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Theatre Within produces world's longest running annual John Lennon Tribute

by Katie Hickox
at the NYC Fest for Beatles Fans

How many Beatles Fans know that there's been an annual John Lennon Tribute show in New York City since 1981?

If you answered yes, you probably live in New York City. But for many others who live far away from NYC, you probably didn't know, as this author didn't know, until running into the man, Joe Raiola, who with Alec Rubin started the very first John Lennon tribute show back in 1981 at a recent Fest for Beatles Fans in NYC.

Joe Raiola is the Executive/Artistic Director of Theatre Within, the non-profit behind the Annual John Lennon Tribute. Founded as a experimental performance workshop in 1962, the original Theatre Within studio was just a few blocks from the Dakota building on West 72nd Street where John Lennon lived. Joe tells the story of how workshop members "took it badly" when John was murdered and felt "compelled to do something." That "something" was a neighborhood tribute to John which Joe says "we needed to do to help us cope with our profound sense of loss."

Joe Raiola at the 2014 Fest for Beatles Fans

Although Joe and his co-director Alec Rubin never met John, they felt a deep connection to him. Rubin was not just a theater director, but also a "primal therapist" who helped artists access blocked feelings and create intensely autobiographical work. John had famously been inspired by his own experience in primal therapy, which he used to come to terms with his rocky childhood and adolescence and the tragic loss of his mother at an early age. The result was his riveting album, Plastic Ono Band.

"That album was a revelation," Joe says in a phone interview. "It set a new standard for truth-telling in songwriting. So we were deeply inspired by it. It was revolutionary."

This year's 34th John Lennon Tribute show will take place on December 5th at the "Symphony Space" venue which has 750 seats. The program will be mostly music but also include some spoken word. The line-up is traditionally announced in September.

When asked why Theatre Within decided to keep producing Lennon Tribute show every year, Joe explained that originally "they didn't plan to make this an annual event, but we needed to be together because it was such an important event for us and needed to do it the next year. We never stopped (putting it on)...and the show has evolved to larger venues and featuring more music performed by well known musicians and artists as more and more people have heard about it."

Yoko Ono didn't find out about the Tribute until 10 years ago in 2004 and she has been supporting the event ever since. It's one of just two Lennon Tribute shows in the world that she officially sanctions, the other being in Japan. So if it took Yoko 24 years to find out about the Tribute in her own hometown, it's no wonder that many diehard Beatles fans who live far from NYC never heard of it until attending the recent Fest for Beatles Fans that took place in NYC the weekend of February 7.

To be notified by email when tickets go on sale for this year's 34th Annual John Lennon Tribute, go to lennontribute.org and sign up for the mailing list. You can also learn more about the Tribute's colorful history and view highlights from last year's Tribute at the site with performances by Steve Earle, Joan Osborne, Raul Malo and many other top artists.


Published February 17, 2014



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