When the Beatles played Red Rocks Amphitheater 50 years ago, it was one of the few shows on that first tour that didn’t sell out. At a $6.50 general admission price—about $50 in today’s dollars—the concert was simply too expensive for many fans (or at least for their parents). But last Friday night, there wasn’t an empty seat in the 7,000 seat house, as an excited multigenerational crowd packed in to relive the Beatles’ only live Colorado appearance with 1964 The Tribute, a look- and sound-alike band that plays pre-Sgt. Pepper era Beatles music.
These guys did not disappoint, giving the crowd as close to an authentic experience as you can get.
Though the band has been together for 30 years and are quite a bit older than the actual Beatles were in 1964, it was surprisingly hard to tell. Each musician has his Beatle’s mannerisms down to the smallest gesture. Mark Benson was an uncanny John Lennon with his arrogant stance, guitar held high on his chest, witty banter, and perfect Liverpudlian speech patterns. Mac Ruffing has Paul’s head shaking, facial expressions, and Emcee personality down pat. Furthermore, even though he’s naturally right-handed, he taught himself to play bass as a lefty. Since the early Beatles’ stage positioning, with John and Paul’s guitars pointing in opposite directions, is such an integral part of their image, having a left-handed “Paul” is always a treat! Tom Work emulated George’s slightly hunched and shy stage presence and delivered George’s dry sense of humor perfectly at the mic. And Bobby Potter is an excellent Ringo, his head bobbing with the music and a contented smile on his face. To add to the authenticity, the Jumbotron feed was broadcast in black and white, just like the original concert footage.
The band had great chemistry and their banter brought the audience right back to Beatles’ interviews and press conferences. Though they never broke character, at times they shared an inside joke with the audience, recognizing that it was a little later than 1964, ironically introducing a song off the Beatles’ first album as an “oldie.” They also added a particularly funny bit concerning George and Eric Clapton that was simply hysterical to hardcore fans.
The most important part—the music—was as authentic as their look and, unlike the real Beatles concerts, the absence of hysterical girls and presence of a great sound system meant the audience could actually hear the music. Playing replica instruments and singing exact harmonies, at times it was hard to tell that you weren’t hearing some bootleg of an early concert. All four sounded remarkably like the early Beatles, and Mark Benson again stood out with his near-flawless early-John sound. To the audience’s delight, the concert was also much longer than the Beatles’ 12 song, 30 minute set. After first replicating the original setlist, 1964 continued with more early numbers, as well as songs from Help! and Rubber Soul—many of which the Beatles never performed live.
The audience was having an excellent time singing along, dancing, and even screaming occasionally. Though some of us knew every word to every song and others were relative newcomers to the Beatles, everyone seemed to connect with this singular time and place in history, even if they weren’t around to experience it. In fact, the two 10-year old boys next to me were dancing and singing along as if they had been there 50 years ago. Beatles4ever, indeed.
1964 The Tribute is in their 11th year playing at Red Rocks and is always an audience favorite, but this year was especially poignant for the band, as well as the crowd, who walked to their cars fondly reliving their favorite Beatles’ memories singing the chorus of “Hey, Jude” all the way. Though we will never again live through that earth-shattering first burst of Beatlemania, and many of us never did, shows like this give us the chance to feel like we were all there, together.