Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer
Local plumber and entrepreneur JimBo Ledford said “Red, White and Rock You” to ill-attended past festival attempts, throwing a July 4 weekend concert series with a fully operational bar, upgraded and covered outdoor seating, a reoriented stage and the alternative music experience that is his vision for Franklin.
The local and international lineup included the Japanese metal band Pinky Doodle Poodle and local progressive blues rock group Breakfast Cigarette, filling a hillside seating area with families with children, young adults in collared shirts and work boots and older rockers with long grey hair, in shorts and sandals.
“The universe is providing,” Ledford said about contributions and ownership buy-ins that helped him install a security system, upgrade the outdoor bar and ramp, make outdoor bathrooms operational and install card readers to help adhere to liquor sales requirements.
The approximately $12,000-$15,000 of additional investment was necessary, Ledford said, after the disappointing showing of his rain-soaked “Springtopia II” festival in April, which lost money. It also meant making the concerts free and foregoing sponsorship. The entire venue holds about 185, with 100 in the seated, outdoor area.
“I was very, very, very happy with this weekend,” he said. “You struggle with no audience and empty chairs and you start to lose hope after a while, and this weekend just brought a lot of that hope back.”
Ledford plans for his seven-day a week club to offer outdoor concerts every weekend with a cover of $3 to $10. Upcoming bands include the White Oak Splits and David Childers, and another music festival planned for Halloween.
“We’re really kicking it up,” Ledford said of the level of talent that he is bringing to Franklin.
Not one to steer away from an opportunity to challenge the norm, Ledford is bringing Micro Wrestling to Franklin.
“We’ve got the midget wrestlers coming Aug. 8,” Ledford gleefully announced. “Yeah! People are excited.”
Venue for local bands
As Friday’s headliner, Breakfast Cigarette, played and dusk fell in the mountain scene behind the newly re-oriented stage, people began to file into the venue. Ledford jumped up to greet each group as they arrived.
Local flautist Ivor Sparks, 65, joined the group for songs at the start of the set, while Ledford’s girlfriend, Melissa Spencer, 27, registered new club members on an iPad from the upgraded stageside bar.
Meanwhile, Macon County solid waste director and Ledford supporter Chris Stahl served “Ellis Island” drinks (a Long Island iced tea with sour, grenadine and blue Curaçao) for $4 at the indoor ’Da Club at AF, Ledford’s converted living quarters turned bar, which now has all the trappings of classy Carolina, including chandeliers, wood tables and chairs.
“We’re more ready for it,” Spencer said from a hightop table as band members mingled behind her. “There’s people here, they’re having fun.”
On stage, Breakfast Cigarette’s vocalist Nick Prestia, 29, spotted his six-year-old niece Lilan in the crowd, and skipped the swear words and drug references during a cover of Sublime’s “What I’ve Got.”
Prestia’s parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and three-month-old nephew were at the venue for the first time.
“I like that they’re doing something like this for sure. We need a venue like this,” said his sister, Sara Shook, 30.
“There are comfortable seats!” interjected her husband, Tyler Shook, 31.
“The stage is covered,” Sara continued. Tyler responded, “The light show.”
“Honestly, the ambience is cool,” Sara summed up. “It’s airy and natural.”
Breakfast Cigarette’s sound incorporated moving cords, twin part guitars and pentatonic scales in major and minor. Prestia’s voice has been compared to Elvis Costello, while the band’s second lead singer Matt Oschmann, 24, has been compared to Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Fallowill. Oschmann is the group’s “family man” with two young daughters, who was lured away from a kitchen job at Cherokee Harrah’s casino when the group formed in April.
Prestia sings about the battle between addiction and sobriety from the perspective of a recovered opioid addict himself, bringing real lyrics to people who have coped with similar challenges.
“Whether people admit it or not, I know a lot of people who can relate to a thing like that,” said Prestia, who has been clean since he moved to Franklin nine years ago.
Added Oschmann, “Either someone has been an addict or has had someone in their life who has been an addict.”
Ledford wants to give local bands like Breakfast Cigarette – which includes two plumbers and an electrician – the venue to get noticed for their music alongside top regional talent.
“I want to level the playing field and I want people to be appreciated for their talent,” said Ledford, who insisted on paying the band despite an offer to play for free. Ledford also wants a venue where everyone feels comfortable: “Old hippies, young preppies, teenyboppers, millennials – we’ve all got common ground.”
The band played their sixth show at Altered Frequencies and has garnered 1,500 likes on their Facebook page. A single, “The Criminal Age” is available on the streaming music site Spotify.
Ledford was recently successful in having the town install guardrails to protect concertgoers from a potential road mishap on Technology Drive, and now wants to clarify another issue that has caused him heartache, noise complaints.
“Right now, there is no decibel meter, there’s no decibel [level]. It’s just somebody calls the cops and if they think it’s loud, they tell you to turn it down,” he said. “The laws regarding this kind of thing in Franklin are really shady, they are written in pencil and they’re left up to one man’s decision.”
And just in case Ledford can’t get local representatives to support him, Ledford said Tuesday he would be dropping off the paperwork for another mayoral run.