British Invasion sets beat for Woodstock fundraiser

The Kishwaukee Ramblers
The Kishwaukee Ramblers

The same music that contributed to the end of the ’60s folk revival and TV shows like “Hootenanny” is now helping to ensure an area folk festival’s vitality.

The Woodstock Folk Festival presents “British Invasion,” March 2 at the Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this famous watershed in musical history.

Performers will include Tricia Alexander, John Burgess & Carol Francis, Pat Gaughan, David Hawkins, Keith Johnson & Judy Matzen, Jeff Justman, The Kishwaukee Ramblers (Amy Beth, Neal Brown and Gary Plazyk), Lia McCoo, Norm Siegel, The Stage Leftovers (Pete Jonsson, Brian Murphy, Laurel Palma, Joe Pesz, Rich Prezioso and Les Urban), The Swinging Sixties (Andy Andrick, Dean Milano and Russ Ward) and Chuck VanderVennet.

Each musical act will perform three songs from the British Invasion era. The Stage Leftovers will also serve as the house band, and other musical guests may be included. Proceeds will benefit the 29th Annual Woodstock Folk Festival to be held July 20 in Woodstock Square.

The Kishwaukee Ramblers don’t usually rock out, with a repertoire concentrated in traditional American and Celtic folk music. But the group has been rehearsing vintage popular and rock music in preparation for the upcoming event.

“We’re working on a Roger Miller song, ‘England Swings’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ by The Beatles, and also a song by The Kinks, ‘Sunny Afternoon,” said Neal Brown. “ I was 12 in 1964, and remember WLS and WCFL playing the Beatles constantly, and all the excitement about ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’”

Amy Beth of the group added, “I liked Herman’s Hermit’s and Petula Clark, and the Beatles, but liked the later Beatles (material) better. We were going to play ‘Happy Together’ by The Turtles at the fundraiser, but that’s not really British Invasion, so might just add that to our general song list.”

The Swinging Sixties takes its name from more than the era’s music. “We’re actually calling ourselves this because we’re all in our sixties,” laughed Ward, “I’ll turn 63 next month.”

Ward has been a life-long musician, performing in various rock bands over the years, beginning in his freshman year at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn. He also performs a wide range of music in a duet with his wife, Diane.

Ward recalls the impact of The Beatles and the original, so-called “British Invasion.”

“We were in eighth grade when the British Invasion happened, and it was the biggest thing in our lives,” he said. “We were totally obsessed with the music, not like the shrieking girls, but in really listening to the music and being absolutely blown away. The Beatles and the other British invasion bands were mostly playing American music, or music they wrote that was based on American music, but they did it in a way that just sounded so different, totally new to our ears.”

Any association with a Beatle was a big deal, even indirect contact, as Ward easily remembers. “Interestingly, my father was an engineer, and he actually did some work on the Ludwig drum factory (the brand Ringo played), and one day he came home from work and told me he shook hands with Mr. Ludwig, who had recently met and shook hands with Ringo. I was just thrilled.”

Ward notes the connection to folk and the British invasion’s influence on folk artists. “The Beatles went through their own folk stage, (as with) the Rubber Soul album, and were influenced by Bob Dylan and country music, and they helped to popularize using acoustic guitars in rock music. And of course just being intelligent singer-songwriters, they had a lot in common with folk music.”

For their live performance at the fundraiser, Ward said, “We’re planning to play ‘This Boy’ by The Beatles, ‘Baby’s In Black’ by The Beatles, and a song by the Hollies, either ‘Just One Look’ or ‘Bus Stop.’ 1964-65 was the British Invasion. By ’67 it was really over, so for this event we were only looking at the early stuff.”

British Invasion

Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock, 225 W. Calhoun St., Woodstock, (corner of Calhoun and Tryon Street near Woodstock Square)

2 p.m. Sunday, March 2

Suggested donation $10; reservations encouraged, not required

See woodstockfolkfestival@gmail.com or (815) 338-2080, or Woodstock Folk Music

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