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Noted author and researcher to appear at Beatles Symposium

This is the first in a series of revealing interviews with the presenters for the 2018 Authors and Artists Symposium for Beatles at the Ridge. Held each year in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas where The Beatles landed briefly on their 1964 North American Tour, Beatles at the Ridge recruits some of the most respected Beatles experts from across the globe. They gather for two days in September, presenting and commemorating the vast cultural and economic impact that The Beatles have made on Northern Arkansas...and the world.

Interviewed by BATR Symposium Chair, Jude Southerland Kessler (author of The John Lennon Series), author and educator, Sara Schmidt talks about her upcoming return appearance at The Ridge. Here, she gives some insight into her presentation and the work she is doing currently.

Kessler: Sara, I am thrilled to welcome you back for the fifth time to our Beatles at the Ridge Authors and Artists Symposium! And we're honored that this year you're going to be our "Lunch & Learn" speaker at noon on 15 September. What will your topic be? Give us a "Sneak Peek."

Sara Schmidt: Jude, I want to thank you for asking me back to Beatles at the Ridge. It is such an honor to be with such distinguished Beatles authors and speakers. This year I am going to give a presentation about the Beatles Fan Club in North America. I hope to bring back some great memories for those who were in a Beatles fan club and promote understanding of what it was like for those of us who didn't have the chance to be in such a great group.

Kessler: And this "Lunch & Learn" topic is part of the new book that you're researching and writing right now, correct? Tell us about that project.

Sara Schmidt: Right now I am working on what I hope to be a trilogy about the Beatles fan clubs. The first book is going to be about the fan clubs in North America from 1964-1972. It will cover all aspects of Beatles fan clubs – not just the official fan club, but also independent clubs and radio station sponsored clubs. This is going to be a large, colorful book full of photos and memorabilia from various American fan clubs along with the stories that accompany them.

Sara Schmidt on the steps of Abbey Road Studios

Kessler: What has been the most challenging part of gathering material for your new book, and how can Beatles fans help with the project?

Sara Schmidt: Everyone might be surprised to know that very little has ever been written about the Beatles fan clubs, and especially the ones in the United States. I have turned myself somewhat into a detective of Beatle fans these days, because I have been searching all over the world for fans who were involved with the fan club in one way or another. At the time that they were members of these groups, some of the girls went by fake names, so it is a challenge to locate them now. I am especially looking for anyone who was a fan club president or state secretary. I also want stories from any fan who met the Beatles directly as a result of being in a fan club. In addition to looking for fans who were directly involved in these groups, I am also looking for photographs or scans of memorabilia to be included in the book, and I am hoping that Beatle collectors can help me fill in the gaps.

Kessler: Now, Sara, I know (and many of our readers may know) that your last book sold out quite quickly. It was entitled Happiness is Seeing The Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis. Tell us a little about that work.

Sara Schmidt: Happiness is Seeing the Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis is all about The Beatles and their connection to St. Louis, Missouri. The main part of the book tells the little-known story of the Beatles 1966 concert at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. This is the concert that Paul McCartney claimed to be "the worst little gig the Beatles ever played." I did a lot of research and interviewed 60 people to figure out why Paul perceived the show in that way, while the fans who were there found it to be a wonderful, life-changing experience. The book is full of rare photographs and information that might surprise you.

Kessler: And are there any copies at all still available for purchase?

Sara Schmidt: Right now I have one unopened box of 30 books left. That is it! I hope to put back a few books to bring with me to Beatles at the Ridge on September 14-15.

Kessler: You know, the way I got to know you, Sara, was via your extremely well-respected website, a site that Mark Lewisohn (by his own admission) visits frequently. For those few readers who don't know what you offer on that website Sara, please explain.

Sara Schmidt: Meet the Beatles...for Real is the site that I started almost nine years ago. I took the layout and ideas from the fan magazines from the 1970s ( for example, "The Write Thing" and "With a Little Help From my Friends"). Then, I tried to bring what they were doing into the 21st century.

On the site, I post many Beatles photos that I can guarantee that you haven't seen plus rare stories of fans who met the Beatles in person. I also hold contests four times a year, and write exclusive articles and reviews. It is a fun site, and I am still shocked that so many fans enjoy it as much as I do!

Kessler: Can people contact you via that website? And how else might they be able to get in touch with you?

Sara Schmidt: Yes—there is a link on the site. It is at the top of the page that tells how people can help me with the fan club book. It includes a list of what I am currently searching for in terms of memorabilia. E-mail can be sent to

Furthermore, a long-time Beatle friend and I have started a Facebook group called "The Official Beatle Geeks Fan Club." Everyone is welcome to join and message me there as well.

Kessler: Sara, every year we get rave reviews about your talks at Beatles at the Ridge, and I'm sure that your poise in front of a large audience is due, in part, to your profession as a teacher. What grade do you teach, and do you ever incorporate The Beatles into your lesson plans?

Sara Schmidt: This year I am teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th grade Title 1 reading. I have a large photo of The Beatles hanging in my classroom and that leads to a lot of discussion about "those guys on the wall." I don't directly incorporate The Beatles in my lessons, but I do use the book I have written as an example explaining "parts of a book" and for several other pertinent lessons. Recently, I overheard one of my students saying, "My reading teacher is a real author!" That made me feel good! This year, I spoke to a group of local high school young authors about how to become an author as a hobby and not as a career.

Kessler: Finally, I want to emphasize that Sara's "Lunch & Learn" on Saturday, 15 September at Beatles at the Ridge's Symposium will be completely FREE of charge. Furthermore, we offer participants some surprises for attending as well, don't we?

Sara Schmidt: Yes, we do! This will be my first time doing a "Lunch & Learn" and I am so excited about it! Everyone is welcome to grab a lunch from one of the vendors at the festival or even a "Beatle Burger" and "Onion Ringos" from the local diner right up the street to munch on lunch during the presentation. (I get hungry though, so I might want you to share with me!)

Beatles at the Ridge always has awesome door prizes to give away for those in attendance, and I have some surprises planned to bring with me as well. We will be in a nice air-conditioned room, and while that might not mean anything in January, believe me, it will in September!

Kessler: Sara, last question: Our theme for BATR this year is "1964: The Year That Changed Our Lives." Does that fit in with the theme of your new book, and if so, how?

Sara Schmidt: I had no idea that the theme was "1964: The year that Changed our Lives," but that is perfect because the chapter I have been researching and writing for my new book has been about 1964. I had planned to do my "Lunch & Learn" presentation about what was going on at the beginning of the fan clubs in 1964 and how they got started. I love it when we are all in harmony like that!

Kessler: Well, Sara, we cannot wait to have you back in Walnut Ridge again for Beatles at the Ridge, 2018! We look forward to hearing you speak about the importance of the American Beatles fan clubs. And I personally can't wait to see those rare photos you're collecting! Thank you for letting us post one of them with this interview, and we'll keep people updated on what you're doing throughout this year on and and on our Facebook page

Related articles:

• Music expert and author Kit O'Toole to close Beatles symposium (9/10/18)
• Liverpool film maker and author to be featured at Beatles at the Ridge (8/24/18)
• Beatles at Ridge 2018 to kick off with Lennon concert (7/27/18)
• Memphis teen music star to shine at Beatles Symposium (4/24/18)
• Beatles poet to speak at Beatles symposium (3/27/18)

Published January 23, 2018

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