lights.” After the Bright Lights tour ended, having spent most of her young adult life as a professional musician, Gina took a long hiatus from music to start a family with fellow musician (John, Burning Red guitarist).
“We fell in love, decided to start a family and I got a job with health insurance,” she said, noting they got married in 2006.
Gina and John earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees during their break from music, and started back playing the Swift tributes as an acoustic duo in August 2022.
“He convinced me to try the Taylor project,” she said. “I’m a huge Swiftie; she’s my special interest. I’m on the spectrum and Taylor Swift – her music and the lore surrounding her, everything to do with Taylor is my primary focus. I basically spend every waking moment, in some capacity, thinking about Taylor. She keeps pumping out great music and it’s hard to forget what a great musician she is.”
Gina had no interest in starting another band for original music. “It’s very hard to be a musician in an original band. I’m an adult; I wanted to have fun and I didn’t want it to be a grind,” she said. “When my husband said, ‘why don’t we just play Taylor songs? That’s really fun for you. It won’t be a grind.”
Gina realized they wanted to evolve into a full band and now they are a six-piece, all of them Swifties. Their first full concert in Chicago, March 31, 2023, they sold out an 800-person show at the Theater on the Lake, on Lake Shore Drive. “It took off like a rocket ship,” she said.
“It took from there – we got a big booking agent and it’s running itself,” she said. “It’s not been a grind at all, it’s just been fun.”
In 2006, the year Swift released her first record (at age 16), Gina had her first son and wasn’t really paying attention to her. She did start to notice Swift in the media (like the infamous VMAs in 2009, when Kanye West took the mic from her).
Why fall for Taylor?
“As a female musician, I immediately started to feel empathy for her,” Gina said. “I started to watch and listen and hear the media talking about Taylor Swift in a way that was uncomfortable. Why are people talking about her dating life, why does this matter?”
She became obsessed with Swift after her hits, “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
“They’re bops, they’re fun to sing along to,” Gina said. “As a singer, I’m always thinking melody first. It just kept growing from there.”
Her favorite Swift album is 2017’s “Reputation” (including “End Game,” “Delicate” and “Look What You Made Me Do”), which she said “changed my brain chemistry.”
“I see a lot of myself in what she wrote about on that record,” Gina said. “This was about her trying to take back the narrative after the media put her through a lot. Being a female musician, I totally understood what people say about you.”
Veruca Salt also was put through the wringer in Chicago, with the stigma against women doing well in music, she said.
Gina also identified with Swift’s beautiful love songs on “Reputation,” keeping a love in secret and trying to protect a delicate love. “We just didn’t want people talking about it; people talking about me in that way,” she said of her relationship. “It hooked me; that was it. And everything she wrote after that, there’s no misses.“
“She’s got the Midas touch in terms of lyrics, melody and musicianship,” Gina said. “I think she’s just a great person in terms of artist representative.”
Gina also backs Swift in her public controversy with music manager Scooter Braun, who in 2019 bought the rights to Swift’s masters from her first six albums. The deal led to a bitter feud between Swift and Braun that ultimately resulted in the artist resolving to re-record her first six albums, including many previously unreleased tracks (“from the vault”).
“She brought an issue to light that people before never talked about – who owns whose masters,” Gina said. “Suddenly, civilians were like, ‘Artists don’t own their work? Why not?’”
People gained a lot of empathy for artists because of Swift’s actions, she said. Most recording artists make most of their revenue from writing and publishing, and touring and merchandising (not the recordings).
“Not owning your masters definitely means you’ve given up a lot of control and a lot of income,” Gina said, noting she loves the new re-recorded albums, called “Taylor’s Version” of each, including Swift’s more mature voice on her earliest songs.
“The baby voice doesn’t appeal to me as much; the mature voice is more appealing,” Gina said. “She’s made minor improvements in places. I don’t miss the original versions.”
“I love the vault songs; it really gives you insights into what she wanted to do, what she would have done if she was older at the time or had a little more power,” she said. “She’s grown now. She’s not holding back. It’s fascinating to hear the songs if she would have had more power back then.”
Some of those vault tracks have become her favorite songs, like the 10-minute “All Too Well,” which has become a fan favorite.
That’s on the re-recorded “Red,” from 2021, which features 30 songs and 130 minutes of music total.
Even though Swift is notoriously controlling and protective over her music, tribute bands like Gina don’t have to pay licensing fees to the artist to perform the songs live. The performance venues are responsible for paying those fees, Gina said, noting some big artists have licensed tribute acts.
“That’s more rare, because most artists, they don’t want to have to be responsible for licensing,” she said. “I don’t think Taylor herself could even acknowledge anything like this, any kind of tribute band, ‘cause then people would make her responsible for managing it. What if we did something that could blow back on her?”
Another main Taylor tribute act is called Reputation, and another in the UK sells out 10,000-seat arenas.
Burning Red will play a Taylor “Birth-TAY” bash Dec. 15 back at Chicago’s Theater on the Lake, with a Christmas theme. Swift’s actual birthday is Dec. 13 (she turns 34 this year).
“I just knew we wanted to throw a big Christmas birthday party for her,” Gina said. “Theater on the Lake couldn’t wait to have us back, because we had so much fun the first time. Tickets are already going like hotcakes. It’s going to sell out. It’s gonna be just like a big Christmas party.”
Burning Red tickets at Rust Belt are $19.89 in advance and $22.89 the day of, available HERE.