While in college in 1984, Mark Benson and his buddy Gary Grimes rounded up a couple friends and started strumming Beatles tunes at parties. Then came the college-band circuit, where they were immediate record-breakers. Decades later, the Akron, Ohio–based band has established a career as the world’s premier Beatles act, focusing on the band’s earlier, “touring years.” Before the boys rock the Egyptian Room at the Murat on Friday, we had four questions for Benson, the band’s “John.”
IM: Everybody has their take on what made The Beatles special. What’s yours?
MB: The Beatles were four naturally charismatic guys. Before them, you had a singer, who was the star, and a backup group. With The Beatles, all of them pulled the spotlight at some point in the show. There were so many places to look now! Can you imagine if you have a band that has Paul and John, and even the drummer has a No. 1 hit? (“Yellow Submarine”). How many bands are there where your average person can even name the drummer? Plus, these guys were clearly having the times of their lives.
IM: Do you have favorites to perform? Where do you even begin?
MB: Well, you have to do “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” … The biggest challenge is, what amazingly cool song do you pull out? We typically do a total of 28 to 30 songs in a set list. We go through the first seven American releases—up to Revolver, picking a couple off that. You don’t want too many Paul songs in a row, or too many John songs in a row. As for what I like best, I get to do that thing in the audience where I split the audience in two—who’s going to sing louder than the other half of the room? And you see it in people’s faces, that they get to sing it now.
IM: You’ve been singing The Beatles for 34 years now, 80 to 100 shows in a year. Doesn’t it get old?
MB: The traveling gets old, but the actual onstage time? It’s always a blast. We just did a show in Terre Haute where the room was pitch-black, and that’s really irritating—when you can’t engage with the crowd, it’s hard to keep your own energy going. It can start to feel like it’s just rehearsal when you can’t see the people out there.
But a few months ago, there was a granddad and a 7-year-old grandson, and every song that starts up, the kid said, gasp, “Grandpa!” We met them after the show and the grandpa said, “We both just both finished playing Beatles Rock Band.” And I thought, How lucky am I to be part of their enjoying themselves together over music? And he said, “This is going to be our thing now—he loves music, and so do I. Who would have ever thought that I could bond with my grandson over music that was popular when I was young?”
IM: What can first-timers expect?
MB: This is our attempt at showing you what it would be like if you were lucky enough to see the Beatles perform live. Today’s concerts, with video screens, and all that going on—well, they can make a lot of noise. This is what people were really into when the Beatles first hit America. We like to have a giggle. A lot of the dialogue is centered around some kind of humorous anecdote. It’s about having a laugh and then leaving happy.