For 10 years, Dylan Fest, Stones Fest and Petty Fest, collectively known as the Best Fest, have celebrated their titular artists with respectfully raucous covers concerts for charity, featuring acts like The Black Keys‘ Patrick Carney, Norah Jones, Delta Spirit and Kesha. Proceeds to date – in the hundreds of thousands, according to co-founder Alex Levy – have historically gone to Sweet Relief, a Fullerton, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance for musicians in need. This year, the Best Fest adds another honorary artist: George Harrison. George Fest, which took over Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre on Sept. 2, coincides with this month’s release of George Harrison: The Apple Years 1968-75.
“We’re huge Beatles fans, huge George fans,” says Levy, who met George’s son Dhani through mutual friends at Dylan Fest 2013. “Putting our heads together with Dhani and his team, we were able to come up with an incredible lineup,” including Brian Wilson, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Ben Harper.
“We’ve been very lucky coming up in the music business when we did,” adds Levy, who previously worked at Epic Records. He attributes the Best Fest’s consistently stellar roster to industry friends who just happen to be “artists who have been extremely successful.” The Fest’s beginnings, however, were more humble. In 2004, he and a few music-biz pals threw an impromptu jam in a cramped New York bar in honor of Dylan’s birthday. “We’re total music nerds,” says Levy with a laugh. “It was a huge success.”
George Fest also marks the launch of the Jameson Neighborhood Fund, the whiskey giant’s initiative to benefit local charities in cities where each festival is held (upcoming shows include Austin, San Francisco and Seattle). With Jameson paying for concert production costs, the Best Fest will donate 100 percent of ticket sales to the fund’s chosen charity. (Sweet Relief was the beneficiary of the Sept. 2 event.)
“The fund’s unofficial mission statement is, ‘We’re keeping the spirit of the community alive,’ which we love,” says Levy. “We’re a bunch of guys that started doing this for fun in the East Village, so this brings it full circle.”