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Violet Mary tries on Freddie Mercury for size


Mel Muscarella does not pause when asked to name her favorite singers. Freddy Mercury? “Between him and Bono,” she says, “those are my great musical influences.”

She’s not talking Sonny Bono. Whittling down a list of favorite vocalists to between Mercury or U2’s Bono is enough to ask of anyone.

Yet even then, for Muscarella, between those two, there really doesn’t seem to be a “between.”

“I take it real seriously,” she says of her admiration for Mercury. “In my opinion, he’s just the greatest singer of rock and roll. Period.”

Sure, everyone has an opinion. But Muscarella is the one who will have to back up her words. With his words.

Two times over the next few weeks, Muscarella will have to sing like the lead singer of Queen. She and her band, Violet Mary, will lead “Queen Mary: A Tribute to Queen,” at a Sept. 5 show at Iron Smoke Distillery in Fairport. Trivia and costume contests, as well as a set of Violet Mary music, will also be a part of the night.

Violet Mary follows that up with 90 minutes of Queen music at The Rochester Fringe Festival on Sept. 14 at The Theater at Innovation Square.


Tribute shows – playing entire sets of a well-known band’s music – are a staple of the Rochester scene. It’s a way for our local musicians to make some money to pay the bills. “I guess people want to hear what they know,” Muscarella says.

These two concerts are the first two tribute shows that Violet Mary has ever done.

“I feel like there’s a little bit of a novelty in it, in the fact that I’m a lady doing it,” Muscarella says of taking on Mercury. “Instantly, it’s going to be a little bit different.”

Is novelty enough? Mercury’s vocals were almost operatic in nature. “Yeah, absolutely, I think he has a lot of classical training and stuff,” Muscarella says, speaking of Mercury in the present tense; he died in 1991. “And I think he maybe added a little piece of that to it. It’s very dramatic, yeah. Operatic is a good descriptive.”

In fact, Mercury had a four-octave vocal range. That’s on a scale where you’d also find Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and Churchville native Renée Fleming of the opera world. And pop and rock singers such as Mariah Carey, David Bowie and Prince.

And Muscarella herself? The dental hygienist from Farmington? Not so much.

Muscarella and her husband, guitarist Mike Muscarella, a social studies teacher at Victor High School, have been the heart of Violet Mary since 2007. And this is a band that reaches beyond music. In recent years, the band has made a particular mission of playing fundraisers for the Ugandan Water Project, which has raised more than $100,000 for clean water and sanitation at schools in Uganda.

She admits to some nervousness in carrying out this new assignment. Will the audience – we’ll assume many of them are fans of Queen’s music – buy into this?

But Muscarella is confident she’ll hold up her end of the bargain.

“They’re going to come wanting to hear these great parts,” she says. “And I feel like I’m going to deliver them, and I’m not so worried about it. The rehearsals have been going very, very well. But I’m excited to be me doing these parts as well, with an absolute respect for what is already there.”

Mel Muscarella channels her inner Freddie Mercury as she sits on the bar at Iron Smoke Distillery. - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Mel Muscarella channels her inner Freddie Mercury as she sits on the bar at Iron Smoke Distillery.

And what about that iconic Freddie Mercury flair? The exotic costumes? Chest-baring cropped jackets, muscle shirts adorned with lightning bolts, tight leggings, and ermine-trimmed outfits fit for a coronation. “If Freddie were a female,” Muscarella muses, “what would he be interested in wearing?” She counters with a yellow jacket with buckles that looks similar to one that Mercury sometimes sported, white jeans and Adidas shoes.

“I feel like I am trying to be as faithful as possible,” Muscarella says, “but still being able to add a little bit of my own piece to it.”

Her piece? She rocks.

“U2 has been a favorite of mine ever since high school.”

“I also grew up in the classical world, until my brother started listening to Led Zeppelin. He’s three years older than me, so he hit the grunge era, and I wanted to listen to anything he did. And he was listening to Pearl Jam and all of those guys. He was the epitome of cool to me, my brother.”

It has not escaped Muscarella that all those bands were male-led. Yet she forges ahead into this field.

“It’s really been exciting to dive deep into it, watching a lot of his live videos, trying to pick up little pieces of what he does,” Muscarella says, again speaking of Mercury in the present tense. “Learning the vocals was interesting, it was easier to learn them live because there’s not so many layered vocals. There were a couple of tunes, listening to the album cuts, and I wasn’t entirely sure what the melody actually was. There’s so many layers of vocals that I really had to sit there and pick out. So then I’d go to the live version of it and, ‘Oh, OK, that’s what the melody is.’”

Violet Mary is also bassist James Sconfitto, guitarist and vocalist Jason Tortorici and drummer Scott Kockler. That’s two guitar players, one more than Queen’s Brian May.

“It kind of works out in a way,” Muscarella says. “A lot of the recordings have layers, just like the vocals did.”

With five albums of its own, Violet Mary’s own past suggests it can handle the twists and turns. “There’s such a huge range of what our albums are,” Muscarella says. “There’s a lot of all different genres, we all have different backgrounds, that we bring to the table.”

Queen’s table was quite full. “Queen crossed pretty much every genre you can think of,” she says. “‘Night at the Opera’ is just this huge smorgasbord of material that, you know, how does this even fit on one record?”

So labels can be troublesome. “Violet Mary has struggled for a very long time to try and pin ourselves,” Muscarella says. Taking on Queen was, at first, simply mimicry. And yet, “after that, it’s just having fun with it.”

“It’s rock and roll, at the heart of it, that’s what we do.”

With the only limits set by a dynamic frontman, Freddie Mercury, who Muscarella describes as “otherworldly.”

“There’s a tune where he just goes and does this almost animalistic kind of shriek,” she says. “And I was like – I kept listening to it, I tried it a couple of times – and I was like, ‘You know, I’m gonna hurt myself. I’m gonna let him have that moment.’”

Jeff Spevak is the senior arts writer for CITY Magazine. He can be reached at (585) 258-0343 or [email protected].