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Memphis teen music star to shine at Beatles Symposium
Musician Cameron Hicks, who is only 16, will be returning to the Beatles at the Ridge Authors and Artists Symposium in September for the third time as a guest presenter. Hicks won the "Beatles at the Ridge Talent Contest" in 2015, and since then, he has been an integral part of the Symposium, performing Beatles tunes several times during the busy weekend in Arkansas. Recently, this talented singer and artist sat down with Beatles at the Ridge Chair, Jude Southerland Kessler, for a little chat.
Jude: Cameron, this is your fourth time as a featured musician for Beatles at the Ridge's Authors and Artists Symposium, and this year, you're doing something on Saturday morning to kick off the day's festivities that is unique and special. What do you have planned?
Cameron: We're going to kick things off Saturday morning with a Beatles sing-along and Sock Hop! Nobody will need coffee to get going this year! And, like last year, we want everyone to bring tambourines, ukuleles, even their balalaikas, if they have them! Guys, if you can play music on it, bring it and play along! I'll be playing all the Beatle favorites, and some I just like to play. And hey, if you can't play an instrument, just kick off your shoes and dance! There will be some cool prizes for the best socks, but you have to be wearing them at the dance. No shoes, it's just an old-fashioned sock hop, led by a teenager! It'll be a blast!
Jude: On late Friday afternoon, you'll also have a solo performance at the free "Meet and Greet" reception in The Studio on Main Street, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. We hear you have something extraordinary planned in conjunction with the Symposium's theme: "1964: The Year That Changed Our Lives." Tell us about what you'll be doing, please.
Cameron: Since the theme is 1964, and my family loves laughing at the movie "A Hard Day's Night," I'll be performing the LP soundtrack in its entirety. The "Sgt. Pepper" one-man-show was a big hit last year, so we're sticking with the single LP (not to be confused with an album...in Brit-speak, you keep photos in an album) setlist. Since "Beatles for Sale" was also released in 1964, I'll be following up the movie soundtrack with some songs from that LP.
Jude: How long have you been playing guitar and singing? Where did you get your start?
Cameron: I started playing a little when I was eleven, and started playing it seriously when I was 12. My first time playing my guitar in front of people, no joke, was at Beatles at the Ridge in 2015. I had played "Imagine" as an instrumental for the talent show in 2014, but played and sang "Blackbird" on my guitar the next year. That's the year I won. My second time ever playing my guitar in front of an audience was opening for the Liverpool Legends. Talk about being nervous! Since then, I've played various local venues and even played with Lanea Stagg, Mrs. Recipe Records herself at the Beatles Symposium at the GRAMMY Museum in Mississippi (a show we've done several variations of in Walnut Ridge).
Jude: We've heard that Ringo is your favorite Beatle, and yet you're a guitarist! What is it about Ringo that speaks to you?
Cameron: "I got blisters on me fingers!!" Actually, I've always liked Ringo for as far back as I can remember. I've been a Beatles fan since I was very, very, young, so I honestly can't remember why Ringo is my favorite. (Although John and his humor and shenanigans are starting to sway me! John's interview answer of "I'm Eric," when nobody knew who The Beatles were, is hilarious!) But Ringo has some pretty sweet dance moves in "A Hard Day's Night."
Jude: Two years ago, you won a Scholastic Books-sponsored essay contest about The Beatles and got to go to New York. What was the theme of that contest, and what did you say? What musicians did you meet in New York?
Cameron: There's a funny Beatles at the Ridge tie-in to that contest. Sarah Schmidt, author of Happiness is Seeing The Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis, had posted the Scholastic contest on Facebook on the night of the deadline! Someone had shared it to her, and so, she passed it along.
Scholastic's theme was, "How have The Beatles impacted your life?" Well, I felt that I had a huge connection to The Beatles. You see, my granddad was diagnosed with leukemia about five years ago, and the last concert my parents and I attended before his diagnosis was "Rain," The Beatles tribute band, which we saw in Jonesboro, Arkansas. During my grandad's treatments, my mom threw herself into The Beatles and their music while I was playing them on my guitar. Then strangely enough, the week after my grandad was declared leukemia-free, "Rain" announced that they were coming back to Memphis! It was a unique "bookend" situation for my mom's escape during Granddad's treatments. And that was the story I wanted to tell...and I did.
Literally three days after I submitted my Scholastic Books essay, I got the call that I'd won!!! My parents and I had a great time in New York! It was our first time on an airplane. The month prior to our trip, Ivor Davis (who toured with The Beatles in 1964 and then wrote the book, The Beatles and Me On Tour) had been joking with my dad about the fact that none of us had ever flown before. And voila! The very next month we're all flying to New York to be at the Scholastic Beatles Presentation.
After the presentation, we got to meet Steven Van Zandt ("Little Stevie" of the E Street Band), Whoopi Goldberg, and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana. We talked with Dave about me winning the talent contest at Beatles at the Ridge with "Blackbird," and he shared some personal stories about learning the same song for his daughter then shortly after that, The Oscars.
Jude: I know that this year you've really been focused on developing your finger-picking style. Will you be performing any Beatles songs at the Ridge with your new technique?
Cameron: For an upcoming 4-H competition near Memphis, I've been working on "Classical Gas," but the Beatles never did that one. (Laughs) And I've been finger-picking "Rainbow Connection" by Kermit the Frog...but that's not Beatles, either. BUT, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of "The White Album", so I'm thinking that one needs a little love. "Julia" has been called "John's answer to 'Blackbird,'" and I just love that song. So, I'm going to squeeze it in somewhere. It's a great song from a great record, so I'm going to do that one at some point during the Beatles at the Ridge weekend.
Jude: Renowned Los Angeles John Lennon impersonator and singer/songwriter, Alan Bernhoft, will also be performing at the BATR Symposium 2018. Are the two of you planning to do any songs together and if so, what might they be?
Cameron: I've talked with Alan about some sort of "Cam-llaboration" after our sets on Friday night. We definitely plan to get together for a couple of songs. At this point, there's no telling what they might be, but there's definitely going to be something (not THAT "Something"). But hmmmm, I don't think John and Ringo ever did a duet, did they?
Cameron Hicks will be speaking, singing and playing at the Beatles at the Ridge Symposium in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, on September 14 and 15. For more information, please go to www.beatlesattheridge.com or visit their Facebook page.
Published April 24, 2018