Who Could Ask for More

The “When I’m 64 Beatles Festival” was held this weekend in Prairietown, Illinois, “a populated place located within the Township of Omphghent,” not far from St. Louis.

It was a perfect day for it, 75 and sunny. Butch Moore and Alan White, who are often performing down at the Stagger Inn in Edwardsville, were playing Beatles tunes under a shelter for a small crowd sharing the picnic tables. They were followed by two cakewalks, then by Emily Hough, who is from neighboring Petersburg and was on American Idol. Her guitarist said he and the guys playing bass and drums were just making it up as they went along. He had known Emily since she was eight. That was maybe 10 years ago.

One of the legacies of The Beatles is the many festivals held every year, which come in all sizes. Several years ago a friend and I went to “Abbey Road on the River,” the Louisville version that calls itself “The World’s Largest Beatles-Inspired Music Festival.” It was a strange experience that I enjoyed, but it emphasized the rock and pop tunes, not the bucolic music born of postwar English life, which always chimed with my own midwestern childhood.

The Prairietown festival is named for one of those tunes, and it was so low-key that it invited relaxation. My analytic mind struggled with that, for a while. The Let It Be album cover was printed on banners at the back of the stage; the same faces were glued on a cornhole board that would be auctioned later. The MC auctioned a child’s t-shirt (size small) from last year’s festival. Bidding was slow but picked up, to $15. Proceeds for the day’s events went to the Unity Lutheran Christian School, but there was no admission fee. (The Festival’s fundraiser on Facebook had made $385 toward their $10,000 goal.)

Three food trucks were parked nearby. The one selling pulled-pork nachos with pickled jalapenos had a line. A few others stood at the truck with fried seafood. There was no wait at the truck with lengua and cabeza tacos.

Under the shelter, people who were actually 64 were going up to the mic to say their names, where they were from, and how many years they had been to the Festival. (The maximum was five.) They got a pin to mark the day.

The official Festival photographer, one of the organizers, told me that the final act, a tribute band called Men in Heat, was really something. He said the crowd would swell when the guys drinking in the nearby Prairie Inn Bar & Grill came to join the party, or so he hoped.

An old VW Bug was parked in the grass a few feet from the stage, next to white stripes painted on the blacktop path. It was a fun photo op, like the one in London having its 50th anniversary, though it seemed likely this one might also get the guy bent over picking tomatoes in the patch behind his house. A two-seater pedal boat with PVC pipes rising from the stern stood in for the Yellow Submarine.

Old hippies and bikers sold tie-die shirts, a woman sold honey she had harvested, and a high-school student sold her Beatles art. That was about it. The MC said they could not sell beer, so there was a canoe full of it, to the side of the stage, on him, enjoy. The music played on.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.