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Jefferson Starship headlines this year's Beatles festival

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Entertainment,Robert Fulton

Abbey Road on the River, the annual tribute to all things Beatles that returns this Labor Day weekend at National Harbor, is mixing it up a bit.

This year, Jefferson Starship headlines. With roots deep in the '60s, Jefferson Starship reflects a similar zeitgeist from the era.

"I love Beatles music," said Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Starship's predecessor, Jefferson Airplane, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. "It was one of the first musics that sparked me into rock and roll from folk music. I draw from them just like I draw from science fiction."

The five-day Abbey Road on the River runs from Thursday to Monday. Jefferson Starship performs Friday.

If you go
Abbey Road on the River
» Where: Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, 201 Waterfront St., Fort Washington
» When: Thursday to Monday
» Info: Featuring more than 30 bands, including headliner Jefferson Starship on Friday. Multiple-day ticket packages vary. Single-day tickets $32 Friday to Sunday, $12 Thursday and Monday. Visit abbeyroadontheriver.com for more information.

Jefferson Starship's roots date back to the 1960s psychedelic rock of the band's original incarnation. Fronted by Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane was best known for the hits "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit."

After Jefferson Airplane disbanded, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship in the early '70s. Jefferson Starship, also known as Starship for a time, is responsible for the '80s hit "We Built This City," as well as "Jane," Miracles," "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now" and "Sara."

Jefferson Starship's last album was 2008's "Jefferson's Tree of Liberty." The band keeps active with numerous shows, including gigs later this year in Israel, Europe and Japan, as well as in the States.

"The adventure of music," Kantner said when asked what keeps him going. He added the band draws from as far back as the Airplane days for its set lists. "I'm just swept away every time we go onstage. We don't play the same exact set every night. It's not like we're just repeating ourselves. Just the adventure of going out onstage and playing is like a frontier. The chaos of rock and roll exists. I thrive on chaos. That just keeps going on and has not stopped, and I love it."

Slick retired from music in the late '80s, and Jefferson Starship currently employs Cathy Richardson as its lead singer. Richardson's vocal chops and stage presence -- she portrayed Janis Joplin in the musical "Love, Janis" -- are a nice addition to the band.

"She's an extraordinary singer," Kantner said. "She kicks, I'll tell ya. She's a pleasure to work with. What she brings to the stage is her own extraordinary, unique energy."

With Jefferson Airplane's legacy stretching nearly a half-century and Jefferson Starship's career spanning four decades, Kantner credits the spirit of his hometown.

"We had the great fortune of being able to explore frontiers of both music and social life in a way that was not done before," Kantner said, referring to the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. "We in San Francisco got away with creating almost an alternate quantum universe to the rest of the world. I like to think that San Francisco is on the very edge of Western civilization. I always say that it's 49 square miles surrounded by reality."

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