When the Shitty Beatles took the stage for the final two times last weekend, playing two three-set shows at the High Dive on April 17 and 18, fan and writer Tyler Francischine was there to experience and reflect on it.

by Tyler Francischine

Saying goodbye to Shitty Beatles shows at Common Grounds (yes, that’s what we’ll call it for nostalgia’s sake) is like saying goodbye to a chapter of our lives.

Goodbye to youth, goodbye to reckless abandon, and goodbye to that feeling of safety these songs and this environment filled you up with.

Since at least 2009, I’ve elbowed my way to the front of the crowd to sing Beatles songs at the top of my lungs, to close my eyes and feel like I’m listening to the real thing, to rub my pointer finger around the rim of a plastic cup and plop a neon-colored Jello shot on my tongue. So much of our lives have been lived while in that crowd. I’ve reunited with old faces, I’ve left some faces behind. I’ve laughed so hard I’ve drooled, I’ve cried so hard I’ve forgotten anyone else was around. I found a community in that audience and on that stage, and that community carries on, elsewhere.

The music provided a soundtrack for our lives, which we often lived separately, but when we came together, time stopped. When friends were in town, it felt like they never left. We’d hold each other tight, sing along, and forget they’d be leaving again tomorrow.

When you do an activity over and over again throughout a long period of time, you have one of two attitudes toward the task: it either becomes monotonous, you phone it in instead of trying to feel inside of the moment, or you relish the regularity and the structure. You come to depend on it as a marker of your identity. I think my friends (both the guys onstage and the guys and girls on the floor) chose the latter. Shit never got old.

Hearing those same songs like “Hey Jude,” “Oh! Darling,” and “Helter Skelter” felt like coming home. When Collin tore off those glasses and went to town, double-fisting the microphones, I couldn’t help but rip my hair tie out and slam my head around. His energy was infectious. Or when Travis played the guitar solo in “Something” – it stirred great emotion in me that time did not weaken. When the first notes of “Don’t Let Me Down” rang out, I would religiously scramble to call my best friend Celia, who now lives in Miami. It was a tradition for her to call friends during that song, and I adopted the practice when she left Gainesville. I don’t think she ever tired of getting voicemails of those opening lines, followed by my garbled “I love you” before hanging up. Calling her, feeling connected to a friend so far away, helped ease our pain of separation. Even if Eric always chastised me for being on my phone.

Walking into the venue that first night, April 17, 2015, I expected a bittersweet night of tears. I predicted that when it was all over, we’d trudge outdoors in funereal fashion, mourning the loss of something so dear to us. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the first acoustic notes on Friday night to the last time Chris shouted “I’ve got blisters on me fingers!” it was a celebration of joy and life.

Travis and Collin began the first night with an acoustic set of songs they’ve never played before. Let’s call it A Softer Side of Shit. The pair led the crowd in a campfire-like singalong, with everyone thrusting their beers in the air. For the second set, they played the earliest of the Beatles’ material, the songs that always made me squeal and jump around like a schoolgirl. How can you not scream when “She Loves You” starts? For the third set, they played deeper cuts like “Dig A Pony,” “Lovely Rita,” and “Rain,” which made me burst into tears out of nowhere. For an encore, they performed solo material, like “Imagine,” with Travis at the keyboard and Collin arm-in-arm with the audience, singing along.

Every time a song ended, I couldn’t help but think that this was the last time we’d hear these songs in performance. My mind would search for past memories of these songs and try to lose itself in the comforting nostalgia. But then, like the stark silence following the last sounds of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” reality would drop its weight upon me all over again.

At dinner before the second performance, I was gripped in a moment of anxiety: what’s next for all of us? I wondered how any of us are going to replace this moment or find anything that can bring us that same particular joy. That joy is time stopping, coming home, the erasure of illnesses, bad moods and interpersonal conflict for a greater, collective sense of closeness.

That anxiety was replaced with a feeling of celebration as the second and final show began with a set of both early songs and later, more emotionally impactful tracks. “Tomorrow Never Knows” tore the roof off, and I wished this wasn’t the last time I’d be submerged in this blanket of sound. After a couple tracks from Sgt. Pepper and the birthday song (what will next April’s birthday mean without hearing “Birthday?”), the group launched into a performance of Abbey Road in full. “Carry That Weight” and “The End” had the crowd seething for more, and thankfully, the four of them came back out for the encore of a lifetime.

I don’t remember many of the concrete details surrounding this performance of “Hey Jude” and “Helter Skelter” – it felt like I left my body, and now I can only conjure up brief images. I do recall someone pushing me onstage to sing and dance as hard as humanly possible for “Hey Jude.” I recall seeing Travis’s white shoes leaving the stage floor as he crowd surfed on top of a writhing audience. I recall looking out into that audience and feeling so proud and overjoyed that this was happening in our little town, for our friends and by our friends. And then we ran back to the floor to watch “Helter Skelter” one last time from our spot at the very front. Because from where else are you going to watch a Shitty Beatles show?

Thank you, Collin. Thank you, Eric. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Travis. You’ve given us memories we’ll carry on for the rest of our lives, and you are dearly loved.

Check out Gargs Allard’s interview with Shitty Beatles member and Morningbell frontman Travis Atria.

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