By Ray Routhier
If you hear there's a "Beatles night" in downtown Portland, your first thought might be, "Oh, I hate cover bands."
But the 10th Annual Beatles Night planned for Saturday is more than that. Scheduled for the 1,800-seat State Theatre, it features some 20 local musicians -- including a six-piece string section and a six-piece horn section -- performing some 30 songs.
And it's an event that's been 10 years in the making.
Beatles Night is being spearheaded by Spencer Albee, a keyboardist and longtime Beatles fan who has been in several Portland bands, including Rustic Overtones, As Fast As and School Spirit Mafia. The event began with just a few musicians a decade ago at The Big Easy nightclub in Portland.
"We did the best we could, just to have fun, and there was no plan to ever do it again," said Albee, 36.
But every year, the idea would come up again, and every year, more musicians wanted to be involved. And every year, the event was held in a bigger space -- Asylum, Port City Music Hall -- culminating with the State, the biggest venue thus far for the tribute.
Past Beatles Nights have been held on different dates, but the weekend after Thanksgiving seems to be preferred by both musicians and fans.
"It's a great weekend for this show, because people are home from school or wherever, and it's the kind of show the whole family can see together," said Albee. "You have folks who remember when The Beatles were together, and you have people of all ages who keep discovering them. They were the biggest-selling artist of the 2000s, which is absurd if you think about it."
This year's show will feature several songs that require, if done right, lush orchestration. And because The Beatles stopped performing live well before they stopped recording, a lot of those 40-plus-year-old songs were never performed in concert by the group, including classics such as "I Am the Walrus," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day in the Life."
Which makes arranging them for a live band a little tricky, said Albee. Sean Morin of The Cambiata and John Maclaine of The Fogcutters big band are doing the arrangements. "That's really the most time-consuming part of this," said Albee.
In past years, Beatles Night has featured musicians playing all the songs from one Beatles album. But for the 10th anniversary, the show will consist of favorites from throughout the Fab Four's career.
The concert will also include post-breakup material by The Beatles, both solo and with other bands, such as Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" and Paul and Linda McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," the latter of which McCartney has never played live.
Albee said he knows there are some people who don't like "Uncle Albert" with its many different parts, its sound effects and its silly character voices. But he thinks that after people hear it live, they might change their minds.
"You just can't say that's a stupid song," said Albee. "It's constantly changing. It's almost prog-rock. We're going to have the thunder and rain affects, the telephone mics, the cellos. I think it'll sway the naysayers.
"By the time we get to the 'hands across the water' part, we'll have every one singing along."
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: