I got locked out of the sale for these coveted George Fest tickets not once but twice as the show got moved from the El Rey to The Fonda to make more room for fans. But after perusing secondary market sites and getting sticker shock, I tried the site one last time on a random Thursday morning and voila! 2 face value tickets were mine.
Lineups like this are hard to wrap your head around… but the influence, significance, and love for The Beatles may be even harder. To quote my late friend and writing group partner Karen, “The Beatles were so omnipresent in our house growing up that I thought they were members of my family.” In this night to pay tribute to Beatle George Harrison for charity Sweet Relief, an astounding group of musicians from all walks of life congregated on this stage a mere few feet from me.
The night began with a surprise guest- the orange pompadoured Conan O’Brien- singing and strumming guitar on “Old Brown Shoe”. I did not know he sang or played… but it was great! Frequent songstresses for the night included Karen Elson’s angelic voice and Norah Jones’ twangy pop sensibility. George Harrison is often credited for bringing eastern influences into western music, and the presence of Jones and Gingger Shankar paid homage to both Harrison and Ravi Shankar. Jones would sing on “I’d Have You Anytime”, “Behind That Locked Door”, and what I would consider the star song of the night, “Something”. Personally I wish Ann Wilson had done it, but that’s just my humble little opinion.
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and Pet Sounds were two of my first albums, thus cementing my love for psychedelic music. Three bands who create music within the genre who’s roots came from those albums played this night; however, they suffered from some technical difficulties. Australia’s The Black Ryder, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (covering “Art of Dying”), and The Flaming Lips overloaded the system with their homages.
Weird Al’s performance of “What is Life” may have been the night’s best… if Ann Wilson hadn’t been there to lend her magical voice for “Beware of Darkness”. Ben Harper brought a folky soul to “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”.
I’ve heard behind the scenes stories about what it’s like to be the spawn of a Beatle, and it’s pretty psycho. Staring up at Dhani Harrison, it’s impossible not to think of his dad, whereas the last time I saw him, he was a bit more incognito. He did his daddy proud, performing “Savoy Truffle”, “Let It Roll”, and “Let It Down”, among others.
Perry and Etty Farrell brought their energy to “Here Comes the Sun”- a song which I have listened to performed more by Ghost than by The Beatles as of late.
Other musicians to grace the stage included Brian Bell of Weezer, Butch Walker, Ian Astbury, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, Britt Daniel of Spoon, Nick Valensi of The Strokes, Matt Sorum, Cold War Kids, and Brandon Flowers of The Killers, who performed “Got My Mind Set on You”. There were so many I had to look up the list because my brain couldn’t even retain them all! Everyone looked like they were having fun and were truly honored to be there. In comparison to my previous night’s tribute show– where the songs were more precise covers- these artists mostly put their own little spin on these songs.
The show culminated with Brian Wilson singing “My Sweet Lord” in a true all star jam, “We Are the World” style. It was a bit overwhelming to see that many people on stage that you grew up listening to. The Beatles have been entertaining us for over 50 years now, and I can’t even fathom what Beatlemania was like. It makes me sad to think that the only thing I will experience that is similar is iPhone-mania.
Standing there in that crowd, it was easy to see how music used to be so unifying. The Beatles were a lens through which we saw the world, they raised us, they taught us, they helped us express things we couldn’t on our own. They are ubiquitous but still important and relevant, and George Fest reminded me of that.