Sgt. Pepper's troops storm N.J. Beatles fest

Richard Cowen
The Record (Hackensack N.J.) (MCT)

All you need is love for thousands of Beatles fans to come together - although it certainly helps to have cash or a credit card.

The Fab Four's magical history tour made its annual stop at the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands hotel Saturday, and there was something in way the merchandise moved that said The Fest for Beatles Fans was a smashing success.

There were Beatle dolls, Beatle lunchboxes and even some Beatle concert tickets for sale. But mostly, there was Beatles music that the people sang in the hallways during impromptu jams in the spirit of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Barbara Boggiano drove all the way from Maine with her 20-year-old daughter to join the festivities. She grew up on Long Island and still hasn't forgiven her mother for not allowing her to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1966.

"The cost of the ticket back then was $10, and that was too high," she recalled.

Now, she was standing in an area dubbed the Beatles Museum, surrounded by faded press clippings and old photos. Just outside the door, the crowd was singing "All My Loving," and Boggiano's eyes fixed upon a handwritten note signed by all four Beatles announcing their breakup in 1970.

"I get misty-eyed now just reading it," she said.

Next in line was Gregory Decesare, 53, of Long Branch, N.J., who saw the Beatles perform at Convention Hall in Atlantic City when they first came to America in 1964. Decesare remembers being blinded by the flashbulbs as the Beatles came on stage amid the hysteria of the crowd that would come to define Beatlemania.

"I screamed at the top of my lungs just to see if I could hear my own voice," Decesare said. "And I remember that I could feel my vocal cords trembling, but I couldn't hear anything coming out of my mouth."

Decesare can also lay claim to a rare feat among Beatles fans: He saw each of the Fab Four perform solo. That's a real Beatle badge of honor, given that John Lennon rarely performed live after the Beatles stopped touring in 1966. Decesare saw Lennon perform at an Aug. 30, 1972, benefit concert at Madison Square Garden for Willowbrook State School, an institution on Staten Island for mentally disabled patients.

The festival, which continued Sunday, is in its 30th year at the Crowne Plaza. Like previous years, it included appearances by people who were part of the Beatles story - wives, musicians, promoters, disc jockeys and people who just happened to be in the room when the Beatles dropped by.

This year's biggest attraction was Pattie Boyd, who met George Harrison in 1964 on the set of "A Hard Day's Night" and later married him. Also on hand was Ken Mansfield, a former manager of Apple, the record label started by the Beatles, and author Bruce Spizer, who handed out green apples to the audience while discussing the Beatles' final recordings.

Among the surprise guests were Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, who dropped in Friday night to visit Boyd.

But despite the star power, this day clearly belonged to the fans, many of whom arrived from all over the country. Some, like Roy Ruppert, 46, of Arlington, Va., arrived with guitar in hand.

"I like being with the peace and love generation," he said. "It's not like a big corporate thing."

Others, like Sarah DeGraaf, 12, of Wayne, N.J., were too young to remember the peace and love generation. But she's already a big Beatles fan, and bought a $15 black and white poster showing the band on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

She says the kids in her class at the Schuyler-Colfax School in Wayne like modern bands like Green Day.

"But I tell them it's the Beatles who made rock `n' roll what is," she said. "Without the Beatles, there would be no Green Day."

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