Fandom Frenzy

Feb. 9, 1964, a musical craze struck America that can only be compared to the hysteria of Elvis fandom. This time, Ed Sullivan was introducing the country to a group from across the pond who had created quite a bit of noise for themselves.

The Beatles made their debut in the U.S. on that fateful night in front of a record-setting 73 million viewers who tuned in from their television sets. The ensuing reaction was Beatlemania, a fanatical adoration for the four mop-top musicians from Liverpool, England.

For the next six years, the Beatles experimented with many different styles and genres, racking up 20 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, the most of any artist. They are also the best-selling band of all time, with 600 million units sold worldwide. To this day, the group has retained its popularity and is noted as one of the most influential bands in history.

The Beatles were nicknamed the “Fab Four” during the frenzied days of their early careers. This moniker lends itself to the group’s top tribute act as well, which formed in 1997.

Two Beatles fans, Ron McNeil and Ardy Sarraf, met at a Beatles convention and decided to create the Fab Four tribute due to their talent and resemblance to the originals.

“Ron McNeil, one of the founding guys who plays John, went to this fest for Beatles,” Gavin Pring, who plays George Harrison, explained. “There’s a part in the festival where you can get up and it’s called Battle of the Bands and Ron did ‘Imagine.’ He won the Battle of the Bands on his own and then the next year Ardy was there with his band and he did ‘Coming Up’ by Paul McCartney. Ron just loved it, so they got together and a couple of years later they formed the Fab Four. So both of them had won Battle of the Bands, Ron first, then Ardy the year after.”

Their tribute was offered a residency at the Hilton in Las Vegas from 2001-2003. Then in 2004, they had another contract at Planet Hollywood, which prompted the guys to create a second cast, called Fab Four Mania. At this time, Pring auditioned and was chosen to play Harrison.

“An auntie kept saying I looked like George but I never really thought I did,” Pring said. “But years later, I’d be playing in original bands in Liverpool and people would say I looked like George Harrison. So that’s what started it and I ended up in a Beatles tribute in England.”

Back in the U.S., the Fab Four had created the standard for Beatles tributes, and was the act that everyone wanted to join, including Pring.

“Most of the guys who join the Fab Four have been in other tribute acts, but the Fab Four is like the echelon of where you want to go,” Pring said. “It’s a touring group that plays over 110 big shows a year.”

Due to the Fab Four’s popularity, they had to add members and create additional casts to keep up with demand for their live performances. Each cast member that is chosen is the best of the best, with the vocal and musical ability to fit into the show, as well as the physical resemblance.

“I had to sit in the audience for two weeks when they were putting the Fab Four Mania cast together, so I saw the Fab Four guys playing,” Pring said. Their attention to detail is unmatched. So like you have to be a left-handed Paul if you were going to be in the company. So that was a big detail they paid attention to. For me, when I joined I had to put in brown contact lenses for every gig. The wigs are professionally cut. We spend a lot of time agonizing over the wigs. So a lot of time is spent on the details, obviously the music, the parts, the harmonies. That’s why cast members can jump in, because they learn their harmony and have all their own costumes and they can just slip in like a jigsaw piece.”

The Fab Four is accurate to a fault, in that they even recreate the mistakes that the Beatles made on original recordings.

“That’s what the Fab Four are great at, we do everything that the Beatles did,” Pring said. “We even play the mistakes that the Beatles did. There’s a mistake that Ringo plays on ‘All My Loving.’ He plays an extra snare hit and we have to play the mistakes like the record. It’s terrible and great at the same time.”

The Fab Four covers the entire Beatles catalogue from the time they debuted in the U.S., until they disbanded in 1970.

“In the American psyche of the Beatles, it started on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ so our American show starts on Feb. 9, 1964, when Ed Sullivan came out and introduced the world to the Beatles,” Pring said. “Then the Beatles did one of the biggest concerts ever until that point, when they played in Shea Stadium. So we had these special suits made, which we call Shea Stadium jackets. So we go from Ed Sullivan to a Shea Stadium look, then we do all the ‘65-‘66 songs, and then we’ll do Sgt. Pepper in the suits and the psychedelic songs and then we go to the breakup era, which is 1968-‘69. So we have these eras and looks to cover certain albums that the Beatles did.”

They wrap the show with a fan favorite that everyone can sing along to.

“At the end of the show when we do ‘Hey Jude,’ everybody knows ‘na, na, na, na, na, na, na,’” Pring said. “You’ve already won them over at that point so you get a big reaction from the crowd.”

Get ready to be awestruck like it’s 1964 when the Fab Four play at the Edgewater’s E Center Saturday, Aug. 20.