Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I’ve Just Seen A Fest - A Friendly One

One of the new features at The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare this year was a performance area on the second floor called the Apple Jam Stage. I only caught one show there on Sunday but it proved that booking local acts for The Fest has a great deal of potential. Phil Angotti, (pictured above) an accomplished singer-songwriter who has also been doing tribute shows on the Chicago club scene for some time now, put one together for John Lennon at The Fest For Beatles Fans that featured a number of his musician friends. Angotti should be familiar to listeners of WXRT’s Sunday morning Breakfast With The Beatles show since its host/Fest MC Terri Hemmert occasionally plays recordings of his inventive takes on Beatles songs.

The John Lennon tribute began with Angotti backed by bassist Casey McDonough, guitarist Tommi Zender, drummer Joe Camarillo, and piano player Dick Schmidt. The band performed a well-chosen selection of Lennon's solo and Beatles compositions, including "Not A Second Time," "Dream Number 9," "She Said She Said," "Jealous Guy," and "Nowhere Man." As the performance continued, local musicians, including Jay Goeppner (who has performed with Angotti as The Beatle Brothers) and Eric Howell came up onstage to join in on the vocals.

Marty Scott, whose band Liverpool Legends is managed by Louise Harrison (one of The Fest's Special Guests this year), led the way on "If I Needed Someone," the lone George Harrison song that was performed during the show. As songs like "Baby, You're A Rich Man," "In My Life," "Mind Games," and "Instant Karma" continued to flow, other musicians I wasn't familiar with wandered on stage. There was an amazing, happy vibe in the room, with people in the audience singing along and dancing. It would be great to see Angotti, who did a Paul McCartney tribute on Saturday, performing on The Apple Jam Stage next year. I’d also like to see more local bands, like EXPO ’76, The Abbeys, The Webstirs, and The New Invaders, involved.

While watching the Lennon Tribute on the Apple Jam Stage, I kept thinking everyone at The Fest should be here experiencing this. But the challenge of of trying to see everything you want at The Fest For Beatles Fans can not always be met. Here are a few things that were going on at the same time as the Lennon Tribute: Mark Rivera, who plays saxophone and has served as Ringo Starr's Musical Director, was being interviewed in The Grand Ballroom; followed immediately by an interview with performer/producer Mark Hudson; an exhibit by Rob Shanahan, who has been Starr's photographer since 2005; and an interactive show at the FABoratory (another new feature) involving music discussion and gourmet chocolates.

The 13 contestants in Sunday night's Battle Of The Beatles Bands were a mix of professional musicians and (I'm guessing) amateurs who rarely get a chance to perform before such a large audience. There used to be a tendency on the part of the audience, which votes by applause, and the final judges to favor any band that included little kids, but in recent years, the emphasis has been more on actual talent. I usually agree with contest's outcome, and this year's winner, Beetlejuice did a nice of incorporating strings into their performance of "A Day In The Life." The other strong contenders this year were MegaBeatles (whose lead vocalist had been part of the Lennon Tribute earlier); NBB, who came in second; and former two-time winner Ringer's All Starr Band.

I mentioned the Beatles tribute band Liverpool in each of my previous Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago 2015 posts, but it's worth mentioning again how incredibly well they perform Beatles music. Guitarist John Merjave, bassist Glen Burtnik, rhythm guitarist Drew Hill, and drummer Chris Camilleri can all sing lead, and they join together for impressive harmonies. With Marc Rubinstein's Pig Light Show providing a suitably psychedelic ambience, Liverpool performed the entire Help soundtrack before moving on to an adventurous selection of Beatles tracks that included "Old Brown Shoe," "We Can Work It Out," "Golden Slumbers," "Eight Days A Week," "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

After a full set of Beatles tunes, Liverpool was joined by this year's Special Guests Mark Rivera, Billy Kinsley from The Merseybeats, Terry Sylvester from The Hollies, and Mark Hudson. This portion of the concert, where Liverpool performs hits by that particular year's guests, is always one of the highlights of The Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago and serves as a Grand Finale.

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