Petty Theft returns to Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre
When Dan Durkin initially joined the band Petty Theft, the rock ensemble had not yet realized what a golden opportunity its name gave them.
“Initially, Petty Theft wasn’t a Tom Petty tribute band,” explained Petaluma musician Dan Durkin, who joined as a keyboards player and guitarist after answering a Craig’s List ad, and eventually went on to become the lead singer and front man for the group. “Back then, they played some originals and some covers, and a few of those were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tunes. The band’s logo was a guitar with a handcuff around the guitar neck.”
After some spirited discussion and personnel adjustment, the band went full Tom Petty in 2005. They are now considered one of the signature tribute bands in the Bay Area, with a traveling schedule that, until COVID-19, had them performing about 60 gigs per year all over the country.
“It’s picking up again now,” Durkin said. “It’s beginning to feel like old times, a little, though people are still a little tentative. The Mystic Show is going to be when it really feels like we’re back.”
On Saturday, Oct. 16, Petty Theft will play its annual Tom Petty Birthday Celebration, in honor of the singer’s 71st birthday. As Petty was born on Oct. 20, 1950, last year would have been the late musician’s 70th, a milestone Durkin and the band were looking forward to marking.
“That was a hard one to lose,” he said. “But that was just one gig out of many, and we were all off the road. So it’ll be great to be back on the Mystic stage. We’re all pumped up.”
The tradition of celebrating Petty’s birthday in Petaluma began almost by accident.
“We’d gotten into this groove of playing the Mystic twice a year, and one of those dates was always in October,” he said. “I’m not even sure why that was, it’s just how it balanced out, with one show in April or May, and then a show in October. We knew it was around the time of Tom Petty’s birthday, and we’d mention it and everything, but then, in 2012, we decided to just go all in and turn the gig into a full on birthday party. And ever since, it’s become one of the highlights of the year.”
After so many years of playing Petty tunes, some musicians might have gotten tired of it. That’s not Durkin. Though he does write and perform original music on the side, he happily admits that Tom Petty is his sweet spot, the music that touches his soul.
"He’s just one of the all time great songwriters,“ Durkin said. ”During his lifetime, he wrote songs that really mean a lot to people.“
In reference to Petty’s unexpected death on Oct. 2 of 2017, Durkin says that performing the birthday show that year, only a few days after the singer’s passing, was one of the most emotional shows of his life.
“The first time we performed after his death, I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ The first song we did was ‘Wildflowers,’ and I got through it okay, but the audience was clearly feeling it, just feeling the loss of this man we all love. Still, after that first tune, I thought I’d be fine, and then we did ‘Learning to Fly,’ and I lost it. It hit me really hard. That was quite an emotional experience.”
Four years later, Durkin says he expects the upcoming Mystic show to be all about love and celebration.
“This is a birthday party, after all,” he said. “And let me tell you, we are all ready for a party.”