Thursday, August 15, 2013

Report back from the Fest for Beatlefans Chicago 2013

Sara's report on the Fest for Beatlefans (aka Beatlefest) Chicago 2013

People who attend Beatle conventions do so for a variety of reasons.   None of those reasons are better than the other; it is just a matter of personal choice.   That sort of stood out to me this past weekend at  the Chicago Fest for Beatle fans.   As I saw it, there are mostly three groups at the Fest.  Obviously this is a generalization and will not be completely  true.   There is one group of fans who are at the Fest for the music.    They listen to all of the bands, all of the sound alike contests and all of the musicians.    They might be a musician themselves and brought along a guitar and joined in for some late night/early morning jam sessions.    These people are the ones that you will hear saying things like, “We are here for the music.  That is what the Beatles did—make music!”      The second group are the “scholarly” Beatles fans.   These people attend panel discussions on the strange details of the Beatles.  They enjoy the lectures and the trivia.   And there is a third group of people who are simply using the Fest as a springboard to party.    They brought a huge cooler full of their favorite alcoholic beverages and are ready to drunkenly sing “Hey Jude” with those musician people.   They have little interest in attending any sessions or discussions.   They are there just for the party.

It is no surprise that I tend to fall into the scholarly type, and maybe more so this year than any other year.    Strangely I did not hear Liverpool perform at all and I did not attend any of the musicians’ forums or performances.    I did not hear Chad and Jeremy or Joey from Badfinger.    The only music thing I did (besides singing under the stairs) was attend the Battle of the Beatle Bands contest.     But you can’t be everywhere at once at the Fest, and I had to choose what I wanted to hear the most.

Let me just go ahead and get the negative things out of the way.     I go into the Fest with the attitude that I will have a good time.   I am there to celebrate my favorite subject, the Beatles, with others who also love the Beatles as much as I do.    So it would take a lot for me to say that I didn’t enjoy the Fest.    So these observations are not me in any way complaining or trying to say that I didn’t have fun.   The Fest wasn’t as well attended as it has been in years past.    The venders selling Beatles goods in the marketplace was MUCH less than I have ever seen it.     The truth of the matter is that the Fest is in need of making some changes if it wants to continue on.    As the people in the Beatles camp continue to pass away, it is getting harder and harder to find guest speakers with a Beatles connection.     There are a lot of ideas I have in my mind.  Ultimately I am scared that this trend of less people and venders is the beginning of the end and in 10-15 years there might not be a Beatles convention anymore.   The idea of that makes me so sad.   I hope those of us who love these type of gatherings can work together to make sure that doesn’t occur. 

On with my report:
As usual, my mom and I took the Amtrak Train from Alton, Illinois to Union Station in downtown Chicago.  From there we walked to the “EL” station and got on the blue line that took us directly to Rosemont, where the hotel is located.   Well, my mom sprained her ankle a week and a half before our trip and it is still purple, so we had to move a lot slower than usual.   But we arrived and got checked into the hotel and were all set for our first day at the Fest for Beatles fans.   

We started off the festivities by watched “A Hard Day’s Night” up on the big screen.   It is always fun to watch with other fans and I will never get tired of watching that amazing film.   Then we traveled downstairs to where the art exhibit, memorabilia museum and marketplace are located.    I was able to catch up with, Chuck, who has an amazing book about the Beatles American tours (see the link at the top of this page) coming out next year.   You heard it here first…the book “Some Fun Tonight” will be THE book of 2014 for Beatle fans to get!    I was able see  the preview of the book and  was privy to some super rare photos!   Total highlight of Friday for me  (and that wasn’t even an official Beatlefest activity or anything).   

This little George Harrison doll didn't win the art contest, but was my favorite piece.

From there it was up to the room where all of the discussions were held.   I listened to talks about Collecting Beatles Memorabilia,  100 things Beatles fans should know before they die, Talking Beatles art (with the wonderful artist Eric Cash and Georgia Flood), A Culinary Tribute to the Beatles (yeah I thought it was going to be stupid, too.   But it was actually a fun presentation and the free samples were yummy).  The last thing for the evening was a discussion about 35 years of Beatlefan magazine.   What a delight that discussion was!   Being a 20 year subscriber to the zine, I was fascinated to hear how it all began and what has kept it going for the past 35 years.

Artists:  Georgina, Eric, and Deco with moderator Wally

The morning started off with breakfast away from the hotel with some friends.    When we returned we watched Rob Shanahan, who is Ringo’s official photographer, talk about his photographs.   Next up was Bruce Spizer talking about Vee-Jay Records followed by Larry Kane discussing his new book.    Larry Kane is a really great guy!   I love hearing him talk about his time on tour with the Beatles.   

Larry Kane:  toured with the Beatles and was the man behind the Helping Hands marathon in 1975. 

After a bit more shopping, we watched a great presentation by Jude Southerland-Kessler where she read from her upcoming book, She Loves you  while showing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.   Then it was finally time for the reason why I wanted to come to Beatlefest so badly this year:  The premiere of the film Good Ol Freda.   As you know, I have been a Freda Kelly fan for a long time.    I donated to the campaign to get the documentary made.   This film is one of the best Beatles documentaries I have ever seen.   It was just amazing.   I will be posting more about the film and how we as fans can get the word out there about it.    The stories Freda tells in the film and the photos and everything are just so good.   Freda and the film’s producers took some questions after the showing.   I could not stay for the entire thing because I was needed upstairs for the panel I was on.

Freda Kelly and Ryan White talking about "Good Ol Freda"

I got to hear the end of Jim Berkenstadt and Chas Newby talking about the Jimmie Nichol book that Jim wrote.   And then it was time for me and the rest of the ladies of the “We’re Talking about Girls now” panel.   It was such an honor to be on a panel with such well-known female Beatles historians.   Honestly I don’t know if I fit in there, but it was good fun to talk a little about this blog and why I do what I do.     Once the panel was over with there was a fun discussion about Liverpool and its humor with Billy J. Kramer, Freda Kelly, Joey Molland and Chas Newby.   Great fun and a lot of laughs.
From there, there really wasn’t a whole lot left to do.   I am not a Martin Lewis fan, so I didn’t want to hear him speak.    So we ended up going into the video room and watching the Beatles in 1964 videos until they kicked me out.     That Around the Beatles Special is just so funny.   It has been awhile since I last saw it. 

We're Talking about Girls panel

The last day of the Fest for 2013.    I am not sure if I can go back next August because the Fest is a week later than it was this year and most likely school will be starting back up.   Having a “real job” is a true drag at times.   As much as I like being a teacher, sometimes I just wish I could be a Beatleologist full time.

We started our day with the early bird puppet show by Mr. Puppet, Bob Abdou.     I used to think his puppet shows were a little lame and just goofy.  However, in the past 3-4 years  they have really improved.   His Beatle puppets are adorable and his jokes have gotten better.    Ten years ago I would have said to skip the puppet show, but now I try to see it ever y Sunday of the Fest.    

Next up was Jude S. Kessler again.  This time she did an outstanding presentation on John Lennon’s Liverpool.   Wow!    It was extremely moving and especially interesting to my mom and I since we were just there in Liverpool last month.   Jude is a sweetheart of a John fan and am so glad to have gotten to know her through the Fest.     

I went to the Beatles auction.   There were quite a few autographs that did not sell at all.   I bid and won the Gobel  Yellow Submarine figurines.   

With my winning item in the hotel room.

Robert Rodriguez has a new book (so many books!) about the Beatles Solo in the 70’s, and I didn’t want to miss his talk about it (since I missed it due to the Freda Kelly film on Saturday).    There was a very good discussion about the Beatles in the 1970’s, and I could have participated in that for many hours if they would have allowed it.   Next up was Al Sussman previewing HIS new book about the time in history between Kennedy’s assassination and the Beatles arrival in New York.    I left his talk a bit early to get Freda Kelly’s photograph and talk to her people about my blog.    Then Martin Lewis did a short interview with Freda.    The interview was better than last year’s interview with her, although I still think he asks some questions that are strange.   Even Freda said something along the lines of “what an odd question…” 

My mom really wanted to hear Bruce Spizer and Al Sussman’s talk about country music and its influence on the Beatles’ music.   I am not a country music fan at all, but I figure my mom sat through some topics that should didn’t like (such as the solo Beatles in the 1970’s), so I went to that with her.   It was interesting enough.

Then there was door prizes given away and I won for the first time in 15 years!   I won a Paul McCartney poster from the 1989 world tour.   Art contest winners were announced and the it was the battle of the Beatle bands.   Sadly there were only 8 bands competing this year.   I remember when there were over 20 bands.    The bands were good, but most of them used the same drummers and guitarists.    The winning band was “Ringer’s All Star Band” who sang “Never Without  You.”    The lead singer really does resemble Ringo Starr and he had his mannerisms down. 

Ringer with his All Star band

We were going to listen to Liverpool perform, but decided to go under the stairs and sing.  And so that is where I was from 9:30p.m. – 2:00a.m.,  under the stairs singing my heart out to Beatles and solo Beatles songs.    

Singing under the stairs:  have some fun tonight!

I had a great time!   It was wonderful to see so many of you who are readers of this blog.   I am a bit shy and I hope I didn’t come across as rude to anyone.     I hope some of you have found this blog from picking up one of my cards that I had lying around.   If so, then welcome to MTBRF!! 


  1. You're a sweet girl,GOD bless you.

  2. What a wonderful time you seemed to have had and full deserving I might add. I felt strangely proud to see you on the panel since you're our Sara!

    1. Ditto!!!! That's exactly how I feel! Proud!!

      Believe me, Sara, you fit in! Your our Sister in Beatledom!!

    2. Ahhh...thanks guys! I am there representing all of you who read this blog! The idea has always been that this blog is a 21st century Beatles fanzine. So it is so much more to me than just photos and stories. I can get all sappy about it all, but really I am so proud of everything positive this sight has done over the years. It is just a bit overwhelming in my mind to be in a panel with Beatles authors and things. I am just an elementary school teacher who loves the Beatles.

  3. Hi Sara, you forgot about one other group of people who attend the Fest. The fourth group comes to the Fest to see other "Beatle freinds" that they don't get to see on a regular basis during the year. People like you, so I can rave about your bolg, Bruce Spizer, Rockaway and others. I live in an area that doesn't have many Beatle people, so for me it's a good fix until the next gathering.

    1. You are totally right, Chuck! Meeting my Beatle pals (including you!) is a big part of the Fest.

  4. I haven't been to a Beatlefest since 1985, but you totall brought back memories.

    First off, the late night/early morning jams, I LIVED for those. And I'm so happy you are the same way, singing under the stairs!!! I remember at one of those late night jams someone playing me a cassette snippet of Leave My Kitten Alone in a stairwell.

    I'm half-musician, half-scholar, I'd be at all the panel discussions too.

    I'm so happy you love the Battle of the Bands!!! We won the Battle of the Bands at our first try in 1984!!! And there were 13 other bands back then. The story of how we won is a story and a half, and I won't bore you with it now, but I loved reading your account.

    I stopped going because I was getting freaked out by some of the other fans! Like the girl who turned to me during A Hard Day's Night, during "And I Love Her" who told me "Paul sang this to me on our wedding night." (For years, I'd see her in news broadcasts every December 8, outside the Dakota). But the times I had there were very special to me.

    The first time I came home from a Beatlefest, I cried my eyes out when I got home, just remembering it!!! I was, like, inconsolable!!! I cried so hard about it I actually got sick!!

    I was intrigued by your dislike for Martin Lewis! I happen to like that guy, from what I've seen and read of him!

    PS: I'm saving all my pennies for the Mark Lewhison book, all Beatle authors be on notice!!!

    1. Yeah I am not a fan of Mr. Lewis. I know some people really like him, and I am sure that he is an nice person outside of Beatlefest. But I just dislike him as an interviewer. And I don't like his voice. That sounds silly doesn't it? But I just hear him talk and I want to leave. He is just too pushy and I feel like he is trying to promote himself all of the time. He came into one of the panel discussions and had a question for the speaker. He started it off by naming the books he wrote and movies he produced before he even asked the question. When it was once an election year he talked for 20 minutes about how you have to vote for the "Beatle friendly candidate" and then made it sound like you were a bad Beatle fan if you didn't vote for his guy. Yet he seems like a nice guy when he isn't doing Beatles stuff. I have heard some really nice things about him outside of Beatles related things.

  5. Sounds like fun! I'm dying to see the Good Old Freda movie - I donated to the campaign too and I'm looking forward to my DVD!

    The Beatles cooking tribute might have been my friend Lanea. She's put out a few Beatles/Rock inspired cookbooks and she's awesome!

  6. dear sara, it was fun reading your comments about the fest. i haven't been to one of them for a very long time (i don't even remember when was the last one i attended, i know it was in chicago). i lived in new york city from 1984 to 1994, so i went to a lot of fests and they were certainly fun! the guests were great - victor spinetti and mike mcgear stand out for me - there were interesting things to buy that didn't cost a fortune and the best part was meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. and of course the sing alongs, not only around the hotel but in the rooms, were totally fun. at that last fest i went to something unusual happened: three apple scruffs in one same space! my friends cathy, dani and me! we had photos and stories to amuse all our friends. i met a lot of good people at the fests that have remained my friends to this day. my first fest was in chicago, in 1980. to think that all four boys were still alive and doing well at that time! i remember standing by the merchandise room and thinking to myself "this has nothing to do with those four guys i used to see every day". it was hard to think of them as a "thing" or a "product". i glued my (large) behind to a chair in one of the video rooms and some of my friends came to "rescue" me - it had been hours since i last ate or drank anything or went to the bathroom! at the time, we didn't have any of those videos and my jaw was dropping, i couldn't believe what i was seeing. i love hearing people talk about their times with the beatles, but only when they are genuine, real people who truly love the boys. i can't stand it when people brag about it and make it all about themselves. this was so true with victor, you could feel the love he had for them in the way he told his wonderful stories. it's always about the beatles for me, they are the stars. the rest of us, i don't care how close we got to them, are not them. i hope i don't sound stupid saying this, but it's how i feel. you totally belong in that pannel, sara! we're all so proud of you.

  7. Sara,Thanks love for the fest comments! I was there for me first time and loved the friendly peeps!I was in the sound alike contest as John Lennon with my version of Strawberry Fieilds.Sadly but expectedly didn't win but I was in the audition line with the wonderful girl winner and her Mum from last years event.A lovely voice indeed and we connected.I can hardly wait for next years event and Ms. Sara thanks for the low attendance concern but be informed that I will love and keep the Beatles alive as long as myself am still breathing British air,I will be there!Thanx again mate!

  8. Sara everything here is a love story, yes sir! (or madame)

    Alfonso Romero V