Sound Check: Rubber City Beatlefest to celebrate 50th anniversary of Fab Four’s arrival

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Hard Days Night will be part of the Beatles 50th Anniversary celebration, Beatlefest 2014 at the Akron Civic Theater.

So Feb. 7 marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ landing at New York’s JFK Airport. The soon-to-be-legends also made their debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and their subsequent first U.S. tour in February 1964.

You will be bombarded throughout February with talking heads and fellow musicians waxing philosophic on the awesomeness of the Beatles’ music, the deep and far-reaching influence the band and its music has had on much of the baby-boomer generation and on contemporary pop music and how its Sullivan performance altered the way rock ’n’ roll was viewed by the networks.

There will also be a bunch of Beatles-related local shows starting with Saturday’s Rubber City Beatlefest 2014 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

The event, which sold out last year and is sure to repeat that success given the anniversary, is geared toward hardcore Beatles fans and will have plenty of memorabilia on display from (apparently) well-known Beatles exhibitors and collectors Steve Madonna (cool name), Jim Hoffert and Lawrence Puljic.

Longtime Cleveland rock photographer George Shuba will also be on hand with his famous photos of the Beatles’ first trip to Cleveland in 1964, many of which are in the permanent collection at the rock hall. For fans who need to see John, Paul, George and/or Ringo artistically represented, Shuba will have prints available for purchase and artist Billy Nainiger will have several Beatles-themed paintings for sale.

And there will be plenty of Beatles music.

Performers include Fantom 4 with drummer Jim Bonfanti, co-founder of the Raspberries and the Choir, who has credited the Beatles’ Sullivan appearance as inspiring him to become a musician. Also performing will be the ReBeats, a tribute band (which means proper Sgt. Pepper-era style costumes and Liverpudlian accents and such) that focuses on the Beatles’ post-Revolver catalog featuring a “BeatleDelic” light show.

Closing the evening will be the very popular tribute band Hard Day’s Night, which leans on the Beatles’ pre-Revolver music and re-creates the band’s gear and snazzy suits. Hard Day’s Night will celebrate the anniversary by re-creating the band’s Sullivan set list.

Sticking with 1960s English rockers, Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare will welcome singer, songwriter, guitarist and rock hall of famer Dave Mason to the Ohio Theatre on Friday night.

Mason was a founding member of the band Traffic (inducted in 2004), appearing on the band’s first four albums while quitting the band more than once between albums. Mason wrote Feelin’ Alright, which became a hit for Joe Cocker and has been covered many times by artists in a variety of genres including R&B, jazz, rock and blues.

Mason eventually left Traffic for good in the early 1970s and embarked on a solo career that began well with his solo-debut, platinum-selling Alone Together featuring the top 50 hit Only You Know and I Know. Throughout the ensuing years, Mason had a few more hits with the top 15 tune We Just Disagree from his 1978 album Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow; the remake title single also made the Top 40.

For his current tour, Mason and his band Traffic Jam (get it?) are using a “storyteller” format, mixing his classic songs with some behind-the-scenes stories that should be interesting because Mason was present for the recordings of some pretty legendary music.

That’s Mason’s 12-string guitar backing up Jimi Hendrix on his classic cover of All Along the Watchtower. Mason was also in the studio and appeared — uncredited — on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet album as well as Paul McCartney’s Venus and Mars, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and recordings by Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills and Phoebe Snow.

Perhaps most impressively, Mason appeared and performed two songs in the ummm … classic roller-disco film Skatetown, U.S.A. featuring a young Patrick Swayze in 1979.

Grammy whammy

I know this was, oh, so long ago (four days is a lifetime on the Web), but, wow, those Grammy voters are probably patting themselves on their backs for going all “left of center” and awarding Daft Punk the album of the year for Random Access Memories and record of the year for Get Lucky.

I’d wager that they figured they covered a few bases, by A) appearing relatively hip by acknowledging the rise in mainstream popularity of EDM, though Daft Punk has been around for a decade and already has two dance/electronica Grammys. B) they got to fete a loyal unit-shifter and hip-hop/pop production icon in Pharrell Williams, who also won producer of the year, bringing his total wins to six, and C) they also finally got to fete guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers, whose music with Chic was pretty much ignored at the time and who had never won a Grammy despite his deep and storied career.

Of course the heavily Chic-influenced Get Lucky and a sizable chunk of the tunes on Random Access Memories are retro as can be. Rodgers laces many of the tracks, rooted in late ’70s R&B, with his patented, chunky, rhythm-guitar licks and there are contributions from EDM godfather Giorgio Moroder and singer/songwriter Paul Williams as well as younger folks such as the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and indie rockers Panda Bear.

Essentially, it seems to me they awarded a new album in part because it reminded them of old albums and artists with whom they are familiar. Same ol’, same ol’.

Plus, the show is still self-indulgent for the music industry, and even the one-off performances, which are generally the big draw for viewers (and the show had big, big ratings), were mostly a bit underwhelming for me.

When is Pink going to stop hanging from ceilings? I mean it’s impressive and all, but I don’t think I’ve seen her sing an entire song from the stage on television in three years.

Why is it that Beyonce can dress like a working girl at the Quartier Pigalle, literally bumping and grinding her way through a song, and yet never seems to get any of the backlash “you're-a-bad-example-for-little-girls” that several of her fellow pop starlets such as Rihanna, Katy Perry’s breasts and, yes, Miley Cyrus often receive.

Not that I’m looking for folks/pundits to rain shame and criticism on Beyonce for her wardrobe or the occasional onstage lap dance (good for you, Magic Johnson), but it’s a darn good trick that nearly 20 years into her career of female-empowerment anthems that Miss Bey has mostly managed to stay above all of the slut-shaming, women-exploiting/exploring-their-sexuality-for-dollars essays constantly plastering the Internet.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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