Few people are able to turn their obsessions into full-time careers. Mark Lapidos, founder and organizer of the annual Festival for Beatles Fans (formerly “Beatlefest”), is one of the lucky few.
“I fell in love with the Beatles from the first time I heard ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in ’64,” he said in an interview last week. “In 1973 I just said someone should do something to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America. I thought that was historic.”
After getting the blessing of none other than John Lennon himself, Lapidos realized that had found his life’s work, and the Festival for Beatles Fans was born the following year in New York City.
In 1978, Lapidos moved the annual festival across the Hudson River to Secaucus, where it has been celebrated ever since.
And so, next weekend (March 26 to 28), 5,000 to 6,000 Beatles enthusiasts will make a pilgrimage to the New Jersey Crowne Plaza Meadowlands Hotel to commune with other fans at the 36th festival.
New faces, old friends
Lapidos admits that keeping the festival fresh and interesting after more than three decades can sometimes be a challenge. This year, he is excited to have as special guests Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell. Laine, a guitarist, was a founding member of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles band Wings, and was once the lead singer of the Moody Blues. Seiwell is a session drummer who played on the Wings album Ram and later joined the group.
Although Seiwell was at a Fest guest two years ago, Lapidos said that it has been more than a decade – 15 years, in fact – that Laine attended the annual Beatles celebration.
On Saturday, March 27, Laine and Seiwell will join Fest staple Liverpool – “arguably the best Beatles tribute band out there” according to Lapidos – for a musical jam that will feature songs from both the Beatles and Wings.
“The Liverpool jams are always one of the main attractions and highlights of the festival,” Lapidos said. “But with the addition of Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell this year’s will really be spectacular.”
Spencer Davis, of Spencer Davis Group fame, will also be on hand to share his memories of the Fab Four, with whom he became friendly when the Beatles and his own group rose to fame in England. Promoter Sid Bernstein, who was instrumental in bringing the Beatles to the U.S. for shows at Shea Stadium and Carnegie Hall, will be guest throughout the festival weekend and will be available to talk to fans.
Money raised for charity
Lapidos expects fans to come to Secaucus from all along the eastern seaboard over the three-day festival, some from as far away as New Hampshire and North Carolina.
As in the past, there will be several charity raffles held throughout the weekend, with lots of Beatles memorabilia up for grabs. Money from these raffles goes to support the Spirit Foundation, started by John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono in 1978 to aid women’s charities, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Since it was founded in 1974, the Festival for Beatles Fans has raised more than $500,000 for these organizations.
The festival is dedicated in memory of Lennon, who was shot to death in New York City in 1980, and George Harrison, who succumbed to cancer in 2001.
The festival will be held from March 26 through 28. Registration is $32 for Friday and $47 for Saturday or Sunday. Children 6 through 12 get in for half price; children 5 and under are free. Special rates are available for multiple days. For more information, call 1-866-THE-FEST, or visit www.thefest.com. E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.