Zepfest celebrates the music, not the sordid rep, through tribute bands and more

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Remembered as much for its music as for the acts of depravity that took place behind the scenes, Led Zeppelin has left behind a legacy that's understandably resilient. In a recent issue of Spin magazine, the "Shark Attack," an episode in which a woman was reportedly fucked with a fish and covered in entrails at the band's hotel room during a 1969 tour stop in Seattle, was named the most sleazy moment in rock and roll, topping a list of over 100 nefarious acts that included Chuck Berry urinating on a woman's face, Suge Knight hanging rapper Vanilla Ice out of a window, and Rick James embarking on a crack cocaine binge and kidnapping a houseguest for two days.

But at the day-long Zepfest 2000, held on September 30 at the Odeon, Zeppelin wasn't worshiped for its sordid tales. Rather, fans came from across the country to pay tribute to the band's musical achievements. Of course, there was plenty of memorabilia being hawked -- everything from glassware, fanzines, imported posters, bootlegs, and T-shirts. Even old magazine articles and press photos could be bought. During the day, vendors crammed their goods into the Odeon and at night the White, a Zeppelin cover band, played. But how do Zeppelin fans feel about the fact that the members of the English group were notorious for seducing underage fans and partying until they puked?

"I think they have good souls basically, and I don't think they would do anything to intentionally hurt anyone," says Nancy Lappley, a vendor/fan from Michigan wearing a yellow bandanna, black sportcoat, and the prerequisite Zeppelin embossed T-shirt. "I think everyone else had as much fun as they did. I think there's some truth to the Shark Attack, but it's gotten blown out of proportion. It just got really silly. Alcohol, drugs, and excess will do that. It happens today, but it just doesn't get talked about."

Photographer Frank Melfi, who has taken thousands of photos of the group over the last 25 years, wouldn't reveal any of the scandalous behavior he's seen in touring with the band. He first saw Zeppelin in 1975 in St. Louis when he lied to get a photo pass, telling the band's attorney that his secretary was epileptic and couldn't see the group perform, but wanted some pictures. He's been shooting Zeppelin ever since and has become friends with singer Robert Plant. Melfi, who's from Tennessee, is particularly proud of a picture that shows him and Plant hugging while wearing matching coonskin hats.

"There's not a name for their music," he says, his denim vest nearly hiding the imprint of a ticket stub from a 1977 Zeppelin concert in Alabama that's silk-screened onto his shirt. "It's not even rock and roll. It's something completely different. It's a mental thing. They can co-relate with your life with their music."

And while Melfi, who was busy selling a CD-ROM with numerous photos that he's taken, says he had access backstage, he won't give up any dirt, although he furtively spreads a rumor that Plant will be doing a series of club dates in Florida this fall under the pseudonym the Priory of Brion.

"I'm friends with them, and there's nothing I can say that's so derogatory it would be interesting," he says.

Sitting transfixed in front of a monitor, which showed a home video of Plant performing impromptu with a band at a shopping mall in England, were three Zeppelin fans who trekked in from out of town for the festival. They had their purchases -- bootleg videos, old posters, and CDs -- closely guarded on the table in front of them and were just waiting until the end of the day to see if any bargains would emerge.

"There's nothing today that even comes close to what these guys did," says Vince Caiozza of Connecticut between sips of a mid-afternoon beer. "I saw them in 1975 on the Physical Graffiti tour at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Robert Plant's voice was not too good that whole year, but I've never been to a concert where there was more electricity in the air. I wouldn't say the Jimmy Page and Black Crowes shows have the same electricity, but Jimmy's playing better than he has in years, even though he has quite a paunch on him."

The low attendance at Zepfest wasn't necessarily a sign of lack of interest -- the event was supposed to tie in with a September 29 appearance at the Gund by the Black Crowes and Jimmy Page, but that show was canceled after Page hurt his back. Both the patrons and vendors expressed their disappointment at the turnout, but the White's performance roused their spirits.

Playing to a crowd of about 100, the White tried to imitate everything about Zeppelin -- even drummer John Bonham's crazed solos. It played a 90-minute set that predictably concluded with "Stairway to Heaven." The band's singer had Plant's curly locks, but looked about 50 pounds stockier and sported a ragged goatee that made him look like a biker instead of a mystical Englishman. He sounded like Plant only a small fraction of the time, but that didn't prevent audience members from holding their lighters up and swaying during "Stairway to Heaven."

And when the group came back to play "Whole Lotta Love" for the encore, it got the women in tight jeans and tie-dyed shirts twirling around the room as if it were 1975 all over again. One woman even rushed the stage to snap a photo and pumped her fist after successfully getting the shot.

We're just wondering if there was a Shark Attack after the show.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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