Inside D.C. entertainment

Zep Fest: Long on good music, short on Robert Plant look-alikes

April 18, 2011 - 07:00 AM
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Get ready, Led Zeppelin fans: Zep Fest, which bills itself as "the ultimate three-day celebration of ALL things Zep," is coming to National Harbor over Memorial Day weekend.

Mark Boudreau, CEO and director of Zep Fest, says he could've just crammed his stages with bands in costume, playing Zeppelin covers, but he wanted to do something different for event, which runs May 27 through 29.

"The obvious thing would've been to just book a bunch of tribute bands and have them play 'The Song Remains the Same' over and over," Boudreau says. "That would've been the obvious thing, but that's not what we wanted. Yes, there will be some tributes, but that's definitely not all there will be."

In addition to cover bands, like Dread Zeppelin and Led Zepagain, the festival will feature some of the band's contemporaries as well as the acts that influenced them, including  the current incarnations of the Yardbirds, and Vanilla Fudge.

"The Yardbirds gave birth to Zeppelin, and Vanilla Fudge, one of most overlooked bands of all time, they're on their final tour," Boudreau says. "It it were not for Vanilla Fudge, we never would have heard of Led Zeppelin. Denver, 1969, they made the decision to let Led Zeppelin open the show for them, and actually paid their fee."

Boudreau also wanted to put blues legends on the bill, since Zeppelin was instrumental in introducing many rock fans to the genre. David "Honeyboy" Edwards, the oldest living Delta blues musician, will perform at the festival. The schedule also includes a tribute to the legendary Pinetop Perkins, who died in March, and was scheduled to play at Zep Fest.

"It's not just about the music of Led Zeppelin, but the impact of Led Zeppelin," Boudreau says. "They led many of us, myself in particular, to discover the blues."

In addition to the fine music acts, documentarian Jeff Krulick (Heavy Metal Parking Lot) will screen Led Zeppelin Played Here, which attempts to figure out whether or not the band played at a Wheaton rec center the night that Richard Nixon was inaugurated. Also, Zeppelin's road manager, Richard Cole, is making a rare public appearance, as is Warren Grant, son of the band's famous manager, Peter Grant.

"In addition to the wonderful music, food, and all of those things, we have people who were there, like Warren Grant and Rich Cole," Boudreau says. "And Jeff Krulick has a rough cut of his "Did Led Zeppelin play a community arts center in Wheaton?" movie. He's a creative, brilliant guy--I'm dying to see what he has."

Because spending hours on end standing in the hot sun can sap even an enthusiastic festival-goer of energy, finding the right location for Zep Fest was a major concern, Boudreau says. A big component of Zep Fest is comfort.

"The other side to this festival is, it's not Bonnaroo, it's not Coachella," he says. "This is geared toward what could be perceived as an older demographic. I’m 50, and I asked myself, 'What kind of festival would I go to? I would not go to Bonnaroo, I'm not going to tromp around for three days, drink beer out of a plastic cup, and sleep in a tent. Not gonna do that. I want to hear wonderful music, eat wonderful food, and take a nap in a nice hotel around 2 p.m."

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