Local promoter Gary Jacob originally launched Abbey Road on the River, a weekend-long tribute featuring Beatles cover bands, in Cleveland in 2002. The festival moved to Louisville in 2005, where it continues to take place every Memorial Day weekend. This year, Jacob wanted to bring the festival back to Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, the place where it first began. But slow ticket sales forced him to move it to the Holiday Inn in Independence, where Jacob predicts tickets will sell out. He recently talked about this year's installment.
How long have you been putting on Abbey Road on the River?
We began the event in 2002 in Cleveland. It was designed to be a one-off opening for Nautica when they put the roof on the venue. It did well. The audience loved the event, and we kept doing it. After the third year in Cleveland, it became apparent to me that it was too tough to compete for the entertainment dollar in those days. We knew we had a really strong currency and started looking for another city, and we moved the event to Louisville in 2005. It's grown into a really big event there. We have 70 plus bands and 25,000 people. This year, we had Leon Russell and Peter Noone and we have offers in for even bigger names for next year. We're trying to bring in some big name acts that will do tributes to the Beatles in their shows. If they'll agree to do two or three Beatles songs, we want them.
When did you become a Beatles fan?
I'm 64 this year, which is that iconic age to be a Beatles fan. I was a sophomore in high school in December of 1963 and Kennedy had just been killed a month earlier. The country was in a bad funk. Wherever you went, everybody was sad. I was on the swim team in high school and the swim team captain came in singing, "She was just 17, you know what I mean." I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever heard. It couldn't have been more than about three days after that, and the whole country was talking about the Beatles. Then Ed Sullivan came on in February, and they were the most famous people in the world. I was a fan right from the beginning. Sometimes, I'll hear songs like "Help" or "Nowhere Man" or I'll listen to The White Album again, and I can really remember each one and where I was the first time I heard them.
Talk about this year's line-up of Beatles tribute acts.
We have 13 bands and it'll be non-stop music. The most interesting is Janne Borgh, who is coming in from Sweden and who is a bit of a sensation in his own right. He's very talented, and the women like him a lot. We have three Cleveland bands. Hard Day's Night, Liverpool Lads and Revolution Pie. Mario da Silva has to be one of the two or three best classical guitarists in the world and his interpretations of the Beatles music brings people to tears. Kevin Ashba is a prodigy out of the Columbus area. In Cleveland, he'll do Elton John Lennon, which is a mix of Elton John and John Lennon songs.
You also have a Traveling Wilburys act on the bill, too.
Yes, the Traveling Beatleburys are terrific. Those Wilburys' songs are so iconic. At one point, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne had a band. Think about that.
That's a lot of music.
And Dave Schwensen will talk about the Beatles. In all my years of doing this, I've never worked with him but he is the authority on when the Beatles came to Cleveland. I'm looking forward to seeing him.
Any surprise guests on tap?
The Gretsch guitar people will be bringing the George Harrison limited edition guitar. The exhibit of guitars they have is spectacular. We're also doing a salute to American Bandstand on Saturday night. We started doing that two years ago in Louisville, and it went over so big. Friday night there will be a big jam of Motown tributes.
Abbey Road on the River is taking place at a Holiday Inn in Independence. Do you think fans will feel cheated?
That doesn't matter to our regular fans. To them, it's just a brand. But it might confuse Clevelanders, who would wonder, "What river is the Holiday Inn on?" It is a little problematic, but it'll be a good event, and we have great music. In terms of people perceiving the value of this, this is not for the guy who wants to come and see one show. If he comes all day long, he's going to get some incredible music. That's who we're catering to.