Southern Indiana

Thousands of music lovers are in Jeffersonville this weekend for one of the world’s largest Beatles’ tribute festivals.

It’s the first full-scale Abbey Road on the River since the COVID-19 pandemic started, after being canceled in 2020 and held with restrictions last year. It’s also the festival’s 20th anniversary.

That makes this year particularly special to artists like Hal Bruce, a Nova Scotia native who’s known in the Beatles’ fandom for performing the band’s more than 200 songs in a single, nonstop medley.

“I’ve been to Australia, various Beatles festivals in Europe, Canada, and I’ve held my own Beatles festival,” said Bruce, who’s played every Abbey Road since 2003. “But there’s something magical about this. You’ve got people coming from all over the states, and then people coming from Europe and Canada.”

Longtime fans are also marking the milestone. The festival got off to a rainy start that caused delays on opening day, but the weather didn’t dampen attendees’ excitement.

Stephen Carney, of Columbus, Ohio, said he’s attended the festival every year, dating back to its start in Cleveland. He followed it to Louisville and, now, Jeffersonville, where it relocated in 2017.

Over the decades, he’s developed friendships with hundreds of other regular attendees.

“I’m friends with bands from around the world,” Carney said. “I’ve met people from Japan, Brazil, Holland and all over the world, who all come to love the music.” 

“Oh, and the food,” he added. “Chili dogs, don’t forget chili dogs. So yeah, John, Paul, George, Ringo, peace, love and chili dogs.”

Carney brought his wife, Amy, and their one-year-old daughter to the very first Abbey Road in 2002. Their family has grown quite a bit since then. They now have six daughters between the ages of seven and 21.

Carney said when his daughters were born, his musical tastes weren’t always kid-friendly, but they could bond over The Beatles.

“What really did it for me was when I all of a sudden realized there was a lot of my music I didn’t want to share with them, at least not when they were toddlers,” Carney said with a laugh. “And all of the Beatles songs are happy and friendly. And other than one or two we have to censor, for the most part, we can listen to everything with them.”

The Carneys aren’t the only family celebrating the Fab Four together this weekend.

Heather Weaver has been making the trip to Abbey Road from Toledo, Ohio, with her husband and children for more than a decade.

“For me, it’s just joy,” she said. “Simple. Like, if I’m in a bad mood, I put the music on and it puts me in a better mood, no matter what’s going on.”

Her son, Nolan Weaver, said he’s thankful his parents introduced him to the band. Now, he uses his knowledge of classic rock to expand his friends’ musical interests.

“People my age not knowing as much about them, it’s kind of sad to see,” he said. “Because there’s an amazing festival that they could go to, that they’re missing out on, frankly. So coming here and then telling my friends about it, maybe that gives them a chance to start listening to their music, and then they can come here next year.”

Young people are also making a name for themselves on stage. Though much of the lineup has years of experience covering the Beatles, others are just getting started.

Ben Kosakowski and his band, The Black Ties, made their Abbey Road debut last year. He said there’s something for everyone in The Beatles’ catalog.

“In terms of songs fans connect with the most, the ones that you hear it the first time and you already know all the words–songs like ‘All My Loving,’ and songs like [Paul McCartney’s] ‘Band On The Run,’” Kosakowski said. “But in terms of most fun to play, I’d say the old-school, Little Richard stuff.”

Jeffersonville has hosted Abbey Road since 2017, after it relocated from Louisville.

Mayor Mike Moore said the festival’s popularity puts the city on a national stage every year, bringing with it a sizable economic impact. It’s expected to generate about $1 million for the local economy this year.

“When people take vacations and look for three-day getaways, they usually are going to have a good time,” Moore said. “It might be a short visit, but it’s a huge impact on the local businesses downtown and for the hotels that are in our proximity.”

Kim Horchler of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has attended the festival every year. She said she hopes to keep coming back to Southern Indiana long into the future.

“I just love the city,” Horchler said. “It’s like a second home to me now. I’ve always considered Jeffersonville as my second home.”

Abbey Road on the River is at Big Four Station Park through Monday. Fans can buy tickets online or at the gate.

John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.