After 12 years on the Belvedere, Abbey Road on the River makes the switch to downtown Jeffersonville this year, with a focus on paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of the seminal Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The festival begins Thursday, May 25, in Big Four Station Park and continues through Monday, May 29.
Promoter Gary Jacob acknowledges that making such a move comes with challenges — not that every version of the festival didn’t, regardless of location.
“Even in the event business, when you think you’re in a routine, you never really are,” Jacob says. “When you make a mistake in a site plan, you have to wait a full year to fix it.”
Installation of the new version of the festival has come with a lot of extra planning and coordination, especially given the urban setting. Whereas in past years the festival had been in an event-ready site bordered by the river, the Galt House and the Kentucky Center for the Arts — with plenty of available parking — this year’s will be surrounded by residential homes and small businesses, with only street parking available.
Following a fallout with the Galt House last year, Jacob decided to move Abbey Road on the River to Jeffersonville in the area surrounding the foot of the Big Four Bridge.
“We’re closing streets, managing parking lots, running bus shuttles,” Jacob says. “On the other hand, we’re able to bring in stages a lot easier than we ever could at the Belvedere because we can literally drive the stages directly to their spots.”
As far as content, however, the festival won’t change much. Expect eight stages and about 50 to 60 bands, including what Jacob terms “house bands” who perform year after year, such as the Steve Sizemore Group, the Newbees, BritBeat, the Nick Peay Band, the Yellow SubMorons, the Norwegian Beatles, Itchycoo Park and others. Five separate concerts during the festival will pay tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s, which gets a re-release on Friday.
Special guest performers this year include Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, Peter Asher, the Family Stone, the Grass Roots, Ambrosia, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, and former Wings band members Laurence Juber and Steve Holley.
Other special guests include Beatles experts Scott Freiman and Bruce Spizer, as well as Julia Baird (John Lennon’s half-sister), Tony Bramwell, and “Beatle Brunch” Radio Host Joe Johnson. Spizer will host a discussion forum titled “Pepper at 50,” and a listening party for the release of the new Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band anniversary edition will be held Saturday at 11:45 p.m.
Jacob said there will be three main entrances to the festival, and because of the layout, people will be moving around a lot to the different stages. As usual, attendees can come and go as they please with their wristbands, meaning they’ll be able to take advantage of the local shopping options and restaurants if they so choose.
Asked if he thinks attendance will be affected by the move, Jacob says he believes it might actually help. He points to the setting at the end of the bridge, the downtown amenities, and the park atmosphere just a couple blocks from the Ohio River.
“All that’s missing are some mountains,” he jokes. But he points to previous versions of the festival in Washington, D.C., which he says “blew people away.”
“People are really going to be blown away by this one,” he says, adding, “I think newness always turns people on.”
He credits the city of Jeffersonville for taking advantage of the Big Four Bridge and utilizing that project to bolster downtown development: “Jeffersonville stepped on the gas.”
That the festival falls 50 years to the day of when Sgt. Pepper’s was released is just a happy accident. Not that Jacob needs an excuse to keep putting on the festival.
“There’s always something to celebrate with the Beatles, and the music doesn’t get old,” he says.
Tickets to Abbey Road on the River range from $20 to $34.50 for single-day general admission passes. Those ages 11-21 get in for $15, while kids 10 and under are admitted free of charge. Reserved seating also is available, as well as the five-day Ticket to Ride pass, which costs $219.95.