The Fest For Beatles Fans, originally known as Beatlefest, began in New York City 42 years ago and has been going strong there ever since.
Shortly after its New York debut, which came with John Lennon’s blessing, the Fest also started having yearly conventions in Chicago, where it celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare.
I’ve been attending the Fest since I was four years old and have been working for them for the last three years on social media, communications, planning and more, so the awesomeness of it is ingrained in me. For those who have never attended a Fest, though, it’s truly something that needs to be experienced to be understood.
And if you’re a Beatles fan who lives anywhere near New York or Chicago and haven’t gotten yourself to a Fest yet, remedying that should be at the top of your list.
Before going into details, here’s the gist…
The Fest – which was founded by Mark Lapidos, who still produces each one – takes place each March or April in the New York Metro area and each August in Chicago, running from Friday to Sunday, with every single event and activity included in the price of admission.
If you’re only spending one day at the Fest (many fans spend the entire weekend there, staying over at the aforementioned hotel), you might not be able to see everything, but the highlights include…
Special guests, which in Chicago will include Klaus Voormann (recorded with all four Beatles, designed the Revolver cover), Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon, legendary producer), Joey Molland of Badfinger, guitar virtuoso Albert Lee and Ringo Starr’s former producer Mark Hudson.
All of the above guests except Voormann will be performing in their own concerts over the weekend, telling stories of their experiences with the Beatles and mingling with fans. But their presence just scratches the surface of what the Fest is all about.
Other events and activities at the Fest include the Battle of the Beatles Bands, the Giant International Beatles Marketplace, Beatles Yoga and Transcendental Meditation, the Beatles Art Contest, movie screenings and an all-day video room, the FABoratory Beatles experimental zone, Beatles art exhibits, an interactive 3D Paul McCartney exhibit, panels and discussions with Beatles authors and historians, the Beatles sound-alike contest, puppet shows, the Beatles parade and the Apple Jam stage – a second stage where local acts will be playing Beatles-centric shows Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday.
While all of that Beatleness is going on throughout the hotel, the Main Stage goes strong each day with concerts from the musical guests listed above, The Weeklings, School of Rock Chicago and many others. There are also charity raffles and Beatles auctions on this stage, appearances by George Harrison’s sister, Louise, the world premiere of the Mad Day Out book, whose photographer took snaps of the Beatles in 1968 and lots more.
The highlight of each night is the concert by Liverpool – truly the greatest Beatles tribute band in the world – whose performances are strictly music-based. Translation? These guys don’t dress up or talk like the Beatles, since true Beatles fans shouldn’t be infantilized.
Liverpool’s focus is on note-for-note covers of Beatles hits and lesser-known (if you’re a die-hard fan there’s no such thing as lesser known) cuts, which they attack with the same ferocity and drive of the Fab Four.
This year, Liverpool will be playing Revolver in full as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of that groundbreaking album, while also be playing dozens of other Beatles cuts and jamming with the Fest’s special musical guests – and their Saturday and Sunday concerts feature a light show. And raucous Grand Jam finales where some of the fans are pulled up on stage.
But even with all of the incredible things going on at the Fest, one of the most integral parts of it – and a big reason why fans keep coming back year after year – is the communal feeling.
When I tell people about the Fest, their most common reaction is to ask if it’s akin to a convention at the Javits Center or similar to Comic Con. No. This is more like a three-day party that invites you in, eventually engulfs you and makes you wish it would never end.
From when the Fest kicks off on Friday until it technically ends late Sunday night, fans gather throughout the hotel for small and large jam sessions. And decorate their hotel room doors with all things Beatles. And dance. And party.
So, from the time you walk into the Fest until the time you leave, no matter where you are in the hotel or what time it is, there will be Beatles music in the air while like-minded Beatles fanatics celebrate the continuing power of the greatest band in history. What more could you possibly ask for?