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Growing up with The Beatles

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An evening with Louise Harrison at WMPAC

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky community will have a chance to hear first-hand accounts of growing up with The Beatles from Louise Harrison, the late George Harrison’s older sister, at a special presentation at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Moderated by Eric Funk, the Emmy Award-winning host of the Montana PBS music program “11th and Grant,” the evening will be a combination of stories and song, performed by Funk, that illuminate the Beatles’ trajectory from Louise’s insider perspective.

“I’ll be wanting to personalize George Harrison through his sister through asking her about touring with The Beatles, when she was in that ‘big sister’ advisory role, how much he looked to her, and what the dynamics were,” Funk said.

Funk, who has been teaching a course in American popular music at Montana State University for 15 years, will also reflect on the politics, culture and society of the Beatles era and the impact of the British Invasion on the United States.

Countless myths, rumors and legends swirl around the Beatlemania phenomena—which is what inspired Louise to write “My Kid Brother’s Band a.k.a. The Beatles” in 2014.

“So many of the stories that have come out about the Beatles are just total nonsense,” said Louise, who was present for the band’s revolutionary debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and their first U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum less than 48 hours later. “I’ve been spending my life telling the truth about things that were a bunch of lies.”

Louise recalls how she and the Fab Four attended a fundraiser at the British Embassy prior to that performance in Washington D.C. While sitting next to Lady Sylvia Ormsby-Gore, wife of then British Ambassador Lord Harlech, a teenager approached Ringo Starr from behind and snipped off a chunk of his hair.

“The story going around on the radio was that Lady Sylvia Ormsby-Gore had wrestled Ringo to the ground and cut off a lock of his hair,” said Louise, who immediately corrected the story on the newswires and rescued the reputation of the ambassador’s wife.

Soon Louise, who had been trying to get American radio stations to play Beatles’ records since settling in Indiana in 1963, received a call from a radio program director who asked her to give Beatles Reports, which spread until Louise was debunking fake Beatles news on more than 20 radio stations nationwide.

At WMPAC, Louise—who “never got any older than 26, but in earth years [is] 86”—will share stories like these but says she would rather hear what the audience is interested in and let that guide the evening’s content.

One thing she will say is that audiences can expect to have a lot of fun.

“You might be getting on in your years,” Louise said. “But when you go bouncing out of here you’ll be 16 again.”

A Big Sky resident with a connection to the Harrison family approached John Zirkle, artistic director of the Warren Miller Arts Center, with the idea of having Louise speak at the venue.

“To have that type of closeness with one of the most iconic musical groups of the 20th century is such an incredible connection; it was too hard to pass up,” said WMPAC Artistic Director John Zirkle.

To craft an evening out of it, Zirkle called Funk who didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to spend an evening with Louise on stage at WMPAC.

“As Big Sky continues to grow its full-time community, it is important to find opportunities like these to continue to keep our local audiences entertained throughout the shoulder seasons,” Zirkle said. “We have to be careful with risk … but with an opportunity like this, we had to take it. Given the monumental connection to a real global cultural icon, I think we might even fill the house.”

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