London Beatles Festival promises info on Fab Four in addition to tribute bands, awards

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Even all these decades later, The Beatles are inescapable.

You may think there’s nothing new to discover about the storied British band, but London’s Beatles Festival — Friday to Sunday at various downtown venues — is an attempt to demonstrate there’s life left yet in the Fab Four’s much-covered back catalogue.

Especially if you missed them the first time around because you weren’t alive.

“When I’m around all these speakers, my gosh, you got some true Beatles fans,” festival director Paul Rivard said of the special guests who will be appearing as part of the festival’s lineup of speakers and tribute bands. “What are we all learning (about the Beatles)? It doesn’t stop.”

“If I have time myself, I will certainly go into a couple of them,” Rivard added of the presentations being staged at places like Wolf Performance Hall, which is being rebranded for the weekend as the Ed Sullivan Theatre, the New York landmark where the Beatles broke in America during a live edition of the veteran broadcaster’s show.

And the beer tent will be, what else, the Octopus’s Beer Garden. The Jack Richardson London Music Awards Hall of Fame, meanwhile, will become the Fab Fourum.

Now in its second year, the goal of the event, Rivard says, is to be to the Beatles what the ski town of Collingwood became to Elvis Presley: a headquarters, a central point for fans to meet and focus their energy.

“We estimated about 5,500,” Rivard said of attendance last September, the first year of the festival. “We are expecting double, if not triple that.”

Attendees will be able to watch tribute bands of both varieties: Those that try to capture the band’s musical essence and those that attempt to reproduce the group’s look and sound.

“We don’t do jumpsuits. We may do Sgt. Pepper suits,” Rivard joked. That’s because this year marks 50 years since the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Among the acts taking the stage this weekend are the Rattles, Reunion, the Fabfour, Dan the Man, Dear John, Bangladesh, Beatlemania Revisited and Ringer Starr. Basically Basie is a big-band tribute to their music.

This also will be the first time the International Beatles Tribute Awards have been handed out.

Rivard says there are dozens of similar festivals in the U.S.

He’s not worried his event is up against that other fall classic. “We’re not concerned about the Western Fair,” he said, which opens this weekend.

Festival goers may ponder such important questions as: Who was the better songwriter, John Lennon or Paul McCartney?

The right answer, as all true fans know, is George Harrison.

Speaking of Harrison, also attending the event will be John Rowlands, the Forest City photographer who befriended Harrison and took pictures of rock icons such as David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.

“The bulk of what I’m doing is a little background on my photography,” Rowlands said of his presentation. Most people want to know, “What was it like? What were they like?”

“Total assimilation to life and the end of life was all about George. The dark horse, the mystic one,” Rowlands said of the Beatle who later went on to start the tradition of rock benefit concerts with his Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.

Rowlands first met the Beatles in 1965. Harrison struck him as a regular guy, his biggest hobby being landscaping and his vice being race cars.

“I got to know him in 1974 as a musician,” Rowlands said, adding Harrison knew being a Beatle set him apart. “Certainly, he was very conscious of it all.”

They even spoke of the attempt on Harrison’s life in 1999.

Harrison spoke of how, in an instant, he had prepared himself to die when the intruder broke into his home. And the oddness and randomness of the situation didn’t escape him. Who would have ever thought, he asked Rowlands during one of their transatlantic phone calls, that a Beatle would die of a stab wound in the lobby of his house? But it wasn’t to be. He lived on.

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What: Second Beatles Festival

When: Friday to Sunday

Where: Various venues downtown

Tickets: Festival pass is $35 for weekend at Octopus’s Beer Garden or $20 for the full day. Some non-ticketed concerts free — check the website for details on individual events

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The Caverners play Friday night at 8 p.m. at Wolf Performance Hall.

The FabFour opening ceremonies are Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Abbey Road stage at Clarence and Dundas streets.

The Rattles play Octopus’s Beer Garden as a Saturday matinee tribute at 3 p.m.

30-piece London Community Orchestra backs Jeremy Wright performing with full band and George Harrison and Paul McCartney tributes Sunday at 8 p.m.

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