We could never be Mick Jagger. Not with those Goodyear lips and that line of models outside the bedroom door. We couldn't ever really be Elvis either: His hips were pneumatic; ours are more of the hand-pump variety.
But we could all be the Beatles. In Ringo Starr's big schnoz, George Harrison's introversion, John Lennon's wounded wit, and Paul McCartney's equally daft and disarming demeanor, we can see ourselves. Maybe that's why, more than any other band, the Beatles have inspired so many to take after them.
"I was eight years old, and after we saw them, we were blown away," says Jim "Ringo" Martin, drummer for British Export, a Chicago-based Beatles tribute band. His first dose of the Beatles, like that of many others, was the band's first appearance on Ed Sullivan in 1964. "Immediately after the show, we went downstairs, put on these dustmop wigs, got tennis rackets, and started imitating them. It was the beginning of my wanting to be a Beatle."
Close to 40 years later, Martin is still at it -- and he's hardly alone. There are more than 700 Beatles tribute bands making the rounds, and plenty of them will be in Cleveland for the inaugural Abbey Road on the River fest, which will feature close to 200 performers covering Beatles material from every point in the band's career. There'll also be the Magical Mystery Film Festival, a screening of every Beatles movie and several documentaries; an unveiling of four murals by famed Beatles artist Shannon; a tribute to George Harrison at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; a Penny Lane Art Festival; and plenty more attractions, spread out over three days at Nautica Pavilion, beginning Friday, August 9.
"This is going to be the biggest thing outside of Liverpool," says Patty Seckers, a Lakewood resident and lifelong Beatles fan who works with the tribute band Hard Day's Night. "I've been to the Liverpool convention for the last 10 years, and this is the only place where you will see bands and live music all day -- that's what Liverpool does. It's going to touch so many people. I'm so excited about it."
Perhaps it's fitting that it all takes place in Cleveland -- a town whose lived-in, industrial feel and callused exterior mirror that of Liverpool. Maybe that's why the Beatles, though beloved everywhere, go over particularly well here. Local promoter Gary Jacobs, head of GMJ Events, discovered that years ago.
"I started the Rib Cook-Off, and every couple of years, I'd throw a Beatles tribute band onstage against all the other big acts that we had, and they would always hold their own against Gloria Estefan, Willie Nelson -- it didn't matter," Jacobs says. "Beatles tribute bands, look-alikes as they were, were always equally popular, and that kind of stuck in my head."
Jacobs began work on Abbey Road last August, and the news quickly spread throughout the rabid Beatles underground -- a world of obsessive hobbyists prone to coughing up paycheck-sized sums for a single brick from an early Beatles stamping ground. Unlike most Fab Four gatherings, though, Abbey Road is more about the music than the memorabilia. And not surprisingly, it will draw fans from all over the world.
"We have people coming from Germany, California, Louisiana, six or seven different groups from Canada, Massachusetts, Maine," Jacobs says. "We'll do a thousand out-of-towners this year."
Maybe the most striking thing about the Beatles is the way they've inspired generations and genres like no one else in history. Fittingly, Jacobs has enlisted a slew of eclectic artists -- including local jazzbo Roberto Ocasio and bluesman Colin Dussault -- to complement the traditional Beatles tributes.
"I don't think many people have ever heard Beatles music interpreted by 30 African American voices," laughs Herb Thomas, founder/producer of the Prayer Warriors, a Cleveland neo-gospel ensemble that's slated to play. "The Beatles' music translates to every generation; the stuff continues to find new life. 'Give Peace a Chance' is probably needed more now than when it was written. This is a great, feel-good kind of thing."