Led Zeppelin To Rock Peoria

by Amy Chovan

Yes, you read that correctly. No, despite persistent rumors, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are not gearing up for a reunion tour. While the band disbanded in 1980 after drummer John Bonham’s tragic death, its music lives on: from classic rock radio, where “Stairway to Heaven” still tops playlists, to the stereos of fans worldwide, who have purchased more than 200 million copies of its records.

Although the band has reunited numerous times in the three decades since its breakup, it has not staged the massive reunion tour as many of its peers have. But since 1995, its music has reached live audiences through another distinctive incarnation. Led Zeppelin fans, get ready to experience the premier rock band of the 1970s in a whole new way!

A Show to Remember
Featuring a traveling rock band and guest conductor backed by local symphonies, The Music of Led Zeppelin brings its one-of-a-kind sound to venues across the country, and it’s a show you won’t want to miss.

Lesley Matuszak can attest to that. While visiting friends in San Antonio, Texas, Matuszak, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria, witnessed a performance she says was “truly the coolest thing I’ve ever [seen].” Both a veteran Zeppelin fan and symphony lover, Matuszak offered rave reviews of The Music of Led Zeppelin. “It was so on target,” she praised. “If you didn’t know you were with a full symphony, you would think you were at the actual [Led Zeppelin] concert. But actually, I think the music is even better with the full strings, the full orchestra…The musical colors that come out are just amazing!”

Upon returning to town, one of the first things Matuszak did was call Judy Furniss, executive director of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra (PSO) and a longtime friend. Matuszak told her about the San Antonio show and said that it must play in Peoria.

And play in Peoria it will. When it comes to town in April, The Music of Led Zeppelin should rival what Matuszak recalls as one of the best concerts ever staged at the Peoria Civic Center—the 1994 show at which the Moody Blues shared the stage with members of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra. “I think it’s the right time in Peoria for this. I think we need some fun and I think we need something different,” said Matuszak. “This will bring a lot of people to the Civic Center who may normally not come. It’s certainly a unique event.”

Similarly, The Music of Led Zeppelin is likely to be remembered and talked about for years. And in addition to the performance itself, the event will raise funds for two worthy organizations, as the Boys and Girls Clubs and Peoria Symphony have teamed up to put on the event. It wasn’t a tough sell, but neither was it an easy process.

Bringing the Band to Town
PSO Marketing Director Dan Aspell said that, after researching The Music of Led Zeppelin show, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Peoria Symphony came together to contact Chaplin Entertainment, the talent agency that represents the show, about bringing the classic rock symphony to town. Because the band’s music is under strict copyrights, certain qualifications had to be met before a contract could be signed.

In these conversations, Aspell said it became clear that the show could not possibly take place on the symphony’s home stage in the Civic Center Theater. “You cannot do this show in a theater,” he was told. Much like a traditional rock show, The Music of Led Zeppelin incorporates numerous stage lights and fog machines, in addition to its large cast of musicians—and must be performed in an arena setting. Fortunately, there was one close by!

Not only did they need the proper venue, but Chaplin Entertainment also had to give the Peoria Symphony Orchestra its seal of approval. “They have strict guidelines,” reported Matuszak. “They will not allow you to perform their music without an orchestra [that meets] their standards.” Needless to say, the PSO passed with flying colors.

The final stipulation was that the two organizations must partner with a local rock radio station. That added WGLO 95.9FM to the crew. All of the pieces were in place.

So, on Saturday, April 10th, 55 Peoria Symphony musicians will join a seven-piece rock band and vocalist Randy Jackson onstage in the Civic Center’s Carver Arena to play some of the most legendary songs in rock history, including “Kashmir,” “Black Dog,” “All of My Love,” and, naturally, “Stairway to Heaven.” As anyone familiar with the band’s repertoire can confirm, the bombastic rock of Led Zeppelin is tailor-made for symphonic backing.

The band will be led by Berklee-trained arranger/conductor Brent Havens, who founded the show in the late ‘90s. Havens has written music for orchestras, feature films and virtually every kind of television, and will serve as arranger and guest conductor for the evening. And the PSO musicians who are involved are quite enthusiastic. Says Aspell, “The consensus [among the musicians] seems to be that playing Zeppelin’s music will be invigorating and a fun break from the classical repertoire.”

Teaming Up to Rock
Making this all possible is a newly formed partnership between the Peoria Symphony Orchestra and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria, a United Way agency. “This [event] presents a chance for us to put two groups together that wouldn’t be thought to go together,” said an excited Matuszak.

The two groups are teaming up to secure corporate and private underwriters to cover the costs of the concert so that all proceeds from ticket sales will directly benefit the respective organizations. Matuszak said that their share of the proceeds will go toward the Boys and Girls Clubs’ tutoring and mentoring programs, which give students ages six to 18 a safe place to go after school. Aspell said that the symphony will use any revenue generated to help out in a number of areas, including education and outreach.

And so, not only will you witness an amazing concert—quite possibly unlike any you’ve ever seen—featuring the music of rock legends against a symphonic backdrop, you will also be supporting two worthy organizations in the community. “You can go out, have a rockin’ evening, and support a nonprofit at the same time,” added Matuszak.

The Orchestra is For Everyone
A longtime advocate for the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Matuszak recalled that when she served on its board, one of their biggest challenges was to introduce the symphony to new audiences. And everyone involved in this event believes The Music of Led Zeppelin will do just that.

“It’s another way of expressing music and…getting people to come in to hear [the orchestra],” explained Brent Havens in a radio interview. “And hopefully, once they hear an orchestra like this, even though they’re miked and it’s a rock concert, people might say ‘Wow, that’s just so cool and so different. I wasn’t expecting that an orchestra would do something like that. Maybe I’ll come to one of their other concerts.’”

After falling in love with the show in San Antonio, Matuszak said, “Now I understand why they say the orchestra’s for everyone…because the sound of Led Zeppelin, which I think is some of the best music in the world, played by a full orchestra, is simply amazing.”

To her, it seemed as if the San Antonio show had indeed attracted a wide audience. The crowd, she said, was made up of people from all walks of life—from oil tycoons, socialites and classical lovers to ‘70s concert veterans and grungy rockers. There were parents reliving their youth alongside their children, who were just getting into the English hard rock icons. “I think it turned a lot of kids and young people onto classical music who never would have thought that they would enjoy going to hear a symphony,” she said. And, she noted, everyone was so enthralled with the show that there was no chaos or rowdiness, only positive energy in the arena.

In this tough economy, shows like The Music of Led Zeppelin provide concertgoers with great value for their entertainment dollars. “People stop and think, ‘What can I do with my kid that I can afford, that’s going to be different and exciting and memorable?’” said Matuszak. “This is it!” It must be—Matuszak, who saw the show over a year and a half ago, is still raving about it.

And, if this event is successful, Matuszak and Aspell suggested that similar shows may be in Peoria’s future. Windborne Music, Brent Havens’ production company, also stages symphonic performances of the music of Queen, Pink Floyd, the Doors and the Eagles. Could the music of Glenn Frey and Don Henley be the next to make an appearance? a&s

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