The 62nd annual Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner was a refreshing break from the sliding stock market, corporate layoffs and other bad news we seem to be smothered by lately.

In fact, it was a soaring night of optimism as area business leaders celebrated last year’s success stories and look forward to the future. Besides that – the Beatles were in town…sort of.

Plenty of social events were canceled over the holidays because of the economic climate, but the Annual Dinner has become (as advertised) “the social event of the year” and to forgo this event would be unforgivable – especially in light of this city’s optimism which has been celebrated for over 62 years.

About 1,500 attended last Friday’s gala. I didn’t see any critics or pessimists either. No protests or squabbles about politics. Instead, as usual, it was the brightest, most creative gathering of business men and women, young and old celebrating another year of progress.

Some voices might be critical of the flamboyance of this event. The ticket price was $70 and even though there have been plenty of local layoffs and our own downturn in retail sales, housing and automotive sales the mood was positive.

After all, business is all about risk-taking and even though there were several Casanovas at MeadowView this weekend, there were also admirable leaders, philanthropists and hard working volunteers who continue to invest in the future of our city.

One of my favorite things about this event is the opportunity to mingle. I’m fortunate to know many of the area’s business owners and work with them each week. There’s a shared sense of unity as these leaders past, present and future take advantage of this time together. Dressed in our best, we share plenty of relaxed moments and I’m always dazzled by the semi-formal fashion of the evening and admit that we have some gorgeous ladies in our town.

This year’s Dave fashion awards go to Marybeth Kench for her metallic cocktail gown, Kira Dykstra for her grandmother’s fur, Helen Whitaker for her post-modern design and Jeanette Blazier for her regal blue.

There were plenty of politics happening too. It was a pleasure to speak with my friend and newly appointed Senator Mike Faulk and he was flanked by Richard Venable, Jason Mumpower and several others.

Celebrating Kingsport’s Higher Education initiative Dr. John Peterson , president of the University of Tennessee had a great time at this year’s dinner. Good call on the entertainment too as Peterson is a musician and avid Beatles fan.

As usual, WJHL’s production team did a good job putting together various video spoofs that proceed the evening’s entertainment. This year’s Jeopardy game show featured local business celebrities Tom Segelhorst (outgoing Chamber Chair) who took the brunt of most of the jokes. Mayor Dennis Phillips and Miles Burdine were excellent comics as they read what would be otherwise a dull presentation of facts of figures from the past year.

Sarah Diamond and Josh Phillips, the annual emcees, kept the pace rolling as we all prepared to eat dinner.

MeadowView did another superb job serving a crowd this size in a timely manner. Our tables were flanked by an small army of servers and the main course was pork tenderloin complimented by a Kentucky silk pie for dessert, complimented by a couple of bottles of Merlot.

The final part of the program was the introduction of incoming Chamber chair Julie Bennett who is a consultant with Bristol Motor Speedway who takes over for her annual term which like most local economies will be quite a challenge.

The Fab Four bill themselves as “The Ultimate Beatles Tribute Band.” Originating from Los Angeles, they have performed at several stages throughout the region and always leave their audiences amazed. Many of the tickets for this MeadowView event were sold primarily on the chance to see this band.

As the lights went and down and before the band struck the first note, I polled our table to guess what the first song would be. If my trivia had been sharp, I should have known. When the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964, their first song was ‘All My Lovin.’ So began our night, in Kingsport with The Fab Four – on February 6th, 2009.

When their set began, you could tell every visual nuance was accounted for in The Fab Four’s impression of one of the greatest bands ever. Steve Bailey and his crew of videographers had big-screen images all around the hall at MeadowView and it was easy to see from every angle. The band’s European 60s suits, the lapels, the shoes, the mop-top wigs and makeup all added to the imagery of the Beatles onstage with Sullivan.

All the instruments too – Ludwig and Hoffner were traditional instruments the band played during their American performance, McCartney’s left handed bass and even Ringo’s drumming style were mimicked. Harrison’s close-clutched guitar style was choreographed perfectly and you could tell these guys had done their homework.

Jared Bentley described the band’s sound as “Spot On.” Every vocal harmony, every tone and riff were perfect iterations of all of our favorite Beatle’s songs.

Surprisingly enough, I think it’s the very first time I’ve seen a copa line form at MeadowView. It was during the song ‘Obla-Dee-Obla-Dah’ that Kingsport’s business leaders formed a snake line dancing around tables. A line which include Pal Barger, Tony and Jackie Hewitt, Amy Lynn and several Chamber members all sparkling in the spotlight that tried to follow them around the room.

One of the unsung heroes for the night was the sound crew.

As usual, the Soundpranos of father-to-be Robert Pickles and Jeff Cates did a great job with the production, but the Fab Four brought their own sound man that added a special touch. It would have been real easy to destroy the sound of this band from the stage and copying the sound of the Beatles is more than makeup and props. The guy behind the board knew how to sculpt every instrument and every harmony to add to the illusion of the night’s performance.

I’m still convinced after all these years, the best place for any concert is right in front of the stage and I had to leave our table about mid-room to snap some pictures and I’m glad I did, because that when things really started to get exciting. Up front is where the action is at – the dancing, the singing and the best place to see the band. It was fun to watch everyone sing each song note for note and I managed to snap several cool shots of the band and their fans.

This was a exceptional year for crowd retention at the Annual Dinner. The Fab Four really helped people stay out past their bedtime. Sure, there were a few people who left after dinner, but for the most part there was still a large crowd at the very end when the Fab Four encore had everyone singing to ‘Hey Jude.’

It was hard to go home right away, so we joined several friends at the new MeadowView bar. It was there that I got the chance to meet the Beatles – unmasked. Honestly, you would never know the band out of their makeup.

The five-piece group performs about 200 shows a year. They manage themselves and seem to really enjoy the active lifestyle of a touring band even though they have to dress up in makeup and perform some other band’s songs – at least they have a great band with plenty of great music.

‘Ringo’ shared with me that they had plenty of other material too including an “Ed Sullivan” that joins them and several other sets of Beatles music down through the years.

It was an extraordinary night for the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. Bob Feagins is the guy who’s been working behind the scenes for several weeks now to bring about this year’s dinner and to him and his staff of colleagues – ultra kudos to you all – it was another tremendous and memorable success.

Kingsport has plenty of work ahead to weather the current economic climate and it will certainly take a little bit of luck to stay ahead of the curve, but more importantly it will require the optimism of our brightest business owners to continue our momentum.

There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll continue to see positive growth in our city and the best is truly yet to come as Kingsport continues to be a great place to live work and play.