Ryan Summerlin January 2, 2013
Twenty-five hundred people watched from the audience as Mark Benson, the “John Lennon” of 1964 The Tribute, a Beatles cover band, asked a life-changing question from the stage.
It wasn’t his life that was about to be altered though. A concertgoer had passed a note on stage asking Benson if he would read a marriage proposal aloud.
“Luckily she said ‘yes.’ Had she said no, we were all queued up to play ‘Help,'” Benson said.
It’s doubtful such a request will happen Jan. 3 at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek when the band takes the stage, but you never can tell.
The tribute band has has been together since 1984, nearly three times as long as the Beatles were together. The band members’ mission is to accurately recreate the 1964 Beatle invasion of America. They play two 45-minute sets of mostly early Beatles music.
Benson talked to the Vail Daily about how the band came to be, his favorite moments on stage and why he got dibs on John Lennon.
Vail Daily: How did you get into the business of performing in a Beatles tribute band?
Mark Benson: We all grew up together and decided to start 1964 as a little side project in our hometown of Akron, Ohio. We figured it would be a local thing for baby boomers and retirement parties, as well as a way to keep a hand in live performing and not lose touch with it. We quickly realized that this was not just a baby boomer thing, and by our second year, it was taking off as a full-time gig. Now we’re in our 29th year – it’s just incredible.
VD: What is the most difficult aspect of recreating a Beatles show?
MB: Staying in character and not overdoing it. We recreate the experience of what it was like if you were lucky enough to see the Beatles live between 1963 and 1966. At this time, the band members were in their early 20s – actually, George was even in his early teens and had only been playing guitar for four to five years at that time. You have to emulate their playing style, which at that time was less than our own now. We work hard to achieve that raw sound.
VD: Do you have a favorite Beatles song or moment onstage?
MB: To be involved in a show where you look out into the crowd and see three generations of a family sitting together, smiling – everyone is singing along and no one is checking their watch – I mean, how many forms of entertainment exist that can achieve that?
My other favorite moment would have to be our first Red Rocks show, which was in 2004, to celebrate Red Rocks’ anniversary. I remember them thinking “we’ll sell one or two thousand tickets” and it ended up selling out, and has sold out every year since.
When you look out and see 10,000 people from every age, race, economic status – even the hearing impaired, who they had folks signing for on stage – with their cell phones in the air. I don’t know what other kind of music would be shared like that.
We’re unique in that we offer good, clean fun and rock ‘n’ roll – two things that don’t always go together.
VD: How did you come to be John Lennon?
MB: When we first started out, I owned the van, so I said, “I get to be John or we’re not going anywhere.” In all seriousness though, the four of us just blended in those ranges. I also always really liked John. The four of them just have this chemistry. It didn’t look like they were trying. It was just a day in their lives and they were each individually such incredible musicians and actors. I mean, the fact that the drummer had a No. 1 hit – what other bands can say that?
VD: Have you or any of your fellow band members ever met a Beatle?
MB: No, I have not. But we’ve heard indirectly from people in the business that they have been very complimentary of what we do.
VD: What song are you most looking forward to performing at the Vilar Center on Thursday?
MB: I have so much trouble with this. I think it would be a lot easier if you were to ask me which song I don’t have an affinity for, because there are just so many great songs. I mean, can you pick your favorite?
We perform the first six or seven American album releases of the Beatles, pretty much everything pre-Sgt. Pepper’s. You’ve of course got to have “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold your Hand,” “Hard Days Night.” If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be one of the ones we don’t play all the time, like “It’s Only Love” or “The Word.”