Imagine playing the same gig every Saturday for the past 14 years. Now imagine doing that gig as a John Lennon impersonator. For Tony Garofalo, there is no greater role than continuing the work of the iconic mop-top and his three fellow musicians, better known as The Beatles, and doing it as a member of the Strawberry Fields tribute band. And there’s no greater honor than being called upon to play for the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first landing/American TV appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at the Lehigh Valley’s own celebration tonight at 7:30, at the Musikfest Café at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.
Garofalo, who resides in Long Island, N.Y., is the 1991 founder and producer of Strawberry Fields, billed as “the ultimate Beatles tribute band.” His group has played Bethlehem’s Musikfest and will return once more on Aug. 9, for an evening performance at Festplatz.
Tonight’s performance will feature Strawberry Fields in appropriate costume for “an early and later Beatles” experience through the 60s, beginning with 1964, explained Garofalo, who donned another guise for 20 years with the New York Police Department. Known to his colleagues as “the real Sergeant Pepper,” Garofalo retired from the force in 2005, having been with its central robbery unit, narcotics division, detective division, and internal affairs bureau. He also was active in the Sept. 11 rescue and recovery effort both at Ground Zero and the Staten Island Fresh Kills location.
Garofalo said he formed Strawberry Fields “in an effort to bring forth a complete Beatles performance package accessible to every type of audience and budget.” His goal for the band always was to stay true to the music of the Beatles. Strawberry Fields enters its 15th year performing during the Beatles Brunch every Saturday at BB King’s Blues Club in New York City’s Times Square. Garofalo, along with his mates – Billy J. Ray as Paul McCartney, John Korba as George Harrison, and Michael Bellusci as Ringo Starr – convincingly look and sound like the Beatles because they were the Beatles back in the 80s and 90s as former members of the hit Broadway musical, “Beatlemania.”
“We’re as close to a real Beatles concert as you can get,” described Garafalo who, along with Bellusci, portrayed John Lennon and Ringo Starr, respectively, in the touring company. Billy J. Ray was Paul McCartney in the original Broadway cast. Korba played with the Beatles tribute band, Rain.
Garofalo said he got to meet Sir Paul McCartney and his band last July at an after-concert VIP party at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, when McCartney held Garofalo’s actual NYPD sergeant’s badge for a photo.
“He was a really nice guy,” Garofalo said.
Strawberry Fields performed at the 40th anniversary recreation of the Beatles’ historic 1965 concert on the field of New York’s Shea Stadium on Aug. 16, 2005, before 45,000 fans. The band was part of the entertainment lineup last week when Yankee Stadium hosted the NHL Stadium Series games.
Footnote: One thing I learned from my interview with Garofalo was that he worked with Mark “Farquar” Vacaccio for 13 years at the Beatles Brunch. Vacaccio was the original John Lennon in Broadway’s “Beatlemania” when he performed at my August 1980 wedding at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, at the request of my Best Man, actor Joseph Scalzo. Sadly, I now learned that Vacaccio passed away in June 2011.
For further info: artsquest.org
Northampton Community College will be celebrating the Beatles’ 50th anniversary with the actual telecast of their American TV debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday at 7 p.m., at Lipkin Theatre on the main campus, 3835 Green Pond Rd., Bethlehem. The Large Flowerheads will be on hand and, according to drummer Moe Jerant, will be playing a good amount of Beatles with a mix of “some other British invasion and a bit of American pop.” There also will be a display of Beatles memorabilia. The evening is free, though tickets are required.
The event is part of a three-year campus project by English Professor James Von Schilling in an effort to highlight events of the mid-60s. This past fall focused on the March on Washington and the Kennedy assassination. The spring will feature the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Von Schilling, who hails from Hackensack, Bergen County, NJ, said he was just out of high school when he and his best friend ventured to Shea Stadium to see the Beatles perform in August 1965. He recalled paying $5.50 for his ticket and sitting near the speakers.
He added that NCC will host the Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” on March 6, at 11 a.m., in Lipkin Theatre.
For further info: 610-861-4145.
Other related events: “All You Need is Love: A Beatles Tribute Concert,” Feb. 21, 8 p.m., Sands Event Center in Bethlehem; The Fab Faux, March 1, 8 p.m., State Theatre in Easton.
Children will know that familiar call when the Reading Public Museum hosts the new, interactive exhibition, “Dora and Diego – Let’s Explore!” beginning Saturday through May 11. Nickelodeon’s beloved characters Dora and Diego, from the hit preschool series, “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go!” bring along friends Boots, Map, Backpack, Isa, Tico and Swiper. The exhibit follows the adventures of the seven-year-old Latina heroine Dora and her friends in an imaginative, tropical world. Diego is her eight-year-old cousin, a bilingual animal rescuer who protects animals and their environment.
Other exhibits opening Saturday: “IHLENFELD/BERTOIA: An Artistic Friendship” (sculptors Klaus Ihlenfeld and Harry Bertoia; celebration of Bertoia’s birthday on March 10, 5:30 to 7 p.m.) and “Infinite Place: The Ceramic Art of Wayne Higby” (opening reception Saturday, 4 to 6:30 p.m.).
For further info: readingpublicmuseum.org
(Photo: © 2014 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved. Nickelodeon, Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go! and all related titles, logos, and characters are trademarks of Viacom International Inc.)