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Stars come together to honor John in New York City

by Julian McKenzie, Beatles News Reporter

The "Happy Birthday John!" concert took last Saturday night at the Society For Ethical Culture on New York's upper West Side, which is just 6 blocks south of the Dakota Building where John Lennon lived and the Strawberry Fields memorial to Lennon in Central Park. The event was in support of human rights organization Amnesty International, a cause strongly supported by Yoko Ono for many years.

The 4-hour concert played to a sold-out crowd of nearly one thousand Lennon admirers who saw an eclectic range of artists, several of them friends of Lennon, performing over 40 of his compositions and other songs associated with him. The first section of the concert lasting two and a half hours featured a broad range of musicians performing in a variety of combinations. The second half featured the still-active founding-members of Lennon's original band The Quarrymen playing the songs they performed with John, Paul and George in the years 1956 to 1959.

Pete Seeger, Mark Hudson and Neil Innes

Underscoring that Lennon's music appeals across the generational universe, the age range of the performers spanned from nine to ninety plus. 91-year-old iconic folk singer Pete Seeger led the entire ensemble, accompanied by a choir of nine-year-olds (The Rivertown Kids), on Lennon's 1969 anthem "Give Peace A Chance".

Among the other performers joining Pete Seeger in paying tribute to Lennon were Lennon & David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick, Neil Innes of Monty Python/Bonzo Dog/Rutles fame, folk singer Tom Paxton, "Beatlemania" alumni Marshall Crenshaw and Glenn Burtnik, Ringo/Aerosmith/Ozzy Osbourne producer Mark Hudson, Grammy-winning children's singer Tom Chapin, cult singer Garland Jeffreys, British songbirds-in-Mahattan Dani Tersini and Joy Askew and rising star Chris Ingle of Never Shout Never. Horn and woodwinds were added by "Blue-Lou" Marini.

The concert was produced by humorist and Beatles scholar Martin Lewis (co-creator/producer with John Cleese of Amnesty's "Secret Policeman's Ball" series of benefit shows in the 1970s and 1980s) and Thom Wolke of Twin Cloud Concerts. The show was emceed by Lewis.

The concert was called to order by an Irish bagpipe rendition of "Give Peace a Chance" by NJ Fire-Fighter John Bradley, touching base with Lennon's Irish roots. Then, Mark Hudson opened the show leading a rousing ensemble performance of "All You Need Is Love." Mark and Earl Slick Searing gave blues-tinged performances of "Working Class Hero" and "I'm Losing You"

"Beatlemania" alumni Marshall Crenshaw and Glenn Burtnik performed a duet on a medley suggested by Lewis of the very first song written by Lennon, 1957's "Hello Little Girl," and his very last song, 1980's "Grow Old With Me". Garland Jeffreys performed a version of Lennon's 1965 hit "Help!" in a slowed-down arrangement that evoked Lennon's oft-spoken desire to re-record the song as the expression of angst he'd intended it rather than the speeded-up pop single that it became.

Lennon pal Neil Innes performing two Rutles songs, including the legendary "Cheese And Onions," and Lennon's "Oh My Love." Innes and Lennon appeared together in the Beatles film "Magical Mystery Tour," and Lennon was a big fan of the Rutles.

Rising star Chris Ingle of Never Shout Never sang a spell-binding version of "Across The Universe." Folksinger Tom Paxton performed his late 60s ode to Lennon's peace activism "Crazy John," a song that Lennon relished in-person when Paxton performed it at the 1969 "Isle Of Wight" rock festival. The song presciently warned Lennon about the hatred that his political views would engender. ("They never can hear you, John... they have no desire. They're beginning to fear you, John and their hate's getting higher.")

Pete Seeger lead the entire ensemble in an extended version of "Give Peace A Chance," with new verses by Mark Hudson, Neil Innes and the choir of nine-year-olds.

The Quarrymen performed a dozen of the tunes they performed with Lennon, Paul and George in the late 1950s, augmented by the stars sitting in with them. They performed a very emotional finale of Lennon's "In My Life." The Quarrymen then passed the Lennon torch to the next generation, introducing a band of four 14 and 15 year-old boys called Blueberry Acres from Ringwood, NJ who captivated the crowd with performances of "If I Fell" and a tour-de-force "A Day In The Life."

The grand finale of the show was Tom Paxton leading all the performers and audience in a version of the lullaby Lennon wrote for his then 5-year-old son Julian in 1968, "Good Night."

Published October 12, 2010

This article is Copyright © 2010, Julian McKenzie, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission

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