The Beatles’ song “Getting Better” features the line: “I used to get mad at my school/ No, I can’t complain.” Likewise, longtime Beatles tribute artist Chris Getsla has little to complain about.
A school assignment initiated what would ultimately become a career devoted to the Fab Four. As a seventh-grader growing up in Glenview, Ill. in the 1990s, Getsla’s homework required him to share a song with the class. Far from a diehard music fan, he asked his parents for advice. Their suggestion was “A Hard Day’s Night.”
“I listened to the whole thing from top to bottom and when I listened to the end, I wanted more,” Getsla recalls.
A few years later, after learning how to play bass guitar, Getsla recruited a few friends to perform Beatles songs at a high school variety show. Thus, BritBeat was born.
Beginning today and running through Monday, BritBeat will perform at Abbey Road on the River, a five-day Beatles festival at The Gaylord National Resort in the National Harbor.
This will be both the festival’s and BritBeat’s second Washington, D.C., appearances.
Each year, Getsla says the band tries to include something new for fans. Last year, the group performed “A Hard Day’s Night” in its entirety. This year, Getsla says the group will present a chronological history of The Beatles, starting with their matching black suits, moving through to the electric colors of Sgt. Pepper’s and finally ending the show with what Getsla describes as a “fantasy reunion.” In the show’s final segment, The Beatles’ solo works will be featured.
“So McCartney would be like ‘Band on the Run’ and stuff like that,” says Getsla. “And we’ll have the John [Lennon] singer playing ‘Instant Karma!’ and George [Harrison] singing ‘My Sweet Lord.’”
In addition to its regular show, the group also will contribute to a re-creation of the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” with fellow bands All You Need is Love and The NewBees. The original soundtrack was designed by so-called “fifth” Beatle, Sir George Martin and his son Giles Martin, and blends 130 Beatles songs.
The Abbey River on the Road festival first arrived in Louisville, Ky., in late May, but before that, all three bands met in the city for a weekend of rehearsals.
“We spent two days over the course of one weekend working out all of the details,” Getsla recalls. “It was real big hit in Louisville, and that’s why we’re bringing it to Washington, D.C.”
Gary Jacob started the festival in 2002 in Cleveland before moving it to Louisville two years later. Of some 6,000 Beatles cover bands Jacob says exist in the world, BritBeat is one of his favorites.
“They are just amazing,” he says. “They stand, in my opinion, on the very top of the people who can pull off the complete look and sound.”
Last year, Jacob says the festival attracted just shy of 15,000 visitors and he expects this year’s numbers to be larger. Some 40 acts are scheduled to participate, and Jacob encourages them all to interpret The Beatles in new and exciting ways.
For Jacob, the festival is a celebration of a band whose popularity continues to grow.
“Their music is not going away. There’s something that they created that stands alone at the top of the pyramid above everything else in rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “You may like The Rolling Stones better or Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan or hundreds of other artists, but it’s very difficult to argue [against the fact] that the big bang of rock ‘n’ roll that people enjoy is The Beatles.”
Additional performances at the festival will include renowned soprano Alessandra Marc, the a cappella group Voce Chamber Singers and the Washington Saxophone Quartet.
“Right away, you start to see [The Beatles’] music can be interpreted just like Shakespeare or Shaw in all different ways,” Jacob says.
Just because The Beatles started more than half a century ago does not mean the upcoming festival is strictly for baby-boomers on a nostalgia kick.
The band A+ Dropouts, led by 14-year-old Cheska Zaide, will perform songs like “Helter Skelter” and “I am the Walrus.” Like Getsla, Zaide’s first interest in music came from The Beatles, and she hopes to follow in their path.
“I think they were the guys who made being in a band cool,” Zaide says. “Because they were the first ones who made it as a band.”
‘Abbey Road on the River’
When: Today through Monday
Where: Gaylord National Resort, 137 National Plaza, National Harbor
Tickets: $35 for single day general admission, $70 for single day reserved admission, $50 for Super 1 Day General admission, $20 for monday Classic rock day for The Red Cross, $15 for Sleepless on the River (latenight shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.); $199 for the weekend’s Ultimate Ticket to Ride
When: 3p.m. to 2a.m. Thursday and Friday. 12p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. 12p.m. to 6p.m. Monday.