East End Musicians Play Tribute to George Harrison and The Beatles

George Harrison and The Beatles
George Harrison and The Beatles on a 2003 Tchad stamp, Photo: konstantin32/123RF

George Harrison, the lead guitarist of The Beatles, would have turned 75 in February, and to commemorate that fact, some outstanding local musicians have banded together to play a night of Harrison’s most-loved songs.

Included on the concert will be many of the great Harrison-penned songs originally recorded by The Beatles—favorites like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”—as well as selections from Harrison’s solo material—gems like “My Sweet Lord,” “Give Me Love” and “What Is Life.” The concert will debut on Friday, February 2 at the Patchogue Theater, and will then be repeated on Friday and Saturday, February 9 and 10 at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

On these special nights, audiences will experience the unique and varied output of the so-called “quiet Beatle” in all of its glory.

It’s a dream come true for East Hampton’s Jeff Levitt, who will be playing lead guitar on the concerts. “The Beatles were and are my favorite band, and Harrison was and is my favorite Beatle,” Levitt says. An annual tradition has developed among local musicians of presenting evenings of Beatles music in February, and it was Levitt who made the suggestion to repurpose this year’s concerts to pay tribute to Harrison. “I thought, it would have been his 75th birthday—how about we honor his legacy?” The rest of the musicians jumped at the chance to dive into what might be considered an overlooked repertoire.

Of course Harrison’s music can only be considered “overlooked” if you compare it to the celebrated music of his more-prolific band mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney—just as Harrison was the “quiet Beatle” because he was first introduced alongside his boisterous and witty fellow Beatles. The fact is, even as the quiet Beatle, Harrison is far from overlooked—he had and has his own substantial fan base, people who appreciate his distinctive songwriting style and prefer the sincere, spiritual character of his lyrics.

And yet it seems that musicians seldom pull out Harrison’s deeper cuts in concert, which is a big oversight. Because in his songs, according to Levitt, “Harrison’s unique melodic beauty always stood out.” And Harrison’s thoughtful lyrics can also carry tremendous meaning. Think of songs like “Beware of Darkness,” from Harrison’s tour de force solo album All Things Must Pass, a song that combines a haunting melody with a number of earnest warnings—to beware of “soft-shoe shufflers,” to beware of “greedy leaders.” Ring a bell? This song will be a highlight of the concerts.

Harrison was a brilliant guitarist as well, bringing his melodic sense to his solos and having, an exceptionally keen interest in guitar tone. In fact, in order to do justice to Harrison’s guitar-tone palette, during the concerts Levitt will switch between at least six different guitars. Among these, of course, will be a Rickenbacker 12-string electric, a Harrison trademark. “In 1964, Rickenbacker gave Harrison the prototype,” Levitt says of the now-classic model. “He created that craze.” The shimmery–jangly tone of the 12-string Rick is indispensible on Harrison tunes like “If I Needed Someone.”

Levitt will also be in charge of recreating Harrison’s very personal style of playing slide guitar, as heard on such standouts as “My Sweet Lord” and “Give Me Love.” “It’s an amazing thing,” says Levitt of Harrison’s slide playing. “Two notes and you know it’s George!”

Luckily, you’ll have more than two notes to figure it out, as the band will unspool around 24 classic Harrison tunes. Joining Levitt onstage will be a who’s who of local talent, veterans of the annual Beatles tribute shows: Michael Schiano, Mick Hargreaves, Fred Gilde, Dan Koontz, Joe Lauro, Howard Silverman and Dave Giacone. So choose your town, choose your night, and come and wish George a happy 75th!

Visit patchoguetheatre.org and baystreet.org for tickets.

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