Arm-twisting is rarely required to gather a group of musicians to celebrate the music of a Beatle. That was certainly the case in 2014 when Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, Norah Jones, Heart’s Ann Wilson, the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Perry Farrell, Brandon Flowers of the Killers, "Weird Al" Yankovic and more than a dozen other guest singers showed up in Hollywood for George Fest, a benefit tribute to the songs of George Harrison.
Arriving not coincidentally in conjunction with what would have been "the Quiet Beatle’s" 73rd birthday today, a new three-disc set documenting the evening is being released Friday, with proceeds also benefiting the Material World Charitable Foundation.
Harrison’s son, musician Dhani Harrison, coordinated the effort that also featured the Cult’s Ian Astbury, Ben Harper, Conan O’Brien (both emceeing and singing "Old Brown Shoe"), Nick Valensi of the Strokes, Weezer’s Brian Bell, Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Heartless Bastards, Jamestown Revival, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Butch Walker, Karen Elson and the Cold War Kids.
For Dhani Harrison, it was an opportunity to fill a long-held fantasy.
"I've always imagined a small club show where my generation of musicians could cut loose on some of the deeper tracks from his career," Harrison said in a statement. "So, in a totally new and vibrant way, I once again found myself taking the stage with some of my most treasured musical heroes to the sound of the most familiar music in my life.... They are some of the best interpretations of my father's songs I could have ever thought possible.”
The set list also spotlights the spiritual themes that played a central role in many of Harrison's songs, from "My Sweet Lord" and "Beware of Darkness" to "I Me Mine" and "What Is Life."
"George gave to musicians an idea that you can be a spiritual rock 'n' roller," says Heart lead singer Ann Wilson, who sings "Beware of Darkness" and leads the all-star finale performance of "All Things Must Pass." "The two do mix."
Said Flowers, who handles Harrison's Traveling Wilburys-era hit "Got My Mind Set On You": "His ability to do what he did next to the monster that is Lennon and McCartney and still be able to succeed the way he did, that’s inspirational to me in a lot of ways."
Singers were backed by the Cabin Down Below Band, a house group that for the most part recreates arrangements that Harrison used on the songs as originally released with the Beatles and in his solo career after the group disbanded in 1970.
"George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison" is being released in several formats, including a two-CD/DVD set, a two-CD/Blu-ray version, a three-LP edition and as a digital download.
The concert video premieres Saturday on MTV Live and VH1 Classic.
The video portion includes backstage interviews with several of the participants in addition to the concert footage shot at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. Full information at the official George Harrison website.
Meanwhile, the annual George Harrison Birthday Celebration takes place Thursday night in Hollywood, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Harrison's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, outside Capitol Records Tower on Vine Street, north of Hollywood Boulevard.
Speakers are scheduled to include KLOS-FM's "Breakfast with the Beatles" host Chris Carter, SiriusXM radio host Jim Ladd and KCSN-FM "Saturday With the Beatles" host Les Perry. More details at the event's Facebook page here.