House of Blues hosted the 11th annual New Orleans Beatles Festival, the third one I’ve attended. It seems hard to believe that the Beatles debuted their first album, Please Please Me, in the UK 50 years ago. Next year will commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Beatles coming to America. Oddly enough, the band made a stop on that tour to play the stadium in City Park for $5 a ticket. Their only request was to meet the legendary Fats Domino, which they did.
Beatles Fest is the brainchild of guitarist and Beatles enthusiast Chuck Credo IV, son of retired Assistant District Attorney Judge Chuck Credo III and grandchild of Jazz Clarinetist Chuck Credo Jr. Several New Orleans bands are joined by other musicians and singers for nearly 4 hours of Beatles music, swaying hips, tapping feet and singing along. Jimmy Robinson once again opened the show with his unique guitar plucking, strumming and slapping. Then the Topcats drummer, Robert Schulte, joined him with bongos.
It didn’t take long to reset the stage for 80’s tribute band, the Molly Ringwalds. Last year, their set of 80’s former-Beatles songs included songs by John Lennon and the McCartney/Michael Jackson duet, Say, Say, Say. This year, they only played Wings songs and the effect was less successful. As it turns out, young people know many, many Beatles songs but very few Wings songs.
The Topcats were next to take the stage and the video screens transported us back to those first moments when Ed Sullivan introduced a generation to their favorite band. One of my favorite photos of my father is of him all young and silly strumming a guitar with “mop top” hair. The best part of Beatles Fest is the crowd of people from 21-80 singing along and the Topcats took us through decades of hit songs we all knew the words to.
The Topcats were first joined by Yat Pack crooner, Tim Shirah. With Donny Osmond looks and a velvet voice, he was a welcome addition to the evening. Organizer Chuck Credo added his guitar most of the evening and played from the heart. Like most of the night’s performers, he genuinely loves the Beatles and it shows. Vocalist Jim Lockwood came into the mix and his reverence for the songs, the band and the annual event came pouring forth.
Next to join in was keyboardist Papa Grows Funk’s John Gros. I was happy he reprised his Cajun reggae version of Yellow Submarine. As it turns out, it was the only song of the evening reimagined by an artist. The first time I attended the Fest, almost every band bent Beatles tunes to fit their local flavor. It was truly a New Orleans music event with rock, funk, blues, jazz and reggae versions of Beatles songs. Last year, the show became more streamlined, more like a reliving of the Beatles catalog, but there were still a few songs the musicians “made their own.” I liked that balance.
Gros also led us in the beloved Let it Be, a song the festival usually skips. Some Beatles songs are like hymns or anthems and Let it Be is one of those songs that feels like praise on a Sunday morning. Bassist Will Langford was next to enter the group followed by the newly-bearded Bayou favorite, Marc Broussard. Last to join the ranks were Chuck Credo III on guitar and singers Gwen Voorhies and John Chighizola from Mixed Nuts. Chuck Credo IV formed the Mixed Nuts in 1994 based on his love for the Beatles and the group has been performing since 1996, becoming a premiere corporate and event band.
Despite the audience’s enthusiastic response to Voorhies’ powerful voice, once again, there was a marked absence of women. I enjoyed the addition of Susan Cowsill last year and continue to hope to hear from Margie Perez, a woman who never met a band she couldn’t improve. I also hang onto hope that one day Cajun angel Sarah Quintana will be called on to sing Michelle in French. I also think it’s time to bring a brass band into the mix – TBC does a great version of Come Together.
As it had before, the event ended with all the musicians crowding the stage for a singalong of Hey Jude. Last year, we brought Jeff “The Dude” Dowd with us (the inspiration for The Big Lebowski’s The Dude). Before we arrived, The Dude said he hoped the night would have lots of singing along and a sense of celebrating our gathered love for all things Beatles. He left happy. It just feels good to sing la la la‘s while waving your arms side to side in a room full of people all in love with the same thing. Generations now have memories attached to those songs and I look forward to seeing what memories Credo will create next year.
After the show, we headed out into the French Quarter and as we crossed Bourbon Street, I had to ask – do these people not know it’s July? Usually June, July and August in NOLA are quiet months where the only crowds are at the air conditioned movie theatres. Summer is halfway over and we’ve yet to experience a quiet crowd-free weekend. Don’t get me wrong – we’re happy to share our city with the world and everyone appreciates the influx of tourist dollars, I’m just surprised to find so many people willing to endure our worst heat and humidity. Welcome, enjoy and find the nearest snoball stand!