Reader, I made it.
I’m back in Edmonton now, still riding the high that started last Friday night when I first walked into the ballroom foyer at the LAX Marriott. As I predicted last week, my pre-Fest expectations have been far-and-away exceeded. I danced. I sang. I shopped. I did a little yoga and a lot of smiling. I even got in a bit of sightseeing. At one point on Saturday night I found myself standing in a room with Billy J. Kramer on one side and Freda Kelly on the other, having a conversation as if I weren’t just some prairie girl blown in by the Santa Ana winds from the wilds of western Canada. I hope I projected some kind of calm, cool collectedness on the exterior because I was in a state of total starry-eyed disbelief. Is this real life? I asked myself. How did I get here?
What a truly wonderful experience.
I’d love to say that participating in my very first discussion panel was the definitive topper, and it’s true that it certainly ranks among one of the best moments of my professional life, but I’m not entirely sure that this whole weekend hasn’t been one giant highlight reel for me as I took in my very first (but hopefully not my last) Fest for Beatles Fans.
I spent the first night of the Fest getting acquainted with the layout of the hotel space and the various rooms being used; I was extremely glad for the program guide in my hand detailing which rooms contained what, or else I would have gotten lost. I spent a good deal of time in the Marketplace and the massive Fest Store, browsing the stalls filled with memorabilia and collectibles and meeting with so many of the authors whose books I’ve been reading for years now. It would have been easy to spend all day picking everything over — and I freely admit that I dropped some considerable coin rounding out my vintage vinyl and book collections — but these were just two rooms out of many, and time was ticking…
Wandering the hallways and getting my bearings took up most of that first night. I located the rooms where all the major discussions would be happening and explored a few of the other rooms purposefully dedicated to photographs and original artwork from various artists — Nancy Lee Andrews, Rob Shanahan, Patrick Carney, and Jon Blosdale of Dennilu — including the art contest room overseen by Deco Freeman, all of which were a lot of fun to browse through. My Friday night ended in the main ballroom with the perennial Fest favorite, the ’60s dance party. I spent a while in there, soaking it in — it’s not every day I get to party like it’s 1969. Before I realized it, it was past 11pm, and Fest founder Mark Lapidos was taking the stage to tell the story about how it all began back in 1974. It was an amazing and truly inspirational story; I can’t imagine ever getting tired of hearing it!
I admit that Saturday was a bit of a blur — I blame the nerves preceding our panel. But I did take in a few supremely informative and engaging discussion panels, both before and after the women’s historian panel took place. The Modern Drummer Drum Symposium over on the Blue Jay Way Stage was spectacular. I caught some of the first half of the film I Wanna Hold Your Hand in the Beatles Video Room and saw the end of the Fest staff’s performance of “Pyramus and Thisbe” out in the Outdoor Pavilion. I gaped in awestruck wonder at the section of the wall from The Ed Sullivan Show, signed by all four Beatles on that momentous February night fifty years ago, that was on display in the Marketplace. I sat in on discussions with Angie and Ruth McCartney, Julia Baird, Bruce Spizer, Al Sussman, Tom Frangione, Lou Simon, and Dave Morrell, and I caught nearly all of the second half of the mini-Wings reunion with Denny Laine, Laurence Juber, and Denny Seiwell in the main ballroom. And that was all before I sat down to eat supper. Post-meal entertainment was found in the main ballroom, where Liverpool played us out into the wee hours for the second night in a row and with a little help from their friends Joey Molland, Billy J. Kramer, Mark Rivera and Mark Hudson as well as the Wings trifecta. Utterly unforgettable.
Sunday was a quieter day, on account of my own mounting fatigue. I joked with more than one person that the next step in my caffeine addiction would be to start mainlining the stuff, which I was certain I’d have to do before the end of the weekend. But I pushed on, because there was too much amazing stuff to stop. I found a comfortable spot in the main ballroom to catch talks from Jude Southerland Kessler, David Bedford, and the lovely Freda Kelly before being blown away by Peter Asher’s Musical Memoir of the ’60s and an acoustic set with Laurence Juber that blew my mind and moved me to tears, quite literally. Bambi Kino rocked hard on the Pavilion patio all afternoon (and drew curious onlookers from the hotel concourse high above the entire time). I bounced around from place to place without pausing for rest all afternoon, but at one point wandered into a (much-needed) yoga session down in the Ashram, which rejuvenated me enough to allow me to push through to the finale with Liverpool later that evening, who once again shared the stage with literally every other main stage musical act at the Fest over the weekend. It all ended with a rousing and traditional sing-a-long to “Hey Jude” that I was so sorry I had to miss — but an early flight home on Monday morning was my next big event, and I had to suitcases to pack.
In all, it was a remarkable weekend. I know I didn’t see everything I wanted to see — far from it! — but I hope I’ll soon have many more Fests to make up for it. Regardless, now and forever, the 2014 Los Angeles Fest for Beatles Fans will hold a very special place in my heart, and not only because it was my first. Not only did I get to experience the congregation of thousands of Beatles fans in one hotel conference centre for a whole weekend, I finally put faces to the dozens and dozens of names of Beatles friends — old and new — that I only knew from online discussion forums, some going back 10 years or more. Everywhere I turned, I was met with the same face-achingly wide smile that I knew I wore as well. And I became part of the much larger Beatles family into which I feel I was born but from whom I had been separated by a quirk of geography for so many years. It was absolutely like coming home.
Words cannot express my gratitude to the Lapidos family and the Fest staff for keeping this amazing event going for 40 years, and to the LAX Marriott for allowing the event to go forward, bringing the love to SoCal after a 14 year long absence. Words also can’t express the feeling I had when I realized that the multitude of people I met this weekend had The Beatles in their blood just like me; that these were people with The Beatles bonded to their base pairs just like mine. I was so sad to leave you all.
But if it’s true what they said about the end, then we made enough love in one weekend to carry us through the cold winter ahead until we meet again.
Advice to a Fest Newbie:
– If you’re traveling to the Fest, especially by plane, pack light. You’ll buy shit. And then you have to bring it home. (I was *thisclose* to having an overweight bag!)
– Hydrate! Especially if you’ll be imbibing adult bevvies at any point during the weekend.
– Bring a camera (or phone) with enough memory to hold the photos you’ll want to take. Especially if you’re a shutterbug. You don’t want to be standing frustratedly outside the ballroom, furiously deleting old photos to make room for new ones because you ran out of space in the middle of Peter Asher’s set…
– Grab a guide and absolutely make a game plan, setting out the things you want to see…
– …but be prepared for that to go absolutely by the wayside by the second hour, as you find everything else on the program calling your name.
– Or just clone yourself so you can actually see it all!
(Photos by Danny Abriano and Carol Lapidos via the Fest for Beatles Fans on Facebook)