Posted by Dale Obbie
Last weekend marked the 11th annual Beatlemore Skidmania concert and the second held in Ladd Concert Hall of the Arthur Zankel Music Center. The popular concert showcased strong performances and unique renditions of The Beatles songs by new and old student bands.
The first show of the two-night run was on Friday, 11/11/11, and Professor Gordon Thompson, who organizes the event with the help of his Beatles seminar, reminded the audience of the show's significance: 10 years ago was the semester that Sept. 11 took place and that George Harrison died. The Beatles tribute concert began as a way to celebrate the uplifting power of the band's music in a time when we needed it most, and it continues stronger than ever.
The theme of this year's show encompassed all of The Beatles' music, as well as any songs written by members during their solo careers. It included a variety of strong performances from both underclassmen and senior bands. Members of Cousin Chuck and the Arkansas Woodchoppers took the stage in boots and overalls to complement their bluegrass rendition of "I've Just Seen a Face," which featured a foot-stompin' fiddle solo from Evan Nathan and a mandolin solo from Paul Gladstone. During their solos, the bandmates could hardly help themselves and began to jig.
Next came a funkified version of "Octopus's Garden" from Bo Peep and the Funk Sheep. Bassist Will Sacks sang the chorus while Andrew Koehler came in with his organ jabs. Trombonist Brandon Lomuto punctuated the gaps with his horn fills, giving the band's version of the fun song a tightly knit funky twist. The band went into a playful call and response between Sacks's bass and Lomuto's trombone, ending with a sweeping drum roll from drummer Dave Slitzky.
Another highlight was a Tracy Chapman-esque version of "Eight Days a Week" from Mary Leigh and Carolyn Bottelier, who combined their soulful voices with a catchy guitar riff, adding just a taste of bittersweet and heartfelt blues to the mix.
After the intermission, the Dan Papson Memorial Band (formerly known as the Papgwows) began the second half of the show with an otherworldly version of "Blue Jay Way," a song that performers do not often bring to the table. Senior saxophonist Aaron Wallace, who has performed at Beatlemore Skidmania every year during his time at Skidmore, explains that he chose "Blue Jay Way" because it is one of his favorite Beatles songs, but also because "the obscurity of the song was a bonus. Since Beatlemania is a concert that people attend year after year, it's always nice for the audience to hear a deep cut that hasn't been played in a while."
Wallace began "Blue Jay Way" by blowing into a didgeridoo and looping the sound to act as a drone, creating an eerie vibe while he and guitarist Sean Healton hinted at the original song by teasing the melody. Soon they launched into an energetic funk jam driven by drummer Anthony Princi and bassist Carlo D'Angelis. Wallace explains that they did so because "we were the start of the second set, so we needed to get the audience excited for the show to come, while still staying true to the beauty of George Harrison's original composition."
The rest of the second set was anything but a letdown after "Blue Jay Way." Dam Hot Jam played a memorable version of "Day Tripper," in which Leo Cancelmo went from playing funk chords into a psychedelic rock guitar solo truly reminiscent of the '60s. Los Elk played a reggae version of "Can't Buy Me Love," which segued seamlessly into a swinging blues guitar solo. Bailiwick brought back the folksiness with its version of Harrison's "The Inner Light," replete with foot stomping, sugary vocal harmonies and a damn good fiddle solo.
The show ended in accordance with tradition — a performance by The Rust Brothers, the Skidmore faculty band, who played George Harrison's "Handle with Care" and "Get Back." They were joined by a number of student performers, including a complete horn section, two keyboardists, backup singers, percussionists and Los Elk guitarist Amir Rivera-Lieberman, who played a slide guitar solo during "Handle with Care." Ending the night on a high note, they left the stage to the sound of a standing ovation from the sold-out auditorium.