Southern Indiana Living

JUL-AUG 2017

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July/August 2017 • 37 F irst, a confession. I was a hard sell when the Beatles-fest known as Abbey Road on the River moved from Cleveland to Louisville a dozen years ago. Of course the Beatles were amazing, and any music festival that draws a passionate fan base year af- ter year is worth having. I just could not get my head around five straight days of hanging with costumed Beatles-geeks swooning over endless covers of "Yellow Submarine" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" while one-upping one another with ob- scure Beatles trivia. I soon understood that many of the Beatles cover bands throw in enough twists to keep things interesting, and that the festival has cool tangents — popular bands from the Beatles era, for example, or storytelling sessions with famous folks who lived through those times. One year I listened with rapt aĴention as impresario Peter Asher, supported by a live band and killer multimedia show, talked about his life. Then I caught a set from the late, great Leon Russell. When festival organizers said they would move the event across the Ohio River to Jeffersonville's Big Four Park in 2017, my Hoosier pride piqued. These are my stomping grounds. Things got more interesting when WFPK-FM announced it would sponsor a free opening-night con- cert from the Jake Clemons Band, whose namesake plays saxophone in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. This I needed to see, so off I went on my own "magical mystery tour" — five days of peace, love and reminiscing over Memorial Day weekend. THURSDAY, MAY 25 It's opening day and the weather is iffy. This will become a theme for the weekend. Our Springsteen-fan contingent — sister Judy, niece Jessica and me — con- venes for the show that falls on Judy's 61st birthday. By 9:30 p.m., it's a reasonably sized main stage crowd of music fans cu- rious to see what the 37-year-old sax man is up to on his own. Jake Clemons' story is widely known. Nephew of sax icon Clarence Clemons, the fabled "Big Man" and Springsteen's longtime partner in crime, he joined the band after Clarence was felled by a stroke in 2011. Jake observed some important things early on — that the saxophone is a luxury instrument many bands can't af- ford, and that even someone like his uncle can get laid off, which happened to all of the E Streeters in the 1990s as Bruce went other directions. So he learned to play guitar and piano and started writing songs. A 2011 EP called It's On showed promise, and his first full-length album, Fear & Love, came out in January. Tonight he's looking to prove him- self to a new audience, and backed by a tight four-piece band, he leaves a definite impression. He plays just enough sax so- los to leave folks wanting more, and at one points jumps offstage and walks through the crowd with mic in hand. The festival has a rule. Every band must play some Beatles, and Clemons has something up his sleeve: an impromptu horn section, featuring Louisville's own Maurice Hamilton, and a burning-down- the-house version of "(With) A LiĴle Help From My Friends," Joe Cocker-style. It's a powerful moment in a power- ful set, and Jessica tells me it feels like see- ing Mumford and Sons at Bonnaroo just before they broke out. FRIDAY, MAY 26 It's warm and overcast but no one's too worried about it except the promoter. Uncertain weather may kill walk-up sales, but it's a healthy crowd nonetheless, and the park, bisected by the sweeping ramp that descends from the Big Four Bridge, is proving to be a great venue. There's a liĴle sound-bleed between the four stages, but it doesn't seem like a problem. Tonight's headliner is Ambrosia, whose hits included "How Much I Feel" and "Biggest Part of Me." They're old pros. Then it's off to 300 Spring, an events hall in downtown Jeff. The Blue Meanies, a great East Coast bar band, are playing songs from Live at the Star Club, the fa- mous recording of the Beatles' 1962 Ham- burg show that's packed with the covers that inspired the Fab Four and some early originals. The Meanies tack on a few more songs — tracks by the Zombies and Dono- van and "My Green Tambourine" by the Lemon Pipers before closing with "The Ballad of John and Yoko." The crowd eats it up. Up next, the Yellow SubMorons, a quirky band from Chicago who parody the Rutles, who parodied the Beatles. But halfway through their first song, my phone lights up with a text from my wife. She's geĴing a migraine. I'm ouĴa here. SATURDAY, MAY 27 The festival program reads "Dennis Ledford Guitar Lessons," 9 a.m., and it's already hot and muggy as I make the five- minute drive to the Clarion Hotel. Most everyone in Louisville knows Dennis — lead guitarist for Nervous Melvin and the Mistakes and part of local rock royalty who were playing original music when the Beatles were still a band. Dennis shows us some guitar tricks and it turns into a fun b.s. session. I tell him I was a bellhop here when this hotel was a big-deal MarrioĴ Inn in the late '70s. He says he's probably played a thousand proms in the ballroom that opens up to the indoor pool. Next stop, 300 Spring again for a fun dad-and-daughter duo from North Caro- ABBEY ROAD on the River A legion of Beatles fans invaded Indiana shores Story and Photos by Carey Stemle Dennis Ledford

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