Remember 1964 with The Tribute
By by jennifer preyss
Feb. 19, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2014 at 8:19 p.m.
An audience pregnant with fervor pauses for mere moments while Ed Sullivan rushes the introduction of his next act.
It's Feb. 9, 1964, and the Beatles are plugged in behind the curtain of Sullivan's New York City set - waiting to make their American debut.
Speaking as if he's about to auction off Paul, George, Ringo and John to the highest bidder in the audience, Sullivan hastily announces, "The city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves the Beatles."
And then, it happens.
Sullivan says those five famed words that brought Beatlemania into the living rooms of millions of weeping, hormone-surging, screaming and heavy-breathing adolescents: "Ladies and gentleman - the Beatles."
This month, Beatles fans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band's first appearance on Ed Sullivan's show, where it belted out what would become some of the band's most famous hits, including, "She Loves You," "All My Loving" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
And while it's impossible to go back in time to witness the authenticity of Beatles hysteria and the band's elevation to Jesus-status relevance, there is another option for loyal devotees: 1964 The Tribute.
1964's guitarist and singer, Mark Benson, 60, who plays the role of John Lennon, said he's bringing the band to the Victoria Fine Arts Center on Feb. 28, and he knows it will be a show that Crossroads residents will not want to miss.
"The idea is that you come into one of our shows, and you get to experience an authentic concert when they performed live," said Benson, putting on his best Liverpool accent and mentioning the band's theatrical elements of costume, hair and authentic 1960s conversation. "Obviously, we're not the Beatles; it's not the '60s. It's a high-energy show, and it's the best one out there. We're playing the part of the Beatles, and the audience is playing the part of the screaming fans. It's just fun."
1964 is a band so authentic to its Beatles impersonations, in fact, that Rolling Stone magazine called it, "The best Beatles Tribute band on Earth."
Then, in the early '90s, Benson said the Beatles' lawyers associated with multimedia conglomerate Apple Corp. Ltd. sued the band for being a little too authentic.
"They sued us for alleged trademark infringement," Benson said, mentioning they eventually won the case. "I don't know that other Beatles bands didn't get letters, too, but I just think at the time, we were one of the most visible tribute bands and the most consistent."
After putting the lawsuit behind it, Benson said the band has continued to evolve, sometimes letting a member go and replacing him with another Beatles look and sound alike.
Yet its popularity has never waned, to the band's surprise.
"We've sold out every show in every major venue and event center for more than a decade," he said.
Benson said the band was never supposed to be a full-time job, and the original members formed as a fun side gig in 1984, intending to play what they considered decent pop music.
Within months, the band was gigging all over the country and making a mark on major university campuses wherever college students had a few extra dollars to spend on a concert ticket.
"We thought the band would naturally do well at oldies parties and events like that, but the college market surprised us," Benson said. "We thought if it works this well, we should keep going."
Thousands of shows later, the band continues to gig all over the world, and with this being the 50th anniversary year, Benson said it is already booked for 56 shows and counting. And it's only February.
"That's not a sign of slowing down anytime soon," he said.
Benson said he recalls the introduction of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan's show in 1964, requesting special permission at 11 years old to watch the first half of its TV segment before bedtime.
"It wasn't just seeing the Beatles. It was seeing the reaction to the Beatles," he said. "The audience was just as exciting."
Benson said 1964 The Tribute concerts are the closest opportunity Beatles fans will ever have to experience that moment in reality.
"It's great rock 'n' roll; a good, clean, family show with all the early British invasion elements in a live experience," Benson said. "You can come out and scream and dance. It's like a therapy session, and nobody thinks you're weird."