The New Orleans Beatles Festival celebrates its 15th anniversary this year with a 50th anniversary performance of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Taking place Saturday, July 22, the festival is also marking its 10th year at the House of Blues.
Performers at the 2017 New Orleans Beatles Festival include Deacon John Moore, Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr., Alex McMurray, the Topcats, Mixed Nuts, Jimmy Robinson, the 504 Horns and the festival’s founder, singer-guitarist Chuck Credo IV.
“It has been incredible to take this album apart,” Credo said after the start of Sgt. Pepper rehearsals. “Deconstructing the album, down to guitar lines, the sitar lines and the progression of animal noises in ‘Good Morning Good Morning,’ it’s a challenge. But it’s also a labor of love.”
The festival will feature Sgt. Pepper in its entirety as well as hits by the Beatles and B-sides.
“There’s added pressure every year,” Credo said of the annual festival. “The audience knows every note, every word. We’re preparing to play Sgt. Pepper, one of the greatest albums of all time, for a rabid audience.”
The New Orleans Beatles Festival began in 2002 at Rock ’n’ Bowl. Credo, having noticed the venue’s Elvis Presley tribute nights, asked owner John Blancher if he’d try a Beatles night.
“I said, ‘John, we’re not going to do the impression thing. We’d like to just play a set of Beatles songs for an audience that may want to hear them.”
Although a Beatles night at Rock ’n’ Bowl was his own suggestion, Credo wasn’t confident that Beatles songs performed by local musicians would draw a big crowd. “Because we weren’t a Beatles-imitation act like RAIN or Beatlemania,” he said.
To Credo’s surprise, 600 people, rather than the 100 he’d expected, attended the Beatles Night debut at Rock ’n’ Bowl. In 2007, Credo renamed Beatles Night the New Orleans Beatles Festival. He also moved the event to a larger venue, the House of Blues.
“From a format standpoint,” he said, “it’s always been the same concept of Louisiana artists paying tribute to the Fab Four. It’s amazing how many musicians in our local scene have been influenced by the Beatles. But they don’t get to play Beatles songs at their gigs, because those songs don’t fit the normal New Orleans–type set. No one dances to ‘Helter Skelter’ or ‘Yer Blues.’”
Even without dancing, Credo said, “response to the Beatles Festival has been, from day one, over the top. And when the musicians are on stage, we perform with the same love for the music that the audience has. It’s a big love fest. The audience is as much a part of the show as we are.”
The New Orleans Beatles Festival starts at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 22, at the House of Blues.