British Mania invades Williston

Crowd packs Maple Tree Place to see Beatles tribute band

July 21, 2011

By Adam White
Observer staff
Beatles tribute band British Mania performed before a quadruple-digit crowd at Maple Tree Place on July 14 as part of the Groovin’ on the Green concert series. From left to right: Jim Miller as Paul McCartney, John Perry as George Harrison and AJ DeFeo as Ringo Starr sport the matching black suits worn by the Beatles during their renowned 1964 appearance on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show.’

The time machine cranked to life, and Ron Finney got back to where he once belonged — 46 years ago and 2,500 miles across the country.

“I saw the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl in 1965,” said the Williston resident. “And if you close your eyes, this takes you right back.”

Finney’s ride through time and space came courtesy of British Mania, a Beatles tribute band from New Jersey that took the Groovin’ on the Green series at Maple Tree Place to new heights on July 14. The crowd was estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 people, easily the largest turnout in the series’ four-year history.

Seven-year-old Peyton Jones of Williston dances in front of the stage during the concert. (Observer photos by Adam White)

“I’m so excited that we were able to give this back to the community, and everyone is really enjoying it,” said Karen Sidney-Plummer, general manager at Maple Tree Place. “These guys are really great.”

The four members of British Mania didn’t just cover the Beatles’ music — they used a series of mid-show costume changes to recapture iconic moments from the band’s career. They first took the stage in the black suits worn by the Beatles during their 1964 “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance that catapulted them to U.S. stardom.

Bass player and vocalist Jim Miller — who portrays Paul McCartney in the group — said that he witnessed that landmark moment in music history on television as a child at home in Baltimore, Md.

“I was a little tot, but I remember it well,” Miller said, adding that the members of British Mania have studied “every bit of video of (the Beatles) there is on the Internet, DVD and even 16-millimeter film.”

All that research has paid off, according to witnesses of the original band’s act.

“They have a lot of the little quirks down,” Finney said. “George (Harrison) was always pushing his guitar, Paul (McCartney) would shake his head a certain way and John (Lennon) had this stance, with his legs apart like he was riding a horse.”

British Mania’s first set break saw them retake the stage in the matching brown, military uniform-style outfits worn by the Beatles at their renowned Shea Stadium concert in 1965. Their final costume change saw them inject some of the individual style of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” era. Miller’s McCartney donned a maroon velvet jacket and Jon Ferris — who founded British Mania in 2003 — portrayed Lennon in a white suit with matching slip-on sneakers and his signature round eyeglasses.

Ferris said that British Mania’s set list varies greatly throughout the roughly 40 shows the band plays per year. The Maple Tree Place concert featured a slew of the Beatles’ No. 1 hits (including “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Ticket to Ride”) as well as lesser-known songs like “She Said, She Said” off the album “Revolver.” Several selections struck a chord with the sizable group of children dancing in front of the stage; four-year-old Madie Halvorsen of Essex jumped for joy at the opening refrain to “Help!” — which she said was her favorite Beatles song. Seven-year-old Abigail Willis of Williston had her request for “Yellow Submarine” granted to obvious delight.

The band injected some humor into its act along the way. The song “Nowhere Man” was played in honor of Charlie Sheen, and Miller dedicated “Let It Be” to “the fifth Beatle, Clarence” — a reference to a 1983 Saturday Night Live sketch starring Eddie Murphy.

But the primary focus remained on the music. Though originally slated to end at 8:30 p.m., the show didn’t stop until just after 9 p.m. — when the last sing-along chorus of “Hey Jude” finally subsided. By that time the dancing crowd in front of the stage had swelled considerably, and included a half-dozen uniformed members of the Williston Little League All-Star team that had just finished a playoff game against South Burlington.

“We lost, 6-5, but we’re still moving on to the tournament — so that’s what we’re celebrating,” said one of the players, Joe Warren.

Ferris thanked the crowd and expressed the band’s desire to return to the venue next summer, and Sidney-Plummer said she was definitely thinking along the same lines after the unprecedented success of the show.

“We’d love to have them back again,” Sidney-Plummer said. “I think (the concert series) is headed in the right direction.”