On July 3, I had the opportunity to go down to Camden to see Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and Heart play the Let Freedom Rock Fest at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
When we arrived, we had lawn seats that had a great view of the stage. We got there right before it began to fill up, which made for the opportunity for some great people watching. There was a small presence of teenagers and people slightly older, a few very small children, and tons of older people. It wasn’t uncommon to see old hippies and the lawn was packed with enthusiastic adults, including two people who furiously air drummed to every Bonham song. Plenty of people were drinking, and the scent of marijuana wafted over every so often.
The opening band, the local radio station’s house band, played a fun set of covers, and was well received, but it was no secret that people wanted them to make room for Bonham and Heart.
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience took the stage first, tearing through a loaded setlist of all Zepp covers including “Rock & Roll,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” and “When the Levee Breaks.” Bonham pounded the drums furiously, while offering a few words of tribute to his legendary father and thanking the fans for making Led Zeppelin happen and for allowing him the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps. The guitarist, Tony Catania, looked much like the Jimmy Paige of old, with his exotic fashions, long hair, and guitar slung low, and played much like the Jimmy Paige of old. Vocalist James Dylan didn’t look much like Robert Plant with his shaved head, but his vocal chops were something Plant would be proud of; with the exception of a few notes changed here and there, Dylan nailed each cover with an astounding faithfulness. When Bonham’s Experience left the stage, the crowd had the feeling that we had witnessed what was probably very comparable to Led Zeppelin in the ‘70s. It was a pleasant surprise, and a fantastic performance.
Taking the stage next was Heart, who ripped into an amazing set, performing legendary tracks such as “Barracuda,” “Alone,” “Crazy On You,” and “What About Love?” Ann Wilson had minor microphone troubles at the beginning, missing out on the first two lines of the opening song, “Barracuda,” before coming in too loudly, but before the chorus had hit, Heart had found their groove, and dug in. It’s hard to believe that Ann Wilson just turned 63, because her vocals have clearly stood the test of time with amazing results. Nancy Wilson also showcased her vocals, singing a few tracks while Ann Wilson played acoustic guitar, as well as harmonizing with her sister on songs such as “Alone.” Wilson’s guitar skills remain undiminished, as she ripped into some killer riffs and beautiful solos. By far, Heart’s standout performance of the night was “Crazy On You,” with a fantastic guitar intro performed by Nancy Wilson. In my opinion, Heart performed the better of the two sets that night.
Even as Heart left the stage, no one left the venue. Very quickly, they were back out to perform an acoustic rendition of “Battle of Evermore,” which was fantastically received. As the song was being played, Heart and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience were setting up to join forces and make Led Zeppelin proud. The two groups performed as one for a fantastic encore of “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Rain Song,” “The Ocean,” “Kashmir,” and “Stairway to Heaven.” All the songs were fantastic, but “Kashmir” had a very Heart-like twist to it, and Ann Wilson is one of the only singers, living or dead, who can do Plant justice on “Stairway to Heaven,” performing a beautiful rendition of Zeppelin’s most well known song. The dual group encore was a fantastic way to end a wonderful night of classic rock.
Overall, the Let Freedom Rock Fest was fantastic, with stellar performances from both acts. Bonham and his group proved that they are not just an average Led Zeppelin cover band at all, and Heart proved that they are still rocking hard, doing justice to both their classics and Led Zeppelin’s. Either act would be worth paying the price of admission and lawn chairs to see again, and together, one couldn’t ask for a better night of rock ‘n’ roll!