September 12, 2010

Abbey Road on the River - All You Need is Time

(And money doesn't hurt either.) The Gaylord Hotel at the National Harbor (south of DC and across the Potomac River from Alexandria, VA) hosted the World's Largest Beatles-Inspired Music Festival from September 2nd to 5th, 2010. The event, called Abbey Road on the River, drew about one thousand Beatles fans of all ages, shapes and sizes -- and nearly as many vendors. Haven't seen any official attendance stats, but I actually expected more people even though it was Labor Day weekend here in the US. I went only for Saturday day and night (that's noon to 2am) but two friends took advantage of a package deal to stay one night at the Gaylord so they could get up in the morning and hear even more Beatles cover bands.

Check out the band lineup - talent from all over the world: Scotland (2!), Puerto Rico, Germany, Canada, Nova Scotia, Italy, Norway, and course, England, not to mention more than a dozen states and several local bands. There were usually 3 or more bands playing at once in the 5 different areas: lawn, pier, hotel, terrace, and flagpole. (Don't ask.) Did they all sound just like the Beatles? Hardly - I still think 1964 The Tribute is the closest to the real thing, but they weren't at AROTR. But being carbon copies (can we still use that term in the digital age?) wasn't exactly the point. It was to bask in the glory of the music from the greatest band in the world. And fortunately the weather cooperated completely.

Candlestick Park and Itchycoo Park, both from Scotland, were lots of fun, covering Wings and Beatles solo in addition to the main Beatles catalog. Itchycoo did great versions of Live and Let Die and Lola (the Kinks).

The Jukebox, the Puerto Rican band, was one of the youngest and for some odd reason seemed to attract a lot of pretty, young, dancing girls. Must be their moptop haircuts, I guess. What was really special for the rest of us, however, was when a cute, 2-year-old boy holding a 10" wooden replica of a Beatles guitar ($30, made in China) got into the act. Egged on (oops - I mean "encouraged") by his parents, this kid who wasn't completely steady on his feet (too much wine) stood in front of the band and started strumming the fake guitar. And here I thought my blowup guitars were cool! This kid had everyone cracking up! The band even posed for a picture with the little boy afterward. Hoping to get a copy to post here later.

Another interesting band from Richmond, VA played a really great selection of 60's songs -- The English Channel - "all English, all the time". Their You Never Give Me the Money Abbey Road medley was absolutely wonderful - truly very exciting, especially at the climax with battling guitars and drum solo. Their keyboard player is quite good; he imitated the piccolo trumpet solo on Penny Lane and did some cool Moody Blues textures.

Vendor food was a rip off. $12 for a sub-standard, medium-sized Philly cheese steak and a half-ice, half-liquid lemonade. Better to walk a few blocks to the many restaurants with incredibly long waits (sit at the bar). Every imaginable Beatles t-shirt was available, as were buttons, pins, photos, books, aforementioned replica guitars (I bought George's Rickenbacker), lunchboxes, purses, and navel lint. Okay, maybe not the lunchboxes.

I was especially delighted to meet Bruce Spizer, the author of  7 detailed books about Beatles records on various labels that I own. Got his autograph and bought 3 little Meet the Beatles booklets for friends. Spizer is working an 8th book covering the UK records.

Another highlight of my day was a special appearance by Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer. He was interviewed live for a podcast by the Fab Fourum. [Haven't found the link to that particular podcast but here is a 5-minute excerpt on YouTube.] Pete, sometimes called the most handsome Beatle (in his day; remember the leather jacket photos?), shared some previously undisclosed details of his 1960-62 stint with the boys. He talked about his abrupt dismissal from the band - still no clear reason. Pete played during the ill-fated Decca audition on New Years Day 1962. He told us that the main reason the Beatles were rejected by Decca's Mike Smith (infamous by his prediction that "guitar groups are on the way out"), was because Smith was personal friends with Brian Poole whose band the Tremeloes beat the Beatles for the single available recording contract. [McCartney has supposedly said that it wasn't until later in 1962 when they signed with EMI that they were really ready for such a record deal.] When asked by the audience who his favorite Beatle was, he answered John. Autographed Pete Best photo: $20. Experience: Priceless.

Jimmy Pou, who plays George, did a solo set. Formerly of 1964 The Tribute and Beatlemania fame, Jimmy played recordings of himself as backup to his live guitar playing. Great set but would you believe he skipped Here Comes the Sun? He also played instrumental Beatles from finger-pickin' Steven King in between songs.

But the absolute highpoint of the day/night was the late night marathon performance by Hal Bruce and the Hard Dazed Knights which began at 10:10pm. As promised Canadian Hal Bruce (AROTR musical director) and his merry men played all 214 of the Beatles songs in one continuous medley without a break (except to change guitars)! The keyboardist was absent due to a family emergency so Hal occasionally switched to electric piano. The medley was also in chronological order by UK release which made it even more fascinating. Before they completed the first album (14 songs in about 10 minutes), the dancing began. My friends started dancing early on in and I eventually joined in, dancing well over an hour straight. The medley continued until 12:35, so it was 214 songs in 2 hours and 25 minutes. OMG, was it tremendous! There was some video recording made; it would be so cool if it was released eventually.

Conclusion: One day of just 14 hours was not enough to hear even a fraction of these bands. Next year I'm going to spring for the hotel so I can at least attend 2 days. Who wants to join me?

See the Abbey Road on the River Wikipedia page.

P.S., I Love You -- 50+ clips from the event by gaylordnational on YouTube. yeah, Yeah, YEAH!