The Fest For Beatles Fans is back in New York City celebrating two historic anniversaries. The three-day Fest, set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday -- February 7th, 8th, and 9th -- falls on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landing in America and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. The event, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, will be held at mid-town's Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Station, which sits on the same exact spot as the old Commodore Hotel -- the home of the Fest during the original convention -- then called Beatlefest -- in September 1974.
February's 2014 Fest For Beatles Fans features numerous Beatles insiders, collaborators, friends, confidantes and historians. Among the notable guests appearing for the "Fab's" 50th anniversary will be Paul McCartney's right hand man in Wings for a decade, Denny Laine, Donovan; John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird; Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon fame before becoming head of A&R for Apple Records and discovering James Taylor; Prudence Farrow -- this sister of actress Mia Farrow, who was the inspiration for the Beatles' classic "Dear Prudence," written by John Lennon while in India; renowned Beatles author Mark Lewisohn; Chad & Jeremy; Billy J. Kramer; Ringo Starr's former producer Mark Hudson, John Lennon photographers Bob Gruen and Allan Tannenbaum; Freda Kelly -- the Beatles' fan club secretary and the subject of the critically acclaimed new documentary, Good Ol' Freda; Gary van Scyoc and Adam Ippolito from John Lennon's early-'70s backing band Elephants Memory; musician Mark Rivera -- best known for his role in the Billy Joel band over the decades as well as a mainstay in Ringo Starr's All Starr Band -- and the only person appearing at the Fest who was part of the band that backed John Lennon during his final live performance in 1975 -- among numerous other authors and guests.
- The Fest, which is the longest running Beatles fan convention, also features a live evening concert, numerous panel discussions and Q&A sessions with the guests, an extensive flea market selling rare and one-of-a-kind items, group sing-a-longs, non-stop Beatles and solo videos, a battle of the bands, a karaoke Beatles recording studio, a Beatles museum, a puppet show for kids -- as well as the new Gretsch George Harrison and Interactive 3D Beatles Instruments exhibits, and much, much more.
- In addition to the performances on the main stage in the hotel ballroom, a new side club -- dubbed "The Cavern" -- will be introduced this year to spotlight modern musicians, along with fashion and graphic designers. A New York City walking tour and a trip to JFK airport to relive the Beatles' historic landing is also in offering.
- Fest producer Mark Lapidos was asked to shed some light on the fact that after 40 years and dozens upon dozens of Fests around the country, his and wife Carole's Beatles convention is still going strong: "We keep going on and going on like the bunny rabbit, I guess. I always said, way back, people kept saying" 'How long is this going to last?' I said, 'Well as long as people come and enjoy themselves. . . ." And who the heck knew that 40 years later, we'd still be doing it. But, for this anniversary, actually Carole said, 'Why don't we try New York City -- go back?' We said, 'Why don't we do the exact dates? 'Cause it falls on -- Friday's a February 7th this year and back in 1964."
- We asked Lapidos about when he actually committed himself to the idea of producing the first convention, then known as Beatlefest: "It was just sort of something that I had to sit with from Thanksgiving '73, when I thought about it, until early-'74, and I said, 'Why not?' I said, 'I'm not going to do it without their support. One of the first two questions people are gonna ask me: 'Where and when is it going to be?' So, 'found the Commodore Hotel for September 7th and 8th, took my own savings and booked it. My thought process was -- getting through to the Beatles. So, I sent them all notes, letters, cassette letters, 'cause I wanted to hear from them and say. 'Okay, it's a great idea."
- Lapidos recalled the day he personally got John Lennon's blessing to launch the first annual Beatles fan convention: "April 26th, 1974, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were going to be in Central Park, talking and supporting the March of Dimes. Right after John and Harry appeared, I went across the street, it was right there the Sherry Netherland (hotel), I believe. And (I) just walked up to the room, knocked on the door, (and) Harry Nilsson opened the door. And I sat down and told John my whole idea, and he said the famous quote, he said, 'I'm all for it. I'm a Beatles fan too.' I will never, ever forget that."
- Denny Laine was the sole member of Wings to span the band's decade-long run. He recalled the early summer 1971 phone call from McCartney asking him to help form the group: "Y'know, he was looking for people he could get on with and people who would go on in the future with new ideas. So he just called up and said, 'Paul here, do you fancy getting a band together?"
- Laine recalled that as a member of the Moody Blues, one of the benefits of his early friendship with the Beatles was previewing their new music and films on a regular basis: "You gotta remember, I spent a lot of time with the Beatles. They used to come over to our house and play us their demos, and we used to go over to their houses. I was at John (Lennon's) house when they got back from Shea Stadium to watch that footage."
- Bob Gruen took some of the most important and legendary shots of Lennon's New York City years. Because of their friendship, Gruen was able to have access to Lennon during one of the lowest points in his solo career: "When I first met him in the early-'70s with the Elephant's Memory, there was a lot of tequila involved. We referred to them as the 'tequila sessions.' We were all drinking quite a bit; there's other things that go along with drinking a lot that keep you awake and keep you going when you're doing that. We were all pretty whacked out of our heads. When I saw him in the summer of '74, after Los Angeles, he was beginning to clean up his act. Those sessions for the Walls And Bridges album, it was kinda noticeable that there wasn't a lot of booze in the studio."
- Beatlefan magazine's Tom Frangione will once again be manning the trivia contests and told us that whichever way you cut it, Paul McCartney represents the last real flicker of the Beatles' magic: "His critics will say he tries to re-write history; he has taken on through circumstance -- maybe not by desire -- but certainly by circumstance the role of. . . the legacy and the keeper of the flame."
- Robert Rodriguez, author of the Beatles Solo In The '70s, Revolver - How The Beatles Reimagined Rock 'N' Roll and his two groundbreaking Beatles FAQ books, explained that Extra Texture at first made for a confusing listen for Beatles fans: "For a lot of people, when they're first hearing of anything from that album, was the 'You' single -- which is this great, upbeat, joyous sounding record. And then if they they then bought the album. . . it's this album's worth of nothing else that sounds like that on the album. It is an R&B record. It's very soulful, very blue, and I think it disappointed people who were expecting to find another single on it. And certainly there might have been, at the time, this sort of lingering, from the (1974) Dark Horse tour, this perception of George, y'know, not being at his best. Y'know, maybe they were just so disenfranchised with the Harrison persona at the time that they weren't even gonna cut him any slack."
- Although none of the Beatles have ever appeared at the Fest, all four members have periodically donated personal memorabilia for the Fest's charity auctions, which have raised well over $100,000 over the years.
- In addition to the New York City convention, the Fest For Beatle Fans takes also takes place annually in Chicago (August 15th -17th, 2014) and will return to Los Angeles in 2014 (October 10th - 12th). Over the years the Fest has also taken place in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Orlando, and Atlanta.
- The convention kicks off at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Friday, February 7th at 5 p.m. and wraps up at on Sunday, February 9th at Midnight. To purchase tickets and for more info, log on to TheFest.com.
CHECK IT OUT: A clip from Welcome To Pepperland, Mark Lapidos' film of the first Beatlefest in 1974:
CHECK IT OUT: Scenes from Chicago's 2011 Fest For Beatles Fans:
Robert Rodriguez On George Harrison's 'Extra Texture'
Mark Lapidos On The Fest For Beatles Fans Returning To NYC
Mark Lapidos On Starting Beatlefest
Mark Lapidos On John Lennon Endorsing Beatlefest
Denny Laine On Being Picked For Wings
Denny Laine On The Moody Blues Hanging Out With The Beatles
Bob Gruen On John Lennon In The Studio
Tom Frangione On Paul McCartney Keeping The Beatles' Legacy Alive