Williams is not exaggerating. Around 300,000 rabid fans have gathered in Liverpool from every corner of the globe — though organizers have a hard time nailing down exact figures, as the Mathew Street Music Festival, held at the same time, is responsible for some of the inundation. The crowd of Beatle Week revelers is a motley crew. There are obsessed baby boomers decorated head to toe with Beatles accessories and greeting others of the same ilk with warm handshakes and hugs while they exchange memories of past gatherings. There are quiet, unassuming members of the band’s cognoscenti who simply want to soak in the atmosphere and hear a week’s worth of familiar tunes. And there are young people, born long after the Beatles’ heyday, who can belt out the lyrics as well as anyone.
The assortment lends a blended, family-like feeling to the festivities, which are buoyed by enough beer to float a cruise ship. And where’s the best place to grab a pint? That’d be Jacaranda or the Grapes, two local watering holes the Beatles used to frequent. I visit the Grapes to drink up some Beatles nostalgia — and, yes, some local ale too. Sitting in a small booth, I notice people taking pictures on a nearby bench. Hanging on the wall is a framed black-and-white photo showing the Beatles sitting in that very spot.
There are many other similar Beatles points of interest around town to see as well, and the best way to hit them all is on a Magical Mystery Tour, which is offered not just during the Beatle Week festivities but year-round. The two-hour bus tour, accompanied by a soundtrack of Beatles tunes (appropriately matched to the sites), takes passengers to all four members’ childhood homes as well as to Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, and St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, where Lennon and McCartney first met at a fete in 1957 and where Eleanor Rigby is supposedly buried.
But, of course, no celebration dedicated to the Beatles would be complete without music, and Beatle Week offers it in spades. More than 78 bands from 19 countries are performing at these festivities, most of them Beatles tribute acts. “And we turn down three times as many bands as we let in,” says Jones of Cavern City Tours. (The Mathew Street Music Festival, which boasts a two-day lineup of Beatles tribute acts and many contemporary bands, takes place at the same time as Beatle Week, in case you — gasp! — want a taste of something different.)
Throughout the course of the week, I rock and roll at the Adelphi to the sounds of bands like the Sutcliffes, named for Lennon pal and artist Stuart Sutcliffe, who played bass for the Beatles early on until McCartney took over, and along Mathew Street, which is home to the famous Cavern Club, where the Beatles played 292 shows. After the Cavern Club was demolished years ago for a subway project, it was rebuilt in roughly the same location with most of the original materials and almost to the exact dimensions of the original. (It is now owned by Jones and Heckle.)
When I descend the club’s long winding stairs and enter the main room, I experience a rush of breathlessness, and not entirely due to the lack of air in the stuffy space. The ecstasy of entering such a hallowed space is simply overwhelming. Almost immediately, though, I’m resuscitated by the strains of “Bad Boy,” a Larry Williams composition that was covered by the Beatles and is now being performed on the back stage by Les Sauterelles, a Swiss cover group. The whole room joins in as the lead singer bellows the line, “Now Junior, behave yourself!”
Across the street, at the Cavern Club’s sister bar, called the Cavern Pub, the Blue Margarets, an all-female Beatles cover band from Tokyo, is winning over the crowd with its renditions of classic Fab Four tunes. The members speak little English, but they have the Beatles’ lyrics, body language, and musicianship down perfectly.
At one point during the set, Satomi Kubo — who plays George — bursts into tears midsong. She explains to the crowd, as best she can, that she is simply overcome at the honor of playing Beatles music in Liverpool. The crowd echoes her emotion.
As I head back to the Adelphi, I run into the Beatles again. This time, it’s José Antonio Vaquerizo, Miguel Labrado, Enrique Sánchez, and Benjamín Serrano — a tribute band from Andalusia, Spain, known as Los Escarabajos. They may not actually be the Beatles, but for this eight-day week, with mobs of admirers crowding around them, snapping keepsake photos, and begging for autographs, they can be.