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Monday, May 22, 2017

Summer of love

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Local musicians to celebrate and pay homage to ’67 cultural revolution

In June 1967, something happened in San Francisco that, according to some, defined a generation of musicians, if not a whole generation of young people. It was dubbed the “Summer of Love.”

San Francisco Travel described the event as a gathering of 100,000 “free-spirited adventurers” in the city’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to dance, sing, promote peace and wear flowers in their hair. This year, San Francisco is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of that so-called cultural revolution, identified by media coverage as the focus of the hippy movement and the underground alternative youth culture, according to accounts in the Manchester Guardian newspaper. It reported, “The focus was San Francisco, where young people traveled from across America and beyond, attracted by the promise of the chance to cast off conservative social values and experiment with drugs and sex. Many came for the Monterey Pop Festival, the world's first such major event, which Scott McKenzie's ‘San Francisco’ (“If you're going to San Francisco ...”) was originally designed to promote. In fact, the song became a Summer of Love anthem, reaching number four on the U.S. charts but number one in Britain.”

In 2017, Shreveport-Bossier City recalls that summer as well, but according to the organizer and local musician, Chuck Kesilman, this celebration will focus on the musical talent that this area has to offer.

On June 2, Kesilman has invited a host of local singers, musicians and their friends to gather at Lee’s Lounge on E. Kings Highway to spend an evening reliving that summer and the classics it generated, like the seminal Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” That disc spawned hits like “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “A Day in the Life,” as well as the eponymous track. Kesilman stressed it wouldn't be a Beatles-only evening, but one filled with genres from spirituals to jazz and country-western.

Ten years ago, Kesilman held a similar event for a different purpose. At the time, his partner, Jolene Humphries, had been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer. The night was to be a benefit to raise money for her.

“We made almost $1,500, and she took that money, and she went to Florida for a vacation,” Kesilman said. “She came back and shortly after that, she died.” Kesilman said Jolene Humphries was in her early 40s at the time of her death.

That night, Lee's was packed almost shoulder to shoulder, according to Kesilman, and the lounge ran out of liquor. He said the night was crazy but was such a positive experience for everyone involved, he's going to do it again this year.

“Except this time, instead of doing a concert, let’s do something for the musicians that don’t get any kind of recognition here. They struggle, they don’t make enough money. So I started getting all these people to bring in to have the same kind of show, a great lineup.” There’s even the possibility of a couple of “big names” crashing the party, but Kesilman is making no promises, just keeping his fingers crossed.

Lee’s Lounge is the former Lee Wright’s on East Kings and was the venue where Jerry Beach held court each Monday night for many years with his signature blues stylings. “He ran that place on Monday nights,” according to Kesilman.

The tentative June 2 lineup includes Robin Beach, Bucket List, Tracy Chappell, Country Switch, Kent and Mickey Gill, Dan Garner, Bobby Langston, Betty Lewis, Billy J. Morris, Danny Wilder, as well as several others. More folks are signing up as the event approaches.

Kesilman said he hopes the result will be “that people realize that there is a lot of talent here. They should support their musicians. A lot of these people are just good, working people. In my own small way, it’s my way of saying thank you and bringing them all together for a night. It’s just something to make people aware.

"Shreveport could be like a small Nashville; there's so much talent here. The main reason I'm doing this is that 10 years ago we met all these wonderful people, and at the time that's all they were – people. I didn't know that we were going to end up being friends with these people."

In the past year, Kesilman said he has experienced the loss of family and loved ones and said that was another impetus for making this show happen. “We take for granted every single day our friends, our cousins, even our acquaintances. People we don’t even really know, we see them. We say ‘hello’ to them. And they die.”

There’s also a more down-to-earth reason to throw back to The Summer of Love, Kesilman said. “I’ll be honest with you. I’m using it as an excuse to have a party for musicians and people who love music.”

The party starts at 7 p.m., June 2 at 639 E. Kings Highway. For information, contact Lee’s at 861-2151 or Chuck Kesilman at ckesilman@comcast.net.

– Joe Todaro

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