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Orillia's Beatles Celebration is music to ears of vendors, visitors

By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Packet & Times

There's a place for Beatles fans and, apparently, it's Orillia.

Organizers estimated between 17,000 and 19,000 people attended the second annual Orillia Beatles Celebration on the weekend.

"This makes us, again, the biggest Beatles festival in Canada, by far," said artistic director David Goyette. "This positions us as an annual festival in Orillia."

After the inaugural event last year, attendees offered some friendly advice to organizers. One of the concerns was regarding vendors and displays being too far from the downtown core.

This year, it was pretty much all on Mississaga Street.

Being outside -- especially in such ideal weather -- worked out for the best for vendors, many of whom were reluctant at first.

"Every single one of them had increased revenue this year, and they all had big smiles on their faces," Goyette said.

Trevor Hosier once again brought his extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia from Lindsay. This year, his display was in the Opera House instead of at city hall.

"The numbers this year have far exceeded last year," he said. "It's been a real pleasure to take part again."

Hosier, who runs the Youngtown Rock and Roll Museum, started out collecting autographs and now has hundreds of artifacts from musicians from the 1950s to 1970s -- "the first three decades of rock 'n' roll."

Seeing such diversity among the crowd -- especially young fans -- was refreshing, he said. "There's a whole new generation of fans emerging with a real appreciation for the music."

While local festivals usually draw Orillians more than anyone else, that didn't seem to be the case with the Beatles Celebration. Event co-chair Ralph Cipolla said about 60 per cent of those in attendance were from out of town.

Organizers didn't focus the advertising on Toronto as much this year as they did last, which might have helped, said Goyette, who noted many people came from Northern Ontario and even outside of Canada.

Special guests at this year's event were May Pang, who once dated John Lennon, and Nancy Lee Andrews, a former model and ex-partner of drummer Ringo Starr.

Pang and Andrews both spoke to capacity crowds at the Opera House.

"We didn't expect such big crowds at the Opera House," said Cipolla. "We had to turn people away."

Celebrity guests will continue to be regular features, Goyette assured.

"It's what distinguishes our show."

Another plus, he said, is the fact all the performers are Canadian and "every one of them said, 'Can I come back?'"

Some downtown businesses reported record sales, which was great news, especially considering this time of year is the "off-season" in Orillia, said co-chair Pete Bowen.

"If we can bring in 17,000 people on a weekend in the offseason and each of them spend money here, the community is a huge benefactor," he said. "This has been a tremendous boon to Orillia."

Also benefiting from the festival were Habitat for Humanity and the campaign to establish a cancer care centre at Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie.

Habitat for Humanity was the charity of choice this year, and they had a booth set up on the main street.

The cancer centre campaign will get the proceeds of a draw that was held Sunday at the Opera House. Three people -- from Dundas, Bobcaygeon and Oro Station -- won trips to Liverpool, England: home of the Beatles.

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