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"Beatlemania Comes to Fresno"

by Karina Ornelas
he Rampage, Fresno City College
February 16, 2011
(right) The Beetles at The Starline, 2-11-2011

Everyone knows there is a vast music scene in the Tower District right by Fresno City College , consisting of a wide range of styles and genres. Many have come and gone, but The Beetles are back from a five year hiatus and they're bringing the same old Beetlemania right along with them. Bringing back the hits from yesteryear, this Beatles' tribute band reunited at the Starline.

Although they might not entice the school-girl riots like Paul, John, Ringo, and George did, don't be mistaken; these gray-haired gents can play. Singing the classics like "Eleanor Rigby", "All My Loving", and "Come Together", they make rock history come alive for a new generation.

This local quartet never wanted to take Fresno by storm. Back in 1992, bassist and vocalist, Nate Butler, wanted to play The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band" album live as a fun project. With the help of then-manager at Club Fred, Tony Martin, Butler enlisted keyboardist (and Beatles fanatic) Tom Magill. The two were then joined by drummer, Stan Schaffer, a high school acquaintance of Butler . After performing a few shows sans a guitarist, they spontaneously added Jim Carter – of popular Fresno 80's band, The Clams – when they invited takers to take the empty guitar and amp onstage with them.

"It just started because I liked their music since childhood and wanted to try to recreate it for my own pleasure. I never would've guessed that I'd still be doing this almost twenty years later," Butler said.

Fast forward, from their initial Valentine's Day performance of Beatles' love songs, to the current lineup that has Blake Jones replacing Carter on guitar; they have gotten to the point where they do sets of 50 to 60 songs a night, much to the joy of every audience encountered to date.

(above) The Beetles at The Starline, 2-11-2011

A Google search of Beatles cover bands reveals 1,380,000 results; however, these Beetles offer something other Beatles tribute bands don't. While the typical tribute band tries to emulate The Beatles in image and sound, these Beetles – as none of them resemble any of the original Beatles – simply focus on playing the music as precisely as possible. Having a keyboardist gives them an advantage other Beatles tribute bands don't have, as it allows them to play much of the orchestral Beatles' music; such as "A Day In The Life," and side two of "Abbey Road." Butler said a frequent comment they receive is, "'If you close your eyes, you think you're hearing the real Beatles!' And we're just fine with that."

Just like any other musical group, or family at that, will have their own share of disputes, what helps these Beetles stick together after so long is that the friendship has stayed strong and it has remained fun to attempt to reach the common goal of sounding just like the original Beatles. Audiences have encouraged these Beetles along the way by packing venues constantly, and never quite leaving a dent on their chairs as they remain on the dance floor the entire night.

"Fans explained to me that it's the excitement of hearing Beatles music performed live that keeps them coming. People have such happy emotions attached to Beatles music, and hearing the music live seems to make everyone joyful," Butler said. On the other hand, when being enlisted to perform at special occasions in which the collective audience isn't as much a fan – an Armenian Festival for example – seeing people babysit their chairs keeps them humble.

Now that they are re-emerging from retirement, these Beetles are finding that they're followers are just as thrilled as they are. "New Years was really special, a lot of people came out that night just to see us. The regulars came out, and five or 6 years is a long time," said drummer Stan Schaffer.

As with a recent show this past Friday Feb.11, the audience at Starline went nuts; obligingly singing "Hey Jude", and other songs from their over-three-hour set that night. It's clear these Beetles know their idols well, as they dedicated "Revolution" to "Our good friends in Cairo "; obviously something the original Beatles might say.

As the quartet got ready to say goodnight after playing the audience favorite, "Twist and Shout" – which caused the audience to collectively leave the back half of the club in a Beatles-infused sea of dust – they clearly left everyone wanting more, just like the originals.

"Thank you for coming out, take care everybody," The Beetles said.  "We'll see you in late spring, early summer."

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