Jim Irsay Band to kick off big weekend of music for Indianapolis

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Irsay rehearsal
Members of the Jim Irsay Band rehearse Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stephen Stills led the Jim Irsay Band in a rehearsal of “Woodstock”—the Joni Mitchell composition that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young covered to commemorate 1969’s iconic music festival.

This weekend in central Indiana won’t rival Woodstock’s “3 Days of Peace & Music,” but it’s shaping up to be a memorable moment for concertgoers.

The shows begin Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Irsay’s all-star band and special guests will perform as part of the Colts Kickoff Concert.

In addition to Stills, the roster of guest vocalists includes John Mellencamp, Ann Wilson of Heart and Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band. IBJ was invited to attend Thursday’s rehearsal at the stadium, where Indianapolis Colts owner Irsay talked up his supporting cast once he arrived onstage at 8:20 p.m.

“Sorry, Rolling Stones, this is the best band in the world,” Irsay said, referring to his stacked ensemble that includes Kenny Wayne Shepherd on lead guitar, Kenny Aronoff on drums and Mike Mills of R.E.M. on bass.

Following tonight’s free concert, music fans will gather Saturday and Sunday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the second All IN Music & Arts Festival. The two-day lineup includes performances by Trey Anastasio of Phish, Tenacious D featuring Jack Black and drummer Jason Bonham playing Led Zeppelin tunes with Umphrey’s McGee.

Meanwhile, Noblesville’s Ruoff Music Center is hosting blockbuster ’90s bands on back-to-back nights. The Smashing Pumpkins perform Saturday at the 24,000-capacity amphitheater, followed by a sold-out Sunday appearance by Pearl Jam.

Rock history has a tangible presence in Irsay’s band. On Thursday night, Shepherd spent his rehearsal time playing the Fender Stratocaster guitar from Bob Dylan’s polarizing “goes electric” performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Irsay purchased the instrument at auction for $965,000 in 2013.

Tonight’s kickoff concert and exhibition of Irsay’s pop-culture artifacts is an encore to a similar show presented last year at the stadium.

Since September 2022, Irsay’s collection has grown, thanks to additions such as the saddle used on Secretariat during the horse’s Triple Crown wins in 1973, the putter used by Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters tournament and a 1964 Fender Jazzmaster guitar previously owned by Jimi Hendrix.

Fans who attended last year’s show will notice that the concert stage is on the south end of the stadium’s field rather than the north end. Illusionist Criss Angel is scheduled to attempt a midair escape from a straitjacket at the north end of the stadium during the festivities.

Angel visited Thursday’s concert rehearsal and made a short promotional video onstage with Irsay. Angel, the father of a 9-year-old son diagnosed with leukemia, mentioned his efforts to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

After Angel’s visit, the band worked on a rendition of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” with Irsay on vocals. Led by Mike Wanchic, a guitarist in Mellencamp’s band since 1978, Irsay’s band includes nine musicians and four backing vocalists.

Ramping up to an attempt at “Turn the Page,” Irsay was complimentary toward Seger’s vocal prowess and self-deprecating about his own.

Shepherd and guitarist Tom Bukovac huddled near Irsay and strummed the song’s opening segment. Aronoff added rhythm, and harmonica player Billy Branch and saxophone player Carmella Ramsey provided sonic accents.

Irsay decided the song’s crescendo requires more vocal power than he can give, and he enlisted backup singer Renee Michelle Merrifield to bring the rendition home.

A tentative run-through sparked the football coach persona in Irsay, who firmly but good-naturedly instructed Merrifield she had 40% more to commit to the song.

She nailed the next attempt, and an on-the-fly idea became something that appears ready for tonight’s public audience.

It’s a template Colts fans would welcome: immediate improvement following 2022’s season record of 4-12-1. On Sunday, the 2023 campaign begins with the team hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.

All tickets for the Colts Kickoff Concert have been distributed. Angel’s escape attempt is scheduled for 8 p.m., with music expected to begin at 8:15 p.m.

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3 thoughts on “Jim Irsay Band to kick off big weekend of music for Indianapolis

  1. My grandson ( Tommy Baldwin) is a phenomenal guitarist here in Indy. He would love to come to this concert. He cannot find tickets. He can do Jimmy Hendrix like no one since. How can he get tickets. He and my daughter Lisa perform at many Indy venues. Please contact me if you can arrange tickets

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