Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Liverpoolooza - Part Two

More reflections on The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago 2010, which was held at the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont this past weekend.

A Beatles Storytellers session featured Pat DiNizio, lead singer/guitarist for The Smithereens, and a friend he introduced as Tommy Beatle, performing as The Scotch Plainsmen. DiNizio is uniquely qualified to comment on Beatles music, having recorded the CDs Meet The Smithereens, a note for note recreation of Meet The Beatles, and B-Sides Of The Beatles, with his New Jersey based band.

Between songs, DiNizio spun tales of hearing his first Beatles song at age nine while brushing his teeth, and how it took the sage advice of an older cousin for him to fully appreciate “Penny Lane” when it first came out. There was also a funny story about his mother calling him in the middle of the night back in the mid 1980s to let him know that The Smithereens had been listed for The David Brenner Show in the latest edition of TV Guide.

DiNizio and Tommy Beatle entertained with acoustic versions of “Hide Your Love Away,” “Dear Prudence,” and “Strawberry Fields,” as well as Smithereens tunes like “Only A Memory” and a medley of “Blood & Roses” and “Behind The Wall Of Sleep.”

British humorist/producer Martin Lewis has served as host of Fest For Beatles Fans on the East and West Coasts since 1992, and has worked on assorted Beatles related projects. In Chicago, he conducts some of the celebrity guest interviews and moderates B.U.I. - Musician’s Forum, which is an informative and entertaining discussion/jam session with some of the famous musicians who have been booked for the Fest. Musician/producer Mark Hudson was once again the most active participant, and while his exuberance approaches a Muppet-like silliness at times, he knows music inside and out, and is a talented performer. Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell of Wings, and musician Gary Wright also helped make this year’s Musician’s Forum another winner.

Pretty much everything at Fest For Beatles Fans qualifies as family entertainment, but none of it more so than the Battle Of The Beatles Bands. WXRT air personality Terri Hemmert, marking her 33rd year as MC for Fest For Beatles Fans Chicago, always oversees this amateur hour with gentle humor and an encouraging word, even for contestants who are noticeably off key. It’s common for parents and their offspring to form bands for this event, and any act that features cute kids has a definite edge in making the finals. Some of the better acts this year included The Shades and Hootenanners.

The Art Contest, with participants competing at various levels and age groups, brought in another crop of imaginative works, especially the piece that showed over 30 albums on which the actual Beatles were replaced with their animated counterparts from the 1960s cartoon show; and a huge portrait of the lads in their Magical Mystery Tour splendor.

As the night wore on, the people under the stairs began to make their presence known. This unofficial collective has been performing a sort of Mersey beat hootenanny on the ground level of the Hyatt at Fest For Beatles Fans for years. When I stopped by on Sunday, there was a row of about eight guitarists playing Beatles songs to a small crowd sitting directly in front of them on the floor. The joyous spirit of this phenomenon illustrates the bonding power of Beatles music.

Liverpool, a four piece band comprised of keyboards/rhythm guitar player Drew Hill, bassist Glen Burtnik, drummer Chris Camilleri, and lead guitarist John Merjave, has developed a loyal following through its performances at Fest For Beatles Fans. At Chicago shows in the past, Liverpool has focused on a single album by The Beatles, but this year, the band bounced from one era to another for sterling renditions of “Glass Onion,” “Let It Be,” “Another Girl,” and “Golden Slumbers.” Unlike many Beatles tribute bands, these guys don’t dress or act like the original band members, they just perform their songs with solid musicianship and amazing vocals.

After Liverpool appeared to have finished its set, original Wings drummer Denny Seiwell appeared onstage to a roar of applause, and asked if the audience wanted to hear more. As the band returned, he took his place behind a second drum kit onstage and joined in for a spirited version of “Smile Away” from Paul McCartney’s Ram album. A short time later, former Wings and Moody Blues vocalist Denny Laine came on board to join his old mate Seiwell, and Liverpool for some show-stopping versions of the Wings classics “Band On The Run,” “Mull Of Kintyre,” and “Live And Let Die.”

After Laine’s guest appearance, bass player, artist, and longtime close friend of The Beatles, Klaus Voormann came up to play, along with Gary Wright. I must confess that while I’m certainly familiar with Wright’s hit singles, I wasn’t aware of his work on solo albums by Ringo Starr and George Harrison. With Voormann and Wright joining in, Liverpool charged through “Back Off Boogaloo” and “It Don’t Come Easy,” before Wright took center stage for “Dream Weaver” and some of his originals. Wright also sang lead on “To Discover Yourself,” a song he had co-written with Harrison. With Mark Hudson joining in, the concert continued to rock toward its impressive finale.

Fest For Beatles Fans had come to Chicago once again, and left those in attendance with a wealth of happy memories.

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