Beatles cover band on the long & winding road to Iowa City


It’s been 25 years worth of hard day’s nights, and Mark Benson has been workin’ like a dog.

“Even though we’ve been at this for quite some time, we still study videotapes to make sure we’re not imitating something that we’re not intending to,” said Benson, a.k.a. John Lennon in the Beatles impersonation band 1964: The Tribute. “You have to see how [the Beatles] talk, how they relate to each other, what their banter is like onstage, what their stage movements are like, what their clothing is like — what is the entire image coming off the stage, and why is that so popular and so important?”

This year will mark the 25th touring season of 1964, a band that has played Carnegie Hall nine times, entertained foreign dignitaries, and brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of thousands of Beatles fans. On Friday night, the band Rolling Stone heralds as the “Best Beatles Tribute on Earth” will once again bring its celebrated Beatles mimicry to the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m.
“[1964 is] a huge hit every time — it sells out and is a fantastic night of Beatles music,” said Beth Bewley-Randall, the Englert’s executive director. “There are large groups of people who beg for us to bring them back every year. “

She has seen and enjoyed every 1964 performance at the Englert, she said.

“My favorite part is at the top of the second act, when [the members] have all the people on their feet clapping and singing,” Bewley-Randall said. “It is like stepping back into 1964, when the Beatles was performing live here in America. People can expect to hear more than 700 people singing along, children and adults dancing in the aisles, and adoring fans swooning by the stage. Audience members can expect to forget about their worries and stresses for a couple hours.”

Benson said the ecstatic audience reaction originally persuaded the members of 1964 to make the tribute band their full-time careers.

“We never intended for this to be full-time,” he said. “We assumed it would be a baby-boomer show, and we’d do class reunions, maybe a nightclub every now and then, but it just took off, and for eight years we did nothing but college markets across the U.S. and Canada.”

Since the group’s inception in 1984, the band’s fanbase has skyrocketed, perhaps due in part to the group’s careful attention to detail. All of the drums, guitars, drum heads, cymbals, and amplifiers that the tribute band uses are the same as the instruments that the four Beatles played during their touring days.

“The sound coming off our stage is the same sound that came off of their stage,” Benson said. “We’re emulating [four guys] who were in their late teens and early 20s, none of whom were virtuosic on their instruments … so you have to make sure that you don’t play something too good or play it the way that you’d play it, but instead play it how they’d play it — not only copy the note but copy how the note is played.”

This meticulously planned performance is crucial in achieving the main goal of 1964: to recreate the experience of seeing the Beatles live in concert, he said. Because the legendary band only toured for a few years (1963-66), Benson said, he was initially surprised by how many college students and children attended their shows. However, he said, the cross-generational appeal is now one of his favorite aspects of performing with the group.

“It’s something kids can unite with their parents about,” he said. “We get e-mails and letters from young girls and guys saying, ‘This is the one thing I do every year with my dad, just the two of us, and we go out to your show, and I buy the tickets and take him.’ ”

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