Thursday, May 20, 2010
Mark Benson had an epiphany on Feb. 9, 1964, when his parents let him stay up late to watch The Beatles play the Ed Sullivan Show.
“They were these young guys dressed up in suits playing, girls were screaming all over the place and these guys didn’t even go to college,” Benson says. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty good job.’”
Eighteen years after the Fab Four’s monumental television appearance, Benson found himself in John Lennon’s shoes, literally. He and three other Akron, Ohio musicians formed what might be the most watched tribute band to pluck a guitar in any genre: 1964 The Tribute, who play the Sunset Center on Saturday, May 22.
Decked out in matching black suits, skinny ties, Mod Chelsea boots and mop-top wigs, each member of The Beatles cover group reflects near-total commitment, down to Gary Grimes learning to play bass left-handed like Paul McCartney.
A focused goal makes fidelity more feasible: 1964’s goal is to reenact for its audiences what it was like to see a Beatles concert between 1963-66 and stick only to British Invasion songs like “She Loves You,” “Twist and Shout” and “Hard Day’s Night.”
In the beginning, none of its band members thought the tribute would amount to anything more than a bar gig.
“It was something fun to do maybe once a month,” Benson says. “We thought it was just going to be a baby-boomer thing, playing at class reunions.”
Two years into it, 1964 was offered a spot touring on the college circuit and ended up touring the country and Canada for more than eight years.
“Up to that point we weren’t thinking about it in terms of [a] full time [gig],” Benson says. “It’s the perfect college parents’ weekend band because the parents all love the music and, to our surprise, the kids all love it too.”
The group’s success playing at colleges led to bigger and more versatile venues.
“We’ve played Carnegie Hall 10 times and sold out Red Rocks in Colorado six years in a row,” Benson says. “These are things I never would have believed could happen with this.”
1964 The Tribute was also one of the first western groups to play in Communist Germany after the Berlin Wall came down.
“This music is the absolute common denominator for almost any situation,” Benson says. “It’s so great to be involved with something that continues to have such a positive effect.”