Beatles are back at Picnic at the Pops

08/29/2013 12:00 AM

08/29/2013 8:10 AM

Pop music trends come and go, but the Beatles endure.

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra is bringing back tribute act Classical Mystery Tour to kick off its season-opening Picnic at the Pops concert at E.&J. Gallo Winery grounds Sept. 7.

The group, which last performed at Picnic at the Pops in 2007, strives to exactly re-create the sounds of the original Beatles recordings by performing with the orchestra. The band is the latest of a seemingly never-ending string of Beatles tribute acts that regularly visit the area. Recent examples include “In My Life,” a musical theater tribute to the Beatles that came to the Merced Theater in April, and “Rain,” a touring Broadway show that stopped at the Gallo Center for the Arts in January.

Stuart Chafetz, guest conductor of the Picnic at the Pops show, said Classical Mystery Tour stands out because the four performers also look and dress like the Beatles. The Picnic at the Pops show is held in the parklike setting of the E.&J. Gallo Winery grounds and ends with a fireworks show. The concert is anticipated to draw up to 4,000 people.

“You can expect a really good time,” Chafetz said. “The orchestra is playing the exact orchestration from the records.”

Audience members are encouraged to bring their own picnic dinners or preorder dinners prepared by O’Brien’s Market, Tresetti’s or Greens. Alcoholic drinks can be purchased on site.

Jim Owen, who founded Classical Mystery Tour and plays John Lennon, said he has been a die-hard Beatles fan since age 7.

“Every birthday, every Christmas, I had to get a new Beatles record,” he said. He already had been studying classical piano, but listening to the band inspired him to also learn to play the guitar.

As an adult, he wanted to play the songs with a band. Beginning as a teenager, he started performing in “Beatlemania” shows.

“It’s easy to do the early music when it was just bass, drum, guitar and vocals, but then it gets interesting with ‘Yesterday’ and a string quartet and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with a double quartet,” he said. “If you want to play that, you could do keyboard or backing tracks, but it’s not very satisfying.”

He started by seeing if he could get a saxophonist to sit in on “Lady Madonna.” Then he wondered if he could recruit classical musicians for other songs. In 1996, Classical Mystery Tour was born as a group that could guest with full symphony orchestras.

Owen said he is lucky that he is joined by a particularly talented group of musicians who happen to look like the Beatles. Tony Kishman, who has performed in classic supergroup Wishbone Ash, is Paul McCartney; David John is George Harrison and Chris Camilleri is Ringo Starr.

All of the musicians dress in costumes from the Beatles’ different eras – starting with the matching 1960s suits from “The Ed Sullivan Show” days to the outlandish Sgt. Pepper costumes.

Owen said the group has been able to connect strongly with audience members.

“I think it brings out nostalgia,” he said. “The songs carry a bit of emotion. We made it our goal to be the best musicians we can be, the best vocalists we can be.”

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