the loud bassoon concert scene

The Fest For Beatles Fans @ Rosemont, IL, USA
16 August 2003

$35 is a lot to spend on a joke, so I had to question my motivation in attending Beatlefest 2003 … er, wait, it's now The Fest for Beatles Fans per some kind of lawsuit courtesy Apple Records. See … if they hadn't decided to give away everything from the Apple Boutique, maybe they'd have enough money so they wouldn't have to chase after the mom-and-pop outfits turning a profit on the Beatles' good name.

Actually, I can't say I blame Apple in the slightest. Having attended Beatlefest once or twice before (I think it was '81 and '83), I could hardly miss how commercial it has become. What was once a communion of that sunny fellowship of Fab has become a rather overpriced, overmarketed, and overly drunken event … incidentally, does it really make sense to kick back with a few beers and listen to the Beatles? The Eagles, I can see, but come on … doesn't, like "Mr. Moonlight" immediately kill any possible buzz?

The premier fan-con for Beatle nuts is, as with any fan convention, a spellbindingly surreal situation. Families and friends in every imaginible configuration and of every possible societal stripe were in the house, offering some credence that this band really did bring the world together. I mean, compared with the typical record show around here, this was a fucking Benetton ad … usually it's just white, white, whiter, fatter, and white.

Not so the Fest … mothers and their on-the-verge-of-rebellion daughters, fathers and sons, sons and their own sons, confirmed bachelors and houseboys … the gang was all here.

Beatles music blared from all directions, especially the perennial and permanent "people under the stairs," who camp out and conduct singalongs the whole time. Fortunately, the Wes Craven fan-con was not being held in the same location, else there may have been some confusion.

And there were lookalikes, soundalikes, puppets, and much more to be seen. The highlight was probably the karaoke room, which we stumbled upon at the exact perfect moment to catch four children plowing through "Magical Mystery Tour" and a few others. The performance was broadcast on a monitor outside the room, and my mates and I sat transfixed in front of the thing for probably twenty minutes. I'd pay top-dollar for an eight-hour tape of that shit.

The big attraction this year, of course, was Donovan, probably the biggest name ever drawn into the Fest's swirly waterspout besides Ringo Himself, who as I understand it graced the New Jersey show this year.

Donovan did a Q&A which entailed some fine performances, including the lovely "Jennifer Juniper" but sadly not "The Love Song" or "I Love My Shirt." He was an engaging raconteur, spinning some magical yarns about writing songs with Paul, hanging with the boys in Rishikesh, and being friends with George through the years.

It was a treat to see this gentle man in person. He even managed to defray some of the more unhinged audience questions, including a truly awkward one wherein a hostile Chicago music fan seemed to want to make Donovan personally responsible for the failure of the Cryan Shames. (?)

Later, Donovan took the stage for a tribute set to George, and a "surprise" appearance with Liverpool (the so-called "best" Beatles tribute band) for a rousing "Atlantis." Bear in mind, I bailed before this happened, but I'm sure it was exactly as I imagine it was.

Other highlights: Author Paul Saltzman doing a charming segment about his book The Beatles in Rishikesh, which has some truly cool photos. A comedic "roast"-like singalong in the main hall late in the evening seemed bolstered by how much alcohol people had consumed by then. And, of course, the Beatles "flea market," which I found disappointing … how many copies of Beatles '65 do you need to see, anyway? Let's see, stereo, fake stereo, mono, fake mono, reprocessed mono for play on quad systems with one speaker blown out …

Not very many bootlegs on hand, that was another key difference between Fests '81 and '03, and the memorabilia was same ol', same ol'. I did snag a replica of that "New York City" t-shirt Lennon wore in that famous photo, as well as some buttons (Yoko Ono, Ringo, and Mike Nesmith).

High point of the evening was being addressed by a group of four teenage girls who took notice of my proudly defiant Yoko button. Dialogue:
Girl #1: I like your button!
Me: Oh, yeah, you like Yoko?
Girl #2: I don't. I hate that button.
Me: Aw, come on, she was the best Beatle!
Girl #2: Yeah, right – she BROKE UP THE BEATLES.
Me: That's a myth.
Girls #1-4: (Blank stares)

Later, ascending a staircase, a different teenage girl spat at me: "I don't know why you have to wear that pin!!!"

Thirty-five years later, teenage girls are still protective of John and mad at Yoko. Amazing. Well, maybe there's hope for Girl #1, at least … I probably should have bought her a copy of Approximately Infinite Universe and blown her mind out. But alas, buying Yoko Ono albums for young girls in a hotel seems like the kind of thing that could get me into real trouble.

Review by Lord Eric Haugen