As the 1980s drew to a close and grunge overtook radio airwaves, many music fans felt like their favorite genre was dying off.
Shawn "Sports" Pop, bassist for the Minneapolis-based band Hairball, grew up as a "hair rock" fanatic and liked some heavier bands too. He wasn't a fan of grunge because of what it did to the American music scene in the early 1990s.
"When ('80s rock) was first going away, I was very mad about it," he said. "Some of the older folks said, 'Don't worry, it will be back.' But when you're younger, at the time it's like forever. 'What am I going to do now? It's 1990.'"
But Shawn was wrong. Today, the '80s bands are seeing their careers revitalized after nearly two decades of being mocked or dismissed. In 2008 alone, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Judas Priest and Motley Crue all had "awesome albums and big tours," he said.
Hairball, an '80s tribute band, covers some of the biggest bands of the decade, including KISS, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, Journey and many others.
The band will perform Saturday in Grand Forks, with the show benefiting children and adults with disabilities in northern Minnesota through Arc Headwaters. The music starts at 8 p.m. at River Cities Speedway at the fairgrounds.
Shawn came from a musical family, but at first was more interested in swimming and track than music. Then, when he was 13, fate stepped in. Some friends in junior high school had a band and needed a bassist, and it just happened that Shawn's brother had a bass guitar in the house.
"I traded him a boombox for it," he said. "I kind of fell into that and just took off from there. It's a little funny that I made a career out of playing the very first songs I learned how to play."
Hairball was formed in 2001, but Shawn didn't join until 2006. Originally the band was "just a spoof on this era of music that was very popular," and at the time, "it quite honestly wasn't that good."
After lineup changes of everyone but the original drummer, the band is "absolutely a whole different animal now."
Shawn said his band has faced agents and promoters who told the musicians that they wouldn't get very far as a cover band. There were certain goals they could maybe reach, but they shouldn't expect to become a big name.
"We've just obliterated all those notions, and we're on uncharted ground right now," he said. "I'm working really hard and promoting the hell out of it, and we'll see where it ends up."
What makes his band stand out, he said, is that they put on a "full-on arena rock tribute" that's fun and funny because it is inspired by the excessive and ridiculous 1980s. Hairball goes through as many as 20 costume changes in one show, and the two singers trade off the microphone every few songs to keep the music rolling.
He said their shows aren't corny, and the band's musicians are strong enough to put to shame a lot of the original musicians that they cover.
"It's as authentic as being a part of that era as you can get," he said. "No one can touch us pretty much."
One of the vocalists even does some Prince songs from the "Purple Rain" era, but Shawn emphasized that those tunes are about as pop as the band gets. Prince was a giant character, he said, and it's interesting to throw some of his big songs in the middle of a set between Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses.
"It takes people by surprise, and it's done very, very well," he said.
The unique rotating list of bands they cover has helped Hairball develop quite the reputation in Fargo, and some of their performances at The Venue have drawn more than 2,500 people. Fargo recently won a bidding war to get the band for a New Year's Eve gig.
But as they continue to get more fans and help people develop a whole new respect for '80s music, it's hard to know just how much fame and success Hairball will see in the coming years.
"We'll be on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl," Shawn said. "Who's to say? It's a pretty ambitious goal, but why not? I don't want to limit myself to these goals, so I better have a fairly unachievable goal to shoot for."