Rock Royalty

No one can be Freddie Mercury. Or Brian May. Or Roger Taylor. Or John Deacon. Together, the four men became giants of arena rock as Queen, with their larger-than-life lead singer leaving a lasting impression on the world, despite his unfortunate passing in 1991.

Queen’s incredible music and unforgettable stage presence is a tall task to replicate. While Queen Nation knows it can never be the originals, they took on a tribute to their favorite band and come as close as possible, bringing those rock anthems back to the people.

Each member of Queen Nation, which includes Gregory Finsley as Mercury, Mike McManus as May, Peter Burke as Taylor and Parker Combs as Deacon, has a deep love and respect for the music, which shaped their own lives.

“First time I heard Queen I was in fifth grade and my dad came home from work one day and I was upstairs doing my homework and he yells, ‘Michael get down here!’” McManus recounted. “So of course I think I’m in trouble. So I go downstairs and he’s in the car and he goes, ‘get in the car!’ So I get in the car and he turns up the radio and goes, ‘listen to these guitars and these harmonies.’ It was ‘Killer Queen,’ and I remember just hearing that going, ‘wow this is the coolest song I’ve ever heard.’”

“Fast forward maybe another six months later, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ comes out and my dad and I are in the car listening again. So off we go to the record store and we bought ‘A Night at the Opera,’ and brought it home and sat there and listened to it together.

“Fast forward another five years to 1980 and he took me to see Queen in Boston and it was over. I mean he looked at me during the show and it was like any chance of me going to law school or medical school went right out the door. I’m like, ‘That’s what I want to do!’”

McManus started playing guitar in high school, then went to Berklee College of Music to further his studies. He started a cover band and did some originals, then moved to California in 1991, where his musical career took off. In 2004, his agent put together a group which became Queen Nation.

“The band started in 2004 and our agent Dave Hewitt put it together,” McManus said. “The only member of this band that isn’t original is Gregory and he’s been with us since 2009. We had an original singer who wasn’t into it as much as Gregory was and he had so many other projects going on. Whenever our original singer couldn’t do it we’d fly Gregory in and it got to the point he was doing more shows than our original singer, so he replaced him.”

It was intimidating at first for the group to portray their icons on stage.

“Queen is my favorite band and Brian May is the reason that I play guitar and make music so I didn’t want to do them injustice and we didn’t want to look like a bunch of buffoons,” McManus said. “Because you know, honestly, Queen is such a hard band to replicate that we will get people come to our show and say to us after the show, ‘You know we came here just because we’d never seen a Queen tribute before. We figured you guys would be awful and we could just come and goof on you guys. But oh my God, we’re going to come see you every time!’ And I go, ‘I would do the same thing. Like, a Queen tribute band? Oh boy this is going to be hilarious!’ So we didn’t want to be that band.”

Part of what make Queen Nation successful is their dedication to the character style and performance. But how does one possibly capture the extraordinary persona of Freddie Mercury?

“Well you know, there’s only one Freddie. Gregory will tell you that and even Adam Lambert will tell you that, so you just do the best you can,” McManus said. “Gregory was lucky enough to see Queen in Dallas back in like ‘77 or ‘78. Like me, it changed his life. He’s like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ At the end of the day we’re all giant Queen fans so you just gotta take what you’ve learned by seeing the band and watching the videos and you do your homework. Luckily for Gregory it’s fairly natural. And for me it’s fairly natural, because Brian May was such a huge influence on me as a little kid and then growing up, it kind of just seeped into my DNA, and same with Gregory.”

Queen Nation portrays the band during the 1980 era, when their eighth studio album “The Game” was released, which reached No. 1 and was their best-selling album in the U.S. It was backed by the hit singles “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which both hit No. 1.

“That’s kind of when Queen was the biggest in the United States,” McManus said. “So the look that we’re going for is ‘The Game’ era, when they were at the top of the charts in the states. Now, we’ll play songs after that. We do ‘I Want to Break Free,’ ‘The Show Must Go On’ and we do songs that came out in ‘84 and ’85, but that’s our general look is the 1980 look.”

After 17 years together, McManus said he never tires of playing Queen music, because the challenge keeps him sharp and the songs are simply “fun to play.”

“‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is always one of my favorites to play just because it’s a challenge — that’s not an easy song to play,” McManus said. “I think my favorites are probably some of the more difficult songs to play just because they challenge us musically. I always love playing ‘Under Pressure,’ not just because I do the David Bowie part, but the second Parker hits the first beats, people go ballistic. So I guess it’s the ones that get the most reaction from the audience. They’re all fun to play.”

Not only is it fun for the band, but it’s an amazing concert experience for Queen fans. The music is timeless, beloved by every generation, and McManus thinks there is a good reason for that.

“The music itself is great, the melodies are catchy,” he said. “But their music is so positive and uplifting and it’s very communal. It’s like WE are the Champions, WE will rock you, and YOU’RE my best friend. It’s songs that you put your arm around your best buddy and sing at the top of your lungs to. Sometimes it’s in tune, sometimes it’s not in tune, but nobody cares.

“When we do ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ when we get to the opera section, that part is ingrained in everybody’s brains. So it’s sing-along time for the audience. We tell everybody, ‘bring your best opera voices because when we get to that part, it’s all you guys.’ It’s wonderful, it’s just so much fun.”

The story of Mercury and Queen was told in the 2018 film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which repopularized the band and introduced them to younger audiences.

“I think what the movie did, is it turned this younger generation on to Queen,” McManus said. “If you like actual singing and melodies and harmonies and everything, there’s really nothing out there today that can compare. I think 13, 14, 15 year old kids that went to see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ sat there and went, ‘Wow our music sucks, this is good!’

Get as close as you can to the real thing with Queen Nation when they return to the Riverside Resort for four nights, Oct. 28-31 (8 p.m.).

“Come prepared to rock, come prepared to sing and come prepared to lose your voice.”