Strawberry Fields at BB King

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I love The Beatles, always have, always will. Every Saturday, there is a brunch concert at BB King in NYC that features a Beatles cover band called Strawberry Fields. We have never been to see it, but I’ve threatened Lois on numerous occasions that I had an interest in going.

One year ago, we went to the regular Sunday brunch concert featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir. We went with friends of ours and their three young kids, and had a blast. Almost two months ago, we set a date to go with them to the Saturday brunch, but we had to cancel when something came up. That’s very rare for us, and we felt terrible, including that I was going to miss out again on seeing the show…

This past Friday, toward the end of the afternoon, I got an email newsletter from the BB King site announcing that on Sunday (last night), they were holding a free concert for fan appreciation, featuring none other than Strawberry Fields! Tickets purchased at the door would have a nominal service charge of $2.00. Tickets purchased online would be slightly more expensive, due to Ticketmaster charges.

I went online and bought two tickets. With all of the charges added on, it cost me $9.37 for the free show. No complaints, but it’s funny nonetheless…

We drove in from the house yesterday morning and spent the day in the city. We went to the club early, as it’s a general admission, first-come-first-served place. We got great seats and relaxed and ordered dinner. The food at BB King is always good, and I enjoyed mine thoroughly. I also enjoyed my Lucille (their name for a type of chocolate martini). 🙂

It took a while for people to start coming in (a little surprising, given that they were advertising on the outside marquis that the show was free). While they never sold out, or even came close to filling up (again, quite surprising), there was a very healthy sized crowd. BB King holds 400 at capacity, and I’m guessing there were roughly 250 people last night.

Strawberry Fields came on at 8:03 (late for BB King which typically starts exactly at 8pm), but obviously, right on time for most venues! They were dressed like the original Fab Four, in black suits. They played the early songs, and played them well. Unfortunately, the microphones were set to a way lower volume than the instruments, and you really had to concentrate hard to hear their voices. Of course, given that every note of every Beatles song is etched on my brain, I could fill in the gaps without thinking about it, but still, it was annoying…

Two times, the band quickly said something to the sound engineer, but it never got better (in fact, for a second or two, it got worse, where they were nearly turned off). Still, it was fun, just not as cool as I had hoped.

They played for 50 minutes, and then announced a break. A few people left at that point. It wasn’t clear whether they left because they misunderstood and thought the show was over, or they didn’t enjoy it, or they got their money’s worth, etc.

The break was longer than expected, lasting 30 minutes! When they came back on, it was in full Sgt. Pepper’s regalia. They played music from that era. The microphone situation was worked on during the break, and it definitely got better, but it was never quite right. While disappointing, it wasn’t that bad. Their voices never miss a note, but they don’t exactly have great voices either.

They did a final costume change during the performance (the waiter told us that sometimes, they take a second break to do that), and played music from the end of the Beatles dressed like they looked then.

When they came on for the second set, the announcer said something that I was unaware of. According to him, The Beatles never played the Sgt. Pepper music live! The one exception was that they broadcast a live performance with a full symphony orchestra.

Strawberry Fields recreates that experience by having prerecorded music of the orchestra (horns and all), which they sing and play along with. You have to be pretty good/tight to pull something like that off, because the recording doesn’t stop if you mess up, etc. One of the greatest bands in history, The Who, used to do that whenever they played Quadrophenia live.

Anyway, Strawberry Fields pulled it off. Even in the first set, the guy who plays George Harrison (Mark “Farquar” Vaccacio) proved to be an excellent guitar player. The guy who plays Paul McCartney (Billy J. Ray) plays the bass extremely well, and left handed no less, just like Paul. The guy who plays John Lennon (Tony Garofalo) played rhythm guitar mostly during the first set, well, but it was hard to tell whether he was really good or not. Finally, the guy who plays Ringo (Gerard Barberine, Jr.) was really good on the drums, even though he was playing on the more minimalist kind of drum sets used by the original Beatles.

In the second set, which was more heavy rock oriented, “Farquar” really went to town. He’s quite an accomplished lead guitarist, and we both thoroughly enjoyed his many riffs. Toward the end, Tony Garofalo (the founding member of Strawberry Fields) started taking more leads. He’s really excellent too!

Toward the end of the show, they brought a birthday cake up on the stage, and Tony/John called up his wife (or significant other) Sandy to the stage, to wish her a happy birthday. She was very reluctant to go up, but Tony (and the crowd) prevailed upon her to do it. He called her his soul mate, and it seemed fitting that the John Lennon character, so smitten by Yoko Ono, would be the one to bring up his soul mate on the stage. 🙂

Then, to top off the show, as a thank you and homage to BB King the person, as well as BB King the club, they did a rocking blues number (both guitarists took fantastic solos, and it was one of the numbers that showed me what Tony can bring!).

Anyway, by the time the show was over, it was 10:30pm! So, they played for nearly two full hours, not including the break. Very cool, and very classy to do for a free concert where you could hardly complain if they didn’t give it their all and cut it a bit short.

We were very glad to have gone, and the only regret was the poor handling of their microphones, something that isn’t typically a problem at BB King.

We’re back at BB King this coming Saturday night to see Jerry Jeff Walker, then again on April 4th to see Dave Mason (again). I’m sure they will have the sound problems worked out by then, or least, I’m anxiously hopeful that they will!