John Lennon

Jackie O’s, Casa To Host 14th Annual Lennonfest

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Take a sad song and make it better.

Although Paul McCartney penned those lyrics, they’re perfectly suited for this year’s Lennonfest, being held this Saturday at Jackie O’s and Casa Cantina.

What started in 2000 as an impromptu gathering of local musicians and Beatle fans has turned into one of Athens’ most anticipated annual events: an evening of Beatles and John Lennon songs, performed by some of the best talent Athens has to offer.

Originally held at The Union Bar & Grill, the show was expanded to Jackie O’s a few years later.

Many wondered what would happen with Lennonfest after the Nov. 16 fire that destroyed The Union’s upstairs room and damaged several other businesses along West Union Street, including Jackie O’s.

Eric Leighton, who founded Lennonfest 14 years ago, wants to assure everyone that a splendid time is still guaranteed for all. Casa Cantina agreed to co-host this year’s event and Jackie O’s Public House, which recently re-opened, is ready to rock once again.

Proceeds from this year’s show will benefit Union Street fire relief efforts, as well as the Johnny B Fund, set up to help young local musicians pay for music lessons.

Leighton and co-organizer Scott Winland are encouraging Athenians to visit both Jackie O’s and Casa this Saturday, make a donation and sing their hearts out.

“This music lifts people’s spirits,” said Leighton, who, as one of the Union Street employees affected by the fire, admitted that this past month has been an emotional rollercoaster. “Lately, it’s been hard to focus. But things happen and people in this community step up when needed. I think it’s very poignant that we’re able to host part of this at Jackie O’s. We’re coming back, little by little.”

Although the list of performers is still being finalized, The Blam Blams (featuring Winland), Blond, Nuddhist Monks, Lennon Orchestra (Leighton’s band), Orange George and Zapple Pie have been confirmed.

Despite the changes with this year’s show, one thing remains same: Musicians all over town are frantically learning Beatles songs. Kind of like cramming for a test–and no easy feat, according to Leighton.

“It’s challenging material,” he said. “And educational, too. It’s always a joy, digging into the arrangements and discovering new things. Everyone puts their own spin on these songs, and when you factor in audience participation, it just becomes a communal experience.”

A suggested donation of $5 will be collected at either Jackie O’s or Casa, which will allow attendees to go back and forth between venues. The music is scheduled to get underway around 9 p.m.

Updates are being posted daily on the event’s Facebook page.