Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Abbey Road On The River

The WannaBeatles had been hearing about Abbey Road On The River, "The Largest Beatles Festival in the World," for years, and this year we finally went.

It happens every Memorial Day weekend in Louisville, Ky., which is less than three hours from Nashville. The river it's on is not the Mersey, but the Ohio.

Dozens of bands from around the world gather to play Beatles songs, along with hundreds of fans who share their enthusiasm, soaking up Beatles songs and "peace and love" vibrations, wearing their Beatles tee shirts. 

We were booked for three shows in two days, and we wanted to make a good impression, so WannaBeatle Dennis crafted themes for each show to emphasize something about us to set us apart from other bands. 

One show emphasized our ability to play the orchestral songs; an indoor show utilized videos, emphasizing Beatles history, in collaboration with our friend Richard Courtney; and the final show emphasized our original songs and Grammy story.
Here's the flyer we printed up, 4 1/4' x 5 1/2"

Because there are so many bands on several stages, the festival provides drums and amps for each band to use, to minimize transition time between shows. That meant we didn't have to bring drums and amps, so we didn't need a trailer.

We still had plenty of gear to carry, and after three days we became experts in packing it onto our various carts, getting in and out of elevators, and rolling over cables.

We had some help. We had our friend Lucy to help set up and attend the merch table, and our new intern Jessey to operate the power point on the Friday night show.

We had also designed and produced a pop-up banner to display by our mercy table, which we were using for the first time at AROTR. 


AROTR is an outdoor festival, which makes it dependent on weather. The day we arrived, Thursday May 21, was colder than expected. 

We arrived in downtown Louisville, checked into the Galt House, and noticed all the horse imagery - this is where people come to attend the Kentucky Derby, so the Galt House has horses painted all over its parking lot, and a bar called Jockey Silks. 

Entering the lobby, we could feel the mood of the festival as we checked in. Behind us in line were a couple from Detroit, who had come for the festival. We handed them our flyer.

Nathan, Lucy, Gary and Linda from Detroit, and Dennis

We went to the check-in room to receive our wrist bands and laminate passes, then outside the hotel to hear the music.

The Galt House is actually two buildings on two adjacent blocks, joined by a walkway on the third floor.

Here's a view of the Ohio River from the Galt House walkway 

We had come a day early in order to check out Hal Bruce, who is famous for performing an abbreviated medley of 200 Beatles songs. He performs alone with acoustic guitar, and does a great job of providing all the essentials from each song.  

We heard some old favorites we'd never tried, like "Glass Onion" and "What You're Doing." We were impressed by his acoustic version of the massive orchestral swell at the middle of "Day In The Life."

We also saw Mario DeSilva, a Nashville friend and fine guitarist, who was there as a performer. 

Bundled up band at box office sign

It was too cold to stay outside for long. We retreated to the room, and then headed up Fourth Street for supper. 

David, Nathan, Lucy and Dennis ready 
for our walking tour of downtown Louisville

An artfully designed trash receptacle

Banner on downtown street post - 
advertising 60 bands, 7 stages, 5 days - 
that's a lot of shows to produce.

We ate at Chipotle. Almost too hip.

We found out there are several ways 
to pronounce "Louisville."

One of the most famous people to come from Louisville is Muhammed Ali. They have a Muhammed Ali Blvd. and a large Muhammed Ali Center downtown, where several AROTR events were staged. 

The Ali Center is a modern building with colorful tiles arranged along its sides, in a seemingly random pattern. As it turned out, we had a view from our hotel room of the Ali Center, and could see from a distance that the tiles were arranged in a series of poses of the boxer. The images are barely visible, but still there.

View of Ali center from room 523

Because we had time to review some parts, Dennis and I rehearsed a bit in the hotel room.

Going over the flute and recorder parts for "Fool On The Hill"


Friday we entered the performance mode. Our show was at 2:15 pm, so around noon we wheeled our gear to the fountain stage, then took advantage of the free lunch at the "commissary" set up behind the main stage. 

We set up our merch table on the side of the square in front of the fountain stage. Fortunately, the weather was a lot better than the previous day - sunny and clear.

Our new banner - its first day in public

We assembled our gear behind the stage, where a band from Brazil, Fab Girls, were performing a set before us.They are four ladies in red coats doing a fine job of playing Beatles songs, from "Lovely RIta" to "Don't Let Me Down."  

Fab Girls at fountain stage

We were wearing our "Shea Stadium" shirts. Lucy got this photo of us, with a mobile yellow submarine in front of the stage.

That afternoon, we were interviewed by John Meyers, who is writing a book on tribute bands. He's an ethnomusicologist, a musician who diverted to the academic track. He wrote his dissertation on tribute bands, and is now expanding it into a book. 

Friday night was our indoor show, up on the sixth floor of the Ali Center, which gave us a new perspective. 

The view of the festival from the Ali Center, sixth floor

Banner on sixth floor with view of river
Onstage with Richard Courtney

Attending our show was Tony Bramwell, known to Beatles fans as a childhood friend of George Harrison, who ended up working with Brian Epstein during the sixties, and writing a classic memoir called "Magical Mystery Tour." 

We gathered after the show in the lounge with Richard and Tony. We had missed the late show from Sixty Four, who were performing the entire White Album, but after their show, Mark Townsend, their guitarist, came through the lounge, and we got to talk to him for a while.
Richard, Tony, Dennis & Bryan after the show 

It was nearly 2:00 am when we finally got to bed.


Our final show was another outdoor show, this time on a beautiful sunny day at the plaza outside the Ali Center. We had to check out of our rooms by noon, so we took all our clothes along with our gear on our carts, then rolled it across the festival grounds to the Ali Center.

The lads, with cardboard Paul, among our carts & gear

The plaza outside the Ali Center is like a small amphitheater, with seats arranged in a semicircle. It was a good place to play. 
Lucy & Tony confer as Bryan & Dennis setup before show

Lucy, our Nashville friend Sheryl, Bryan & Tony
Bryan, our Nashville friend Sheryl, Tony & Lucy

Again, our show was preceded by a set from Fab Girls, and this time they were even better than the day before. 

Fab Girls onstage 

Fab Girls getting into it

We had a larger and more receptive crowd than the day before, and we really hit the ground running. We opened with "All About The Music," and it never sounded so good. I did my wireless guitar wander-into-the-audience thing, which helped engage the crowd. 

One indication of the energy we experienced was during "I Want To Hold Your Hand," when three of the Fab Girls came out in front of the stage to do the hand claps. That was a great example of how bands become fans of each other in the whirlwind schedule of a festival, especially a festival dedicated to the music of one amazing band. 

After us came Sixty Four, the other Beatles band from Nashville. They were performing with two other guys from Holland, called LSB Experience, friends they had made at previous editions of AROTR. 

We had a lot of gear to pack and load onto our carts, and carry to our cars in the parking lot. 

We were tired but gratified from our one final show, as we loaded the cars and headed home to Nashville.

There's nothing like Abbey Road On The River, and we're glad we did it. Thanks to Lucy and Nathan for the extra pictures, and all the fine audio technicians and staff who helped run the festival.

Bloggin' Bryan 27May2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

HIlton Head

The WannaBeatles had played at Sun City Hilton Head, an upscale resort in Bluffton, S.C. near Savannah, twice before. This year they invited us to play at their 20th anniversary party, which occurred May 9.

Having driven to Savannah only two weeks previously, for the Cousin Janet party (see Bloggin' Bryan April 28), we felt like seasoned road warriors. After lengthy discussion (a WannaBeatles tradition,) considering the comparable advantages of driving Nathan's van with a trailer, vs. renting a larger van with room for equipment, we finally settled on renting a Toyota Tundra, with a 5 x 8 U-Haul trailer attached.

The Tundra is a comfortable pickup with an extended cab, a massive V-8 engine, a 6 speed transmission, and a trailer hitch. And WannaBeatle Dennis got us a good deal (another WannaBeatle tradition.)

WannaBeatle David is our resident expert on long hauls, having made the longer trip from Miami to Nashville repeatedly. He also appreciates fine machinery. In his estimation, the Tundra effortlessly "eats up the road," so he was happy to serve as our driver the whole way down and back. We made good time. 

Here's a view of our outdoor stage at Sun City, with the Tundra and U-Haul behind. Clouds indicate likelihood of rain.

We met Brian and Lance, our monitor and sound guys. Brian led us through an orderly and professional monitor check, which helped us get our sound together. 

Brian and Lance at soundboard

There was a brief rain shower during the afternoon, but soon the sun was out and everyone was ready to go.

A view of the crowd with the sun out

They told us that two thousand tickets had been sold.

Dennis during setup on stage

A set of steps was added to the front of the stage to allow for WannaBeatle Bryan to do his wandering into the audience during certain guitar solos.

The 20th anniversary party included several different vendors who provided food and drink.

Moe's mobile diner - our delicious dinner that evening
Brian, the kettle corn guy

Moe's Southwest Diner has two local locations; Island Kettle Corn is independently owned by Brian Zettlemeyer. 

Nathan and monitor man Brian at stage

There were colorful patriotic banners festooning the stage. (This is the first time the word "festooning" has been used in this blog. You're welcome.)

Experienced readers of this blog will recognize the appearance of the monkey on WannaBeatle Bryan's red guitar, and this way of saying hello to granddaughter Ella, who provided that playful sticker.

WannaBeatle David took this panorama shot of the entire area in front, beside, and behind the stage, including a view of the tennis courts. 

We played for the last remaining 90 minutes of daylight, which was followed by a fireworks display. Playing outdoors gave it a festival atmosphere. We had dancers forming lines, and  one man who did his own psychedelic interpretation of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" in front of the stage.

After the fireworks, we packed up with Brian and Lance and went back to our rooms at the nearby Candlewood Suites, ending a satisfying Saturday.


Sunday morning we rose knowing we had a long drive back to Nashville. 

Dennis had commented the previous day, "We've been to Hilton Head three times, and all we see is the hotel and the venue. I want to see the beach." We didn't really have time for anything other than setting up and playing on Saturday. 

So Sunday morning, after some discussion (a WannaBeatles tradition,) it was determined that rather than heading straight home, we could head 12 miles east and visit the beach. 

It was worth it. Hilton Head is a beautiful destination, we had free parking, and it was a beautiful morning.

It was a couple of blocks from our free parking place to the beach, along a winding wooden walkway among tropical trees.

We'd heard the sand on the beach was packed down hard, so that people could ride bicycles along the beach. 

Dennis, Nathan and David on the beach

Once we saw the ocean, WannaBeatle Bryan couldn't resist taking off his shoes and getting his feet wet. We asked someone to take a picture of all four of us, then we texted it to our various mothers as a modern Mother's Day greeting.

Guys on the beach, saying Happy Mother's Day

WannaBeatle Dennis couldn't resist acting silly. 

Dennis at fountain

Dennis helping Bryan with his shoe

We only had a few minutes at the beach, but it was beautiful. Then it was back to the Tundra, and David driving us back up to Nashville. 

WannaBeatle Nathan took this shot of us stopping at McDonalds for breakfast.

WannaBeatles at McDonald's, making up their mind

It was a long way down and back, but a beautiful time at Hilton Head, thanks to Sun City, at least two Brians, and a fine Tundra pickup.

The WannaBeatles are grateful for our travel opportunities, and looking forward to Abbey Road on the River this weekend in Louisville.

-Bloggin' Bryan 20May2015