Last Saturday, I took the minions & a friend to something called ‘Abbey Road on the River;’ an all-weekend music fest devoted to The Beatles. This is something that they apparently do annually in Kentucky (!), but it was the first time they’d taken it ‘on the road’ to D.C. I have to confess to being pulled in by a curiosity to see how… meta it would be. I mean, this event was four days of five+ stages of bands doing (almost) nothing but covers of songs from a band that broke up 40 years ago. I opted to only go for one day, though; how many times can one listen to variations of ‘Paperback Writer?’
Pete Best was there.
Harley-Davidson was there.
The crowd was mixed in age, gender, and socio-economic appearance, but not terribly diverse in terms of race. In terms of audience, it reminded me a bit of when I saw the Grateful Dead in the late ’80s; older people recapturing their youth and perhaps feeling more relevant as a result, younger people romanticizing a time in the past they never experienced (one could say this is similar to Civil War re-enactments and Renaissance festivals, since it is).
The bands themselves were actually quite enjoyable. Some dressed as specific-era Beatles, some were from foreign countries, and most all of them used ‘authentic’ instruments. At first I thought it was kind of odd imagining having a career that revolved around performing the music of a singular (defunct) band, but upon reflection, how is it really any different than performing the works of, say, Beethoven or Mozart or even Shakespeare? I actually imagine that variants of this event could be intriguing and successful–a Woodstock re-enactment, or maybe a Jacksons-inspired festival. I know a few people who’d pay good money for an all-day Madonnafest.
Music festivals are always in themselves slight curiosities (and therefore delicious for someone who loves to observe things); with a few notable exceptions, the crowds exist within the spirit of the music. Events like Lollapalooza and Ozzfest tend to bring out the ugly side of this; aggressive music seems to give some participants a sense of entitlement to act without regard for others. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been bumped into at an event like that where the person that hit me gave me a look that said ‘I dare you to escalate; I want drama and confrontation in my life and need a target to take my frustrations out on.’ But a Beatles festival? There might as well have been rainbows and unicorns prancing about for all of the happy-fun-time atmosphere there–and not even in a druggie kind of way. The minor incident that I saw (where someone tried to slip past security into the Reserved area) was even surreal, comedic gold. An attendant approached the offender, smiled; the offender smiled back but refused to leave. The attendant nodded and politely went back to his post, then took the two police officers that showed up over to the offender. He didn’t put up a fight or cop (heh) an attitude, he just politely walked out with the LEOs; no issues, no confrontation. It was a most ‘civil disobedience.’
I suppose if you really try hard, you could be miserable at an event like this, but why force curmudgeonry? You’re surrounded by beautiful scenery; lush gardens, the waterfront, and dragonflies galore on a perfect late summer’s day. The people are pleasant and respectful, the beer is good and not horrifically overpriced, the bathrooms are of the indoor-flushing variety… and, fan or not, the music is downright fun. Plus, if you head over to the other side of the National Harbor, there’s a Peeps store! And how can you not smile and appreciate the meta-ness when there are guys onstage dressed in ‘Sgt. Pepper’ finery promoting their facebook and Twitter accounts, the ‘Norwegian Beatles’ flailing about with botched English, and a Sullivan-era crew of faux-mop tops from Puerto Rico hawking their CDs and Web site? The evening capped off with a fireworks display over the water, which didn’t quite sync up with the rendition of ‘Live and Let Die’ that was playing (not that it was supposed to), but it certainly was a fitting and perfect ending to a fab(four)ulous day.