That became “Down The Line: Legends by Locals,” and it’s now in its sixth incarnation. This year’s event is Feb. 25, beginning at 7 p.m., and features Mark Hutchins, performing R.E.M.; The Sunny Taylor Band playing the music of The Black Crowes; Sugar Shot performing Price, and The Todd Harrold Band playing the music of Steely Dan.
“It’s just a magical event,” said Joel Harmeyer, the Embassy’s technical director and organizer of the Down the Line show. (He took over from Kelley several years ago.)
“It has grown into our second-biggest fundraiser, behind the Festival of Trees,” Harmeyer said. “It’s all about the local bands. We’re still finding bands every year. The wealth of local talent is why (Down the Line) is so successful. We try to pick who is hot.”
The show nearly always sells out the 2,400-seat Embassy, Harmeyer said, attracting a wide range of ages and social classes. He noted that the show brings in people under the age of 21, who can’t go see local bands in bars.
Prior shows featured five bands performing in 30-minute sets, but Harmeyer said organizers decided to cut the number of performers to four and to let the bands have 40 minutes to play.
“I felt they deserved longer,” Harmeyer said. Still, the lineups and concepts stay true to Kelley’s original format and process for selecting bands. “I try to do right by him.
“What (Kelley) wanted was for local bands, who normally play their own, original music, to have the chance to play homage to (bands) who inspired them. For example, Todd Harrold. He said his two favorite bands were the Allman Brothers and Steely Dan. So he’s doing Steely Dan for Down the Line.”
Harmeyer is very excited to hear country duo Sugar Shot (profiled in January’s issue of Fort Wayne Monthly) performing the music of Prince, whose funky, eclectic style of music is about as far from country music as you can get, he noted.
“I love it when they get risky like that because it’s not safe,” he said.
Down the Line is both a great show and a unique fundraiser for the Embassy, Harmeyer said. “This show is the best-kept secret in Fort Wayne. People who know about it kind of don’t tell other people because they want to go next year and be sure to be able to get a ticket.”
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the week of the show. It’s general admission, apart from seating set aside for the show’s main sponsor, Hoosier Park Racing and Casino, so those planning to attend should arrive early. Though, as Harmeyer said, “there’s not a bad seat in the house.”