WHY We Fest…
By Jude Southerland Kessler
A decade ago or more, it seemed as if ages and ages crawled by between Fests. The span of time between the New Jersey and Chicago events dragged on forever! But now, the days seem to fly by, and I’ve barely unpacked before it’s time to find my Beatles sweatshirts, buttons, hats, and paraphernalia…and head right back again.
“You’re going to another Fest?” my hairdresser said (as I asked her to “put the fire back in those locks!”).
“Yep, as fast as my car can drive me!” I smiled.
“But…I mean…don’t you get tired of…it’s just…you go all the time, it seems like.”
“Well,” I really thought about it for a moment, “I know it seems that way to an outsider, but to those of us in what we call ‘The Fest Family,’ there can never be too many in a year. It’s never enough…”
“Why?” She skeptically closed one eye at me. “What’s so special? Why do you…um, fest?”
And just like that, the question was on the table.
I mumbled my pat answer – I said that the Fest was like Thanksgiving for all of us. But, over the next few days, I really began mulling her question over. I thought about it as I mowed the yard, planned my book release party, drove to the grocery store, and worked on my Chicago presentations. And the answer finally came to me one night as I was running…a direct answer, in fact, – not from our own Liddypool boys – but from the Eagles!
They sang the answer into my earbuds…those haunting, beautifully immortal words from “Hotel California”: “Some dance to remember…some dance to forget.” Yes, that was it! Dead right!
At times, we go to the Fest for Beatles Fans to remember…to recall the night we sat glued to our parents’ enormous black’n’white TV set while Ed Sullivan swept his arm across his body and shouted, “The Beatles!” We Fest to remember how it felt to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo scamper quickly off the concert stage after what we presumed (though no one could hear a note) was “Long Tall Sally.” We Fest to conjure up that rush we felt when the needle hit the first groove of Sgt. Pepper….to relive those Christmas mornings when even the shiny foil paper and full satin bows failed to disguise the latest Capitol album from our Fab Four.
We Fest to remember who we are…not grandparents or businesspeople or mothers or fathers or husbands or wives…but our truest selves: that young man proudly wearing the pale grey, pocketless jacket, Cuban heels, and “long hair” of his heroes; the giddy girl skipping school to trek out to JFK; the frightened but determined school reporter penning the essay defending John Lennon against the out-of-context Datebook quote…and ending up in the principal’s office for being so “disappointingly radical.” At The Fest, we are still the young, bright-eyed Sam Goody employee counting the seconds ’til the stroke of midnight when the next Parlophone LP will finally be released! We are the still young mother singing a “No Reply” lullaby to her child or the scared young dad pacing with his baby in the dark and weakly crooning, “Beautiful Boy.”
At the Fest, we return to who we are. We cross the barrier of time and age. We become US again.
A few years ago, I was crossing the Chicago lobby when someone shouted at me, “Hey Lennon Chick!” I chuckled. I wasn’t offended…or insulted or diminished or threatened. Instead, I smiled to know that someone saw me for who I was…not a studious author buried in research, manuscripts, and conference presentations…but a fan who loved John Lennon and wasn’t afraid to let the world know it.
Indeed, we Fest to remember.
But just as importantly, we Fest to forget.
“The world is too much with us, late and soon,” wrote British poet, William Wordsworth. Indeed, day after bitter day, we are being pummeled by the world…by politics, divisiveness, anger, and hatred. There are dark accusations lurking around every corner and enough suspicion and blame to make even Kent State look tame. Our world is madly enraged.
And so, we Fest to retreat from it all. We need to hear, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Love is All You Need.” We need to “Come Together” and “Let it Be.” We need to find common ground instead of fault. We need to hug our friends on both sides of the aisle and find in each other’s eyes a bond and not a barrier. We Fest to forget…if only for one weekend.
In many ways, I think, the quick, pat answer that I tossed out to my hairdresser was accurate. The Fest is my Thanksgiving (and yours) – a chance to sit down and share deep dish pizza at Giordano’s with a loud, rowdy group of people we love. It’s our chance to catch up on their lives and to tell stories of our own. We Fest to cry on each other’s shoulders and share the photos in our phones and stay up too late and tell too many corny jokes and secrets. Without a doubt, the Fest is our Thanksgiving.
But more than that, it’s the place at the end of the long and winding road where we are happy just to dance…some to remember, some to forget.
I hope to see you in Chicago. You can wear your favorite jeans or bell-bottoms. I’ll wear those same, old be-jeweled flip-flops that enable me to stand for 11 hours in my booth. I know you’ll still believe that Paul is the genius. And I’ll believe it’s John…and secretly, we’ll both agree that it took “two to tango.” But we’ll never admit that out loud. We’ll stick to our guns, because we’ll be at the Fest. And at the Fest, we aren’t grandparents or businesspeople or mothers or fathers or husbands or wives. We are BEATLES FANS…and that, dear friends, is what calls us to the dance.