Abbey Road on the River 2016
This year’s Abbey Road on the River Festival, like every year’s, seemed to take forever to get here and then, before you knew it, it was over. It came and went faster than a two-minute pop song. But like every year, the memories, the love and the music will stay with us all year long.
The Road to Abbey Road on the River
Planning for Abbey Road starts roughly 10 months prior to the festival. That’s usually when I get the email about the coming festival and I start planning what sorts of sets I’ll be playing. Last year, the promoter wrote to ask each of the bands to prepare an album concert. There have been a few full album shows that I’ve seen over the years, but for the 2016 festival, they wanted to have a bunch. Every Beatles album would be represented in a concert.
We were given the chance to pick two albums that we wanted to present at Abbey Road 2016. While I think all of The Beatles albums are great, there were two that stood out to me as no-brainers to pick.
My first choice was Abbey Road. It has some of my favorite songs on it, it has some really great sequenced sections, and me and the band already knew and played a lot from that album. It made preparation pretty easy!
My second choice, and the one I was most excited about, was Magical Mystery Tour. When I tell Beatles fans that this is one of my favorite albums, most give me a questioning look. Again, this album has some of my very favorite songs on it. But what makes it my favorite is that it was the first full length Beatles album I ever heard. My Dad had recorded it on a cassette tape and I used to listen to it all the time on my cassette player.
I began listening to these albums on repeat, trying to figure out how to best present them. I imagined a huge concert with rock guitars, drums and bass, strings, pianos, sound effects, background singers, choreography… Ok, maybe not choreography, but you get the point.
And then, due to some unfortunate timing, I realized that the band I always brought to Abbey Road wouldn’t be able to make it this year.
I had no idea what to do now. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to present the concerts I wanted to. I emailed the promoter and told him what had happened and that I wasn’t sure what I’d be able bring to the festival this year. How do you get a 14-piece band together and learn and rehearse two sets in only a few months?
The Difference Between Ukulele and Bass
I was having a drink with my friend and fellow singer/songwriter Gabe Close one night in February. We were planning some out of town gigs and talking about the music industry in general. We both had just released new records and wanted to do a little touring in support of them.
We talked about the struggles of being an independent musician and about all the other moving pieces that have to be taken care of aside from just writing and recording records. We talked about songwriting. I was participating in February Album Writing Month, where the goal is to write 14 songs in 28 days.
Somehow we got around to talking about playing covers or cover gigs or something. I knew Gabe did some Bob Dylan tunes, and suddenly there was the spark of an idea.
Maybe Gabe and I could get some friends together and perform George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh at Abbey Road on the River this year.
Gabe said it sounded like a good idea and we both started trying to get in touch with people who might join us. We got a lead guitarist, a drummer and a bass player. Then we didn’t have a bass player. Then we found a replacement. Then we lost our replacement.
I realized I was going to have to trade my small 4-stringed instrument for a large 4-stringed instrument. So, I pulled out my bass and got to practicing. It wasn’t long before I got blisters on my fingers.
Ain’t No Business Like Show Business
Something pretty spectacular happens when you’re on stage playing music with a bunch of musicians and having fun. There are fun little jokes shared on stage without a word being said. Like when the drummer switches to double time in the middle of the guitar solo because the guitar player jokingly told him in practice not to do that, but that he wouldn’t be paying any attention to the drums anyway. Everyone looks around at each other and laughs (except the guitar player, who’s not paying attention – Just kidding Dennis!).
Something even more spectacular happens when you look out into the audience and see that people are dancing and singing along. Suddenly they’re in that moment with you. Even though you can’t hear them, you know that they’re singing their hearts out. They’re pouring every emotion into those words. And then, when the sound system cuts out in the middle of the finale for whatever crazy reason, they’re all singing and each one of them helps to carry the band to the final notes of the song.
For four years, Abbey Road fans have made me feel like a part of the family. It’s always great to see smiling faces and hear how excited people are to come out and support me. Even when there’s a scheduling conflict and my 45 minute set gets cut to 15 minutes, everyone still dances and sings along.
I hear a lot of people say Abbey Road on the River is for Beatles fans. While that’s true, it’s really more for music fans and life fans. There’s no shortage of amazing talent at Abbey Road, and certainly no shortage of enjoyment to be had through dancing, singing, laughing and reconnecting.
I was asked in an interview with Insider Louisville to describe what the atmosphere at Abbey Road is like. I started to say it’s like a music festival. But it isn’t just a music festival. I thought, well it’s like a really fun music festival with lots of close friends and family. And then I thought of days like today, just a few days after the amps and mics have been turned off, after the stage lights have been taken down, and after all of us have gone home. I look at my Facebook news feed and see a constant stream of posts all saying something like, “I miss my Abbey Road on the River family.”
Abbey Road on the River isn’t just a music festival. It is a family reunion. It is peace and happiness. It is singing, dancing, and laughing. It is love. And all you need is love.