The annual Beatles Night in Portland has been around for 14 years, which is about twice as long as the Beatles were topping the record charts back in the 1960s.
How is that possible? How do the Portland musicians who organize and perform in the annual event keep finding the energy and enthusiasm to go back to the Beatles’ song catalog year after year?
“The music is transcendent, from one generation to the next,” said Spencer Albee, one of the event’s organizers and a big Beatles fan. “The audience for this is the most diverse age group you’ll see at any show.”
Beatles Night in Portland has become an unlikely Thanksgiving weekend tradition. The popularity of Beatles music with fans of all ages has prompted organizers to make Sunday’s show a 4 p.m. matinée, while Saturday’s show, which is now sold out, will be at 8 p.m. Both shows are at the 1,800-seat State Theatre on Congress Street.
“The hope is young parents can come with their kids (to the matinee) and get home and get to bed at a reasonable hour,” said Albee, 40.
More than two dozen musicians will be on stage at various times during the show, performing some 30 Beatles’ songs. The show will include all 11 songs from the 1967 album “Magical Mystery Tour.” The arrangements and performances will try faithfully to replicate the recordings, Albee said.
The string instruments heard on the songs will be played by eight members of the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, all between the ages of 13 and 18. The horns will be supplied by members of the Fogcutters, a local big band-style group.
The “Magical Mystery Tour” includes several of the Beatles best-known tunes, including the title track, as well as “The Fool on the Hill,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love.”
“We try to pay attention to every detail in the recordings,” Albee said. “If they have an alarm clock going off in a song, we have an alarm clock going off.”
The musicians don’t try to look like the Beatles. There are no funny wigs.
The songs will be performed by a core of local musicians from various bands, with guests coming on stage for certain songs. The core includes Albee, who was in Rustic Overtones, plus Sean Morin, Dan Capaldi, Jon Roods, Jonathan Truman and Blythe Armitage. The guests include Zach Jones, Dominic Lavoie, Griffin Sherry, Chuck Gagne, Kenya Hall and Tony McNaboe.
At the shows, Toys for Tots donations will be collected as will food for families struggling to make ends meet.
Portland’s Beatles night has gotten national attention. In 2013, it was reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine writer Patrick Doyle, a Maine native.
Doyle said it was a welcome change from the many Beatles tribute shows that “veer on parody, with moptop costumes and failure to execute the band’s complex studio arrangements live.” He noted that the Maine musicians who put on Beatles Night played songs on stage that the Beatles themselves never attempted live.
“The Beatles remain the toughest band in the world to cover; it even took (Paul) McCartney decades to learn how to pull his own songs off live,” Doyle wrote. “But this (Portland’s Beatles Night) proved those songs can live long after he stops.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (sold out), 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $18 in advance, $20 on show days, $30 for a two-day pass