Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Celebrating 50 years of the Beatles in America: Sara's NYC Trip Report at the Fest for Beatle Fans 2014

I wanted to do something special to celebrate the Beatles 50th anniversary of coming to America.  Going to the city where it all started, New York City, seemed like the best idea to celebrate.   Knowing that there was a Beatlefest (Fest for Beatle fans...whatever you want to call it!) going on made it even neater.   Being an elementary school teacher, it isn't exactly easy to just go off to New York City in February.   But luckily for me, I rarely ever take time off work, and I have only used a couple of personal days in my 11 years of teaching at my school district.   So my principal thankfully approved for me to take off 2 personal days to go to the Fest.

My mom (who is my forever Beatle buddy) and I left St. Louis, Missouri on Friday February 7, 2014 and the temperature was -5 degrees F.   Insane!   We felt like we were in a heat wave in New York because it was 35 degrees F when we arrived.    After making our way to the hotel that we were staying at, we decided to find the Ed Sullivan Theater to check out the marque that had been changed for the anniversary.    So out we went into Time Square.   And we got lost.   We asked for help and quickly learned that no one in New York City knows where David Letterman tapes his show.   I think we walked around in circles a few times before we finally found it!       Being the Beatle geek that I am, I thought it was SO neat to see the marque changed to look like it did 50 years ago.   I could just imagine the fans walking up to the front doors to get into the theater to see the Beatles.

After finding that, it was time to venture back and find the Grand Central Hyatt Hotel, where the Fest was being held.    Time to get lost again!    By this time we were really tired and wind-burnt, but we made it just in time to stand in an extremely long line that wrapped all around the lobby of the hotel to get our wrist bands.

Once we made it inside we quickly learned that the Hyatt is an extremely confusing hotel.   We were there for three days for this Fest and I never did feel like I had my barrings.    The events were spread out all over the place and the rooms were small.   Personally, I wouldn't recommend for further Beatle conventions to be held at this hotel.   I understand that it was the exact hotel that the very first Beatlefest was held in 40 years ago, but geesh....things have grown in 40 years and it just wasn't a good choice for this convention.       I met up with the girls from the panel I was going to be on the following day, and we went to a nearby deli to discuss our panel.   Once I got back from the meal and discussion, we decided to have a look around at the marketplace and buy some Beatles goodies.   There were two places to buy things.  One just had merchandise from the Fest for Beatle fans catalog and the other had the various other venders.   Let me be honest:  what a disappointment.    The rooms were small, but there were not a lot of venders.   I brought money with me to spend, and with the exception of one particular vender from England, there was very little that I was interested in.    The best thing that happened during this time is that I was able to buy John Lennon's half-sister, Julia's book and get a photo taken with her. 

Here I am with someone that shares the same mother as John Lennon!  How cool!!!!!

Okay....so the marketplace was a bummer, but Donovan is signing autographs.   I have always wanted to meet Donovan  So we somehow manage to sign where he will be signing and get in line.   We waited in line for a good 40 minutes before someone came and said that Donovan wasn't feeling well and he wasn't going to be doing any signings that day.   Well...Friday at the Fest was turning out to be a disappointment.  

Next we went to the ballroom and listened to some of Liverpool and the Beatles look-alike contest.  I do have to say that Liverpool sounded better than I recall them sounding in recent years (but then Steve Holly from Wings was their drummer all weekend).  There weren't very many contestants for the look a like contest, but it was still fun to watch.

The guy in the George Harrison costume was the winner. 

The last event for Friday night was hearing Mark Lapidos talk about when he met John Lennon in 1974 and how he got his approval to have Beatlefest.   I recorded Mark's talk to share on this blog in the near future, because it is a great story.   There was also a small documentary about the first Beatlefest.  It was neat to see how things have changed and yet stayed the same over the years.

February 8, 2014--Saturday

Fest events started at 10:30a.m. on Saturday, and so my mom and I walked to the Grand Central Hyatt and didn't get lost this time.    First up was Bruce Spizer talking about the Beatles Coming to America.   While we have heard him give this talk in Chicago, there was something special about hearing it in New York during the 50th anniversary.  Maybe it was the Beatles wig Bruce wore?

Bruce Spizer in a Beatles wig.  Doesn't get any crazier than that!

Next in line was the panel I was on with some great women Beatles scholars.  We talked about the legacy of the Beatles.   I have heard some very positive things about the panel and I truly appreciate all of the kindness and support.   I had a lot of fun being on the panel and that is the reason why I agreed to do it:  I thought it would be fun.   One of my fellow panelists, Shelley Germeaux wrote a great article about the panel on the John Lennon Examiner.    If you are interested in seeing what it was all about, please check it out!   It is always such an honor to be included with authors and writers.  I just do this little blog because I love the Beatles and I love to share the stories and photos.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would give me the right to be on a panel where I am called a "Beatles scholar."

And I am qualified to be on this panel how??

Around this time I had the privilege to meet a bunch of YOU!    Yes, I was able to talk to many of you readers in person and see scrapbooks and give hugs.   It was so nice to meet each and every one of you.

Then I ran off to hear Bob Gruen talk about his famous John Lennon photos.   I just watched a really amazing documentary about Bob Gruen on Showtime and there he was in person telling his stories about John.

Bob Gruen has the best John Lennon photos ever!

My tour guide from Liverpool, Jackie Spencer, whom I just adore and recommend was talking on a panel and my mom and I didn't want to miss out on seeing her.   It was so nice to see our friend from Liverpool again.

After that, we wanted to go back up to the ballroom to hear some of the concerts and speakers up there.  But there was a problem:   there wasn't any room in the ballroom for anyone to enter.   Huh?   There were no seats and the fire laws said that no one could stand along the sides of the room.   I really couldn't believe it.   No room at the Fest?   We somehow squeezed into the back of the room while Chad & Jeremy were singing.   We were still standing when Billy J. Kramer took the stage and was being interviewed.   I don't really recall what he said because I could barely hear him and couldn't see him at all.   It was extremely hot in the ballroom and it was sort of a sick feeling.    Suddenly I saw two seats open up right towards the back.  They were still far away from the stage, but they were seats, so I jumped on them.   We stayed there in the back of the room.   We were able to listen to Pattie Boyd talk.  Pattie is such a lovely woman.   The interview did not tell us anything she hadn't already said when I first heard her in 2008, but it was nice to see her again.    Then it was time for  the Hurdy Gurdy Man himself Donovan!  I really enjoyed hearing Donovan perform.  I am disappointed that because of the full schedule, that this was the only time I was able to hear him.  Donovan sang just about all his hit songs and he sounded just like Donovan! 

Donovan with his groovy green guitar

After Donovan we wanted to go back to the room with the panelists and hear a little bit about Liverpool humor and the tribute to Brian Epstein, but guess what??   You guessed it.   The room was full and closed down.   The security would not allow anyone else into the room.  Can you tell that I had some disappointments during this convention?   So I sat on a bench for the longest time and waited for 2 people to come out, so we could go in.   I spent all of that money to sit on a bench?   Disappointment!

That Brian Epstein tribute must have really been something to hear.   No one left it, and you could hear laughter and applause coming out from behind the locked doors.    How come I knew that this Fest was going to be huge?  I fully expected 10,000 people.   Did the Beatlefest people not expect the same?   At some point we decided to go and find something to eat (since we hadn't ate since breakfast), since we weren't getting in.   We found several other Fest goers at dinner that felt the same disappointment we were feeling.

We were able to get into the room to hear about the memories of the Ed Sullivan Show.   But where was the moderator?   It seems that no one planned for there to be a moderator for this panel.   That is one big difference I saw from this Fest and the Chicago one I am used to.   In Chicago the amazing Wally is the moderator for the entire time.   He sort of keeps things going.   At this Fest I think each panel was supposed to supply their own moderator, but if that was the case not everyone was aware of the fact.   Larry Kane (bless his heart) stepped up and took over.   Larry along with Vince Calandra and Irene Katz were on this panel.   Each of them had his or her own story about the Ed Sullivan show.   Let me just say that Vince was great!   This man should write a book or have a documentary done on him or something.   He had a story for everything and his stories were so engaging.    I wish Irene had been asked more questions, because I wanted to feature her on this blog.  (she had that sign that said "Elvis is Dead long live the Beatles")

Irene and Vince

Then it was time for yet another panel.   This one was with Ron Campbell, who is this amazing man who has animated everything classic cartoon that you can thing of, including the Beatles Saturday morning cartoon and the Yellow Submarine movie.    Mitch Axelrod, who wrote the book on the Saturday morning cartoons was the moderator and it was a really interesting interview.     By that time of the night, my brain and body were tired.   It was about 9pm and since we hadn't been into the shopping areas at all that day, we decided to go take a look around.   The Fest is supposed to stay open until midnight, but they were closing down the marketplace when we got there and we were told that we had to leave.   The main ballroom was extremely crowded and there wouldn't have been anywhere to sit or even stand at that point, so we walked back to our hotel.

February 9, 2014

I was looking forward to Sunday at the Fest.   There was an excitement in the air among the Beatle fans and I was so happy to be part of it all.

The day started out really awesome.   My mom and I stumbled upon a New York radio station broadcasting their Breakfast with the Beatles program live from the Fest.   The room where this was happening wasn't crowded at all and we were able to see and hear Billy J. Kramer perform, hear more of Vince's stories and see our friend, Jackie get interviewed plus hear great Beatles music.   It was really fun!

The Fest then officially began and we headed up to the main ballroom (most likely getting turned around along the way) and heard David Bedford talk about the Beatles in 1960.    Then we did some of the shopping that we weren't able to do the night before.

We had a decision to made.   Did we want to hear Mark Lewisohn's interview in the main ballroom or did we want to hear Julia Baird's interview in the smaller room?    Both of these were going on at the same time.    We ended up deciding to go with Julia because we were going to hear Mark later that night with the Fab 4 Free For All.   We knew that the smaller room was going to get filled up quickly and if we didn't get there early, we would find ourselves locked out again.   We we arrived early and got a good seat toward the front.   We saw some other Beatle pals around us and chatting with them while we waited.   The room filled up as we expected and we waited.   And we waited.    And Julia never showed up for her talk.   I am not sure exactly WHY this happened.  I just know that a room filled to capicity with people were all excited to hear this woman talk about her brother, and no one bothered to come in and inform us about what was going on.   And what was the word for the weekend?   Disappointment.

So we went into the large ballroom to hear Mark Lewisohn.    Of course, it was pretty crowded and the only seats were way in the back where it was hard to see and hear.   At this point I was jealous of my friends back in the mid-west that I knew were watching the live stream.   My least favorite interviewers of all time was interviewing Mark and I heard him ask Mark what his favorite subject in school was??  What did THAT have to do with writing the single best book about the Beatles?   I just couldn't take it anymore.   I couldn't listen to the interview.  I decided what I really wanted to do was meet Mark and tell him thank you for adding this blog to his links page.  

Here comes the worst part of the weekend.    My mom and I got into the short line that had started to form around Mark's table.   The tables were crowded right outside of the main ballroom and really wasn't the best place for people to que up for signing.    It was loud and crowded.    We had a misunderstanding with a man who was there.   I am sure you all know how things are in a line.   People aren't sure where the end of the line is and there is usually some overall confusion.    This man thought that my mom and I were addiment about cutting him in line.   I can see why he might have thought that.   In reality, we thought he was new to the line and asked where the end of the line was.  Suddenly something that wasn't supposed to be a big deal was blown up into this huge deal.   The man tells his friends how we are "typical Americans"  and if it was SOOOO important for us to be one person ahead, then we can just go ahead.    I really felt like he went on and on and on about it.  

It really upset me and it still does.    So if this person read this blog, I would like to tell him again that I am sorry for the misunderstanding.   You were more than welcome to get in front of me.  Really it wasn't a big deal.   It was just a misunderstanding and I am sorry that you think that I am a typical American (whatever that means) who had to get my way.     If I hadn't wanted to thank Mark Lewisohn so much, I would have gotten out of line and said forget it.    My mom tried to hug you and in a Beatle-fan way spread the peace and love of no hard feelings.     The bottom line was that my joy of being a Beatle fan was taken away by a little piece at that moment.  Aruging about queing is what I expect to happen at places like the train station or the airport or even Disney World.   I do not expect it to happen at a Beatles convention. 

So from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs I met Mark Lewisohn!  I was super nervous because I admire him so much and he was so kind to me.  He said the nicest things to me about this blog and I will cherish those words for the rest of my life.

Things then were on the upswing for me.   We saw that the line to get Donovan's autograph was short and we lucked out because the doors got locked just one person behind me.   So I did meet Donovan and shook his hand and he signed my copy of his autobiography.

In the smaller room there was a wonderful talk happening about John Lennon in 1972 with Gary Van Scyoc who was the bass player for the Elephant's Memory Band.   Any time I can hear someone who knew John Lennon talk, I am happy!  

Then we got to sit through the taping of the podcast of my all time favorite group of guys, The Fab 4 Free For all!   I think they are just so funny and whitty and geeky (in a good way).    I even got my question asked and they said it was Sarafest and had the room say hi to me.    Yes....silly things like that make me happy.

They were running behind in the main ballroom and so I managed to score us two decent seats for the big event.   Around 7:45pm those who were there in person and saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show came on stage and told some of their stories.   Then there was a count down, just like on new-years Eve to 8:00 and a big screen started to show the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.   Oh my goodness it was so exciting!  To be in this big ballroom at the exact moment 50 years later with all of these fans screaming.   It is just something you had to experience to believe.   By far that moment was one of my top 10 favorite moments as a Beatle fan.    Then Liverpool (not the Smithereens as written elsewhere) sang the set from the Ed Sullivan Show and it was just so much fun.  Everyone was singing and clapping along.  

After that excitement, Liverpool performed and we listened to them for a while, but it just wasn't holding our interest.   I wanted to find a group of people who were singing Beatles songs, but there weren't any to be found.   I also wanted to watch Ringo and Paul on the CBS T.V. special.   I would have thought that at Beatlefest they would have had a T.V. set up in one of the smaller rooms where you could watch it.   It would have really been a thrill to watch Ringo and Paul with everyone else.   But instead they told me that I should DVR it.  Really??   Like that even compares?   So at 9pm we went back to the hotel and watched it in the room.   I bet the people next door didn't like my screaming and singing, but who cares?   

So there you have it.   The 50th Anniversary Fest was full of emotions that were good and bad.   I struggled with what to share.   But I have always been honest with you all in sharing what occurs on my Beatles travels and I wasn't going to write something that made everyone feel happy just because I was on a panel and was there.   I am so glad that I went.   In the big picture, I had a great time.  I think I really put too high  of expectations on the weekend and ended up disappointed because it didn't live up to those expectations.


  1. I don't think your expectations were too high. It sounds to me like the whole thing was very poorly run and disorganized. But I guess we 'typical Americans' expect too much ;(

  2. Glad to hear someone else has the same poor opinion of the hotel as me! It was extremely confusing! I feel I missed out on so much, either not being able to find where something was being held, or not being able to get into the ballroom. I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the Cavern room, simply because I could usually find a seat there. Even the events in there were all screwed up: running late, having to skip some acts, having some totally un-interesting acts, instead (friends of the Fest head's daughter, mainly; and don't get me started on her..) As well as a lot of time just walking around the hotel trying to find or get in rooms. I don't think I got my money's worth, that's for sure. BTW, I attended the very first Fest at the old Commodore, and this new version is nothing like it. It was a grand, beautiful, spacious, classical hotel. Now it's all "Steel and Glass!"

    1. Yes, I do think that I wasted a lot of time trying to get into places and it was frustrating. I ended up spending most of my time in the room where the speakers were because, as you said, there was a seat. I never did go into the Cavern area. It just seemed a little too strange for my taste, but maybe I missed out. I really had a hard time figuring out how you get down there. I hope that hotel never hosts another convention.

  3. Sara, first off, the pictures are great! I love the one with you under the marquee, and of course, the one with Mark Lewhison! Bob Gruen is the best, he came up to me and my friend after we won the Battle of the Bands (in 1984!) and was so cool. Also, I didn't realize I have a long-lost friend who is a member of the Fab 4 Free 4 All! I have to contact him!

    But I totally understand everything you said that was not so good about the Fest, I would have been VERY angry if I had paid to get in and couldn't get a seat to the events I wanted to see. Happy I missed it, except that I didn't get a chance to see you!

    PS: Next time you're in town, let me know, I'll show you around! I certainly know where Letterman is shot!

  4. and... how did you meet john's sister?

    1. John's sister was signing her book in the room where things were being sold. I just asked her for a photograph. She was very sweet.

  5. Hi Miss Sara, i guess with a venue hosting 'extreme' people things are bound to get a little loco :-)

    Don't worry about the misunderstanding with the queue people, when things like that happen i just look upon it as street theatre, theatre of the bizarre, performance art .. however, i will say recently at the movies a group of American tourists blatently pushed in line in front of us, now .. i don't don't know what people know about Australians, but, lets just just say the pusherinerer's were swiftly educated in the ways of Australian manners :-)

    Wish i could have gone to the Fest, despite the hiccups it would be great to be in the same place as a lot of like minded people, and also a lot of unminded people :-)

    Any praise Mark gave you you totally deserve, this is easily my favorite blog on the web, after every view of yours i always wonder why i bother with my piddling effort.

    Tammy: Dutchess of Oven x