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Review: The Grand Rapids Symphony’s ‘Tribute To The Beatles’

This weekend, I hosted the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Picnic Pops at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

Outside of the traffic, it’s a great way to spend a summer evening.

The weekend marked my first introduction to what is fast becoming a summer tradition in West Michigan, enjoying the beautiful scenery at Cannonsburg while being surrounded by beautiful music. The D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops Series is in its 20th season at Cannonsburg.

And, if Friday is any indication, it’s stronger than ever.

Friday’s picture-perfect weather combined with the scheduled Beatles tribute made for a wonderful evening that defied all the descriptions I had been given for the event. Close to 5,000 people crowded the lower ski runs for the event, which was delayed slightly because of the traffic problems, which unfortunately caused a few concert goers to miss some oft he first half of the program.

If I could pass along one piece of information to make your experience better, it would be to approach the Ski Area from the East by taking Knapp Street or Three Mile Road to Honey Creek Road to westbound Cannonsburg Road, as most of the traffic problems arise on eastbound Cannonsburg Road coming in from the East Beltline or West River Road.

Friday’s night Beatles tribute featured the “Classical Mystery Tour”, a tribute band comprised of Jim Owen as John Lennon, Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney, David John as George Harrison and Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr.

PHOTO: Jojo Girard/Townsquare Media

The guys did a good job of taking on the general characteristics of the original Fab Four without overkill. Their interactions with the audience were short and sweet as they preferred to let their musical skills do the talking. And what a set of skills they demonstrated.

The band was tight musically and so were their vocal harmonies. Their set was designed to maximize the interplay between the band and the symphony orchestra, and the plan worked to perfection. Concentrating on the part of the Beatles oeuvre that featured the symphonic production skills of George Martin, the group ripped through a quick “Ed Sullivan era” set, before quickly donning Sgt. Pepper garb to move into big symphonic numbers like “A Day In The Life” and the India music-fused “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

The highlight of the first half was a spot on reading of “She’s Leaving Home”, which featured Tony and David hitting the high notes of the chorus, while Jim sang the “Greek chorus” of the parent’s perspective. The Symphony added just enough strings to make the song resonate among the throngs on the hill.

The second half had the band reemerge in more casual clothes representing the band’s “hippie” final years. The individual artists were all given solo vocal performances ranging from Tony’s high energy take on the beautifully arranged “Live and Let Die”, Chris’ fun run through “Yellow Submarine” and David’s plaintive “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

The evening’s highlight was John’s medley of “Give Peace A Chance” and “Imagine.” Coming right after sunset, the performance was beautifully crafted and featured the launching of small candle-lit luminaries lofting into the newly-darkened sky.

The Picnic Pops has two more weekends remaining on the schedule: this Thursday and Friday (July 24-25) features “Summertime Hits;” while the final weekend (July 31-Aug. 1) features the music of The Eagles.

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