‘Beatlemania’ invades downtown Kent

Dan Socha performs The Beatles covers with his band, Dig a Pony, at Tree City Coffee & Pastry as part of Beatlefest on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

KentWired Staff

The ‘Fab Four’ weren’t there, but Kentites ‘Came Together,’  ‘Got Back’ and ‘Let it Be’ during annual music event downtown

A man crossing South Water Street in downtown Kent yelled into the crisp air that he ought to “take his shoes off like Abbey Road.”

This was Friday evening, and he was on his way to one of the 18 Kent venues that featured Beatles-cover artists for the sixth annual Beatlefest. The Crooked River Arts Council produces the event.

Beatles fans packed into Tree City Coffee & Pastry like sardines to watch Dig A Pony give one of the festival’s earlier performances. The furniture was rearranged so the three-member band could play in front of the garage door windows. A stream of people flowed in and out of the doors, but mostly in, as the few who were just there for coffee had to weave their way through the crowd of Beatles fans to reach the exit.

Mixed in with adults were several wide-eyed children, some of them sporting Beatles T-shirts. They chimed in with their sweet voices, and their proud parents looked on.

The band, made up of Dan Socha, Bethany Joy and BC Hudson, rolled through Fab Four hits like “Let It Be,” “Get Back,” “Dear Prudence” and “In My Life,” which they said was the first Beatles song they ever played together.

“I grew up in the ‘60s, and I was directly affected by The Beatles when they were on the radio,” said Hudson, a guitarist for the band. “You just didn’t hear anything like it at the time.”

He added that Joy and Socha are “absolute musical joys to be around.”

Vern Fritz came from Mogadore to take part in the event. He said he’s been a Beatles fan since he saw the band’s animated movie “Yellow Submarine” as a teenager, and his favorite song of theirs is “Hard Day’s Night.”

With the crowd forcing him to stand nearly behind the counter, Fritz described his plans to walk to several different venues throughout the night. The next stop was Water Street Tavern, which had already drawn its own crowd of Beatles fans by that time.

Colin Dussault’s Beatles Project rocked Venice Cafe later in the evening, as Dussault put a bluesy twist on the band’s famous tunes.

“My musical knowledge, education and journey started with the first and second Beatles albums,” Dussault said. “All of that stuff blew me away and led me to The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The YardBirds and eventually led me to the blues.”

He applauded Kent for opening its arms to musicians and for building a vibrant arts community. Dussault played all six fests, and and he said the event is the highlight of his band’s busy schedule.

“The fact that Kent continues to nurture the music scene is great,” he said.

The Liverpool Lads played at Ray’s Place and stayed true to The Beatles’ image with their Rickenbacker guitars.

Joe Koch, the drummer of Liverpool Lads, tends to gravitate toward The Beatles’ early work from the “Please, Please Me” debut album to “Beatles For Sale.” His favorite early career song to play is the self-title track “Please, Please Me,” while his favorite late career song to play is “The End” from the album “Abbey Road.”

Aside from playing the music, one of Koch’s greatest pleasures is the joy that surfaces among audience members.

“It’s the smiles,” he said, smiling. “It’s the smiles on people’s faces. There’s a timeless message in their music that brings people together.”

Opus, a duet, brought a folk-like flare to its Beatles covers in the dimly lit Franklin Hotel Bar. The women dressed in black played soft music from a violin and a cello. Diners laughed and cheered while they enjoyed dinner.

“I feel like I am in an old-fashioned pub with the music playing. Live music is something many people don’t get to experience often,” said Sarah Campbell, a regular customer at the bar.

Buffalo Wild Wings’ borderline sensory overload experience — we’re talking about the countless TVs and the heat of chicken wings in your face — grew even more over the weekend. The Jillettes brought an impressive setup into the second floor of the downtown restaurant, including a full drum set, variety of guitars, keyboard and miscellaneous percussion, all illuminated by multi-colored stage lights. All the tables in view of the band were taken, so a number of Beatles fans stood along the walls, some dancing in whatever little pockets of space they could find.

At the Kent State Hotel and Conference Center, Ray Flanagan and Paul Fresty performed. The two played guitar and sang to hits like “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “All My Loving” and “You’re Going To Lose That Girl.”

“My first album was George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass,’ said Giselle Fleming, a long-time Beatles fan in the audience. “I still have it. I wrote all over the cover. So, once you get hooked on someone, it’s hard to let go.”

Over at Last Exit Books and Coffee House, curly-haired local musician Ryan Gavalier performed with his guitar. A plastic bin, with a taped piece of paper that read “Tips” in big, green letters, sat on the table in front of him, and listeners dropped in change as they left.

Passersby peeked through the glass windows and considered coming inside when they saw the small audience inside jamming along.

A tipsy man in the back sang the loudest, and he danced to “Twist and Shout.”

As Gavalier sang “Hey Jude” toward the end of the night, he motioned for Beatles fans to join him and sing along.

Of course, they did.

Chris Ramos, Dylan Reynolds, Lauren Crenshaw, Arianna Carleton and Valerie Royzman contributed to this story.