I think making people happy is really cool and such an important thing.Michael Fulop of The Return
SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County will soon experience the rebirth of Beatlemania.
The Return, a Beatles tribute band, is set to perform at the Mars Theatre on Jan. 12, 2019, at 7 p.m. The quartet, which has played across the globe, was formed by a collection of Griffin high school friends more than two decades ago.
"We had no idea it would go over like it has," said Michael Fulop, who portrays lead Beatles guitarist George Harrison.
Fulop and his friends started a band in 1995 with the intent of performing original songs. He swerved in the Beatles' direction, however, after learning that all his musical heroes, including Eddie Van Halen, were influenced by them. The Fab Four took the United States by storm in 1963.
"I had never paid that much attention to The Beatles," Fulop said. "I started listening to them because my favorite guitarists did and I really got into it, especially the lyrics."
Fulop's bandmates never dreamed they could make a living to doing what they loved. At first, they performed just for the fun of it.
"We got off the stage (in a bar) one night and everybody was going nuts," Fulop recalled. "This lady approached us and said, 'Hey. I'm booking for bands at a bar in Atlanta and want to know if you guys would play one night next month and one night the following month.' We said, 'For money? Are you kidding?'
"At the time, I was in an original band and we split the door (charge) and we each got like three dollars. The idea of getting paid to play music was something we didn't ever think would happen.
"That's really how it went for the next year or two. We would play a place and another one would pop up. Before you know it, we were playing a lot of bars and college parties in Atlanta and around Athens."
Eventually, Fulop and his friends found that sticking to the music of The Beatles was much more lucrative than playing in the vein of popular bands of the day like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They copy The Beatles in careful detail, including the use of exact replicas of their instruments and gear.
Fulop said he never tires of portraying Harrison or playing timeless songs penned by The Beatles' Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Harrison. Their lengthy string of hits includes "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Twist and South," A Hard Day's Night," "Help!" and "Can't Buy Me Love."
"I think making people happy is really cool and such an important thing," he said.
Fulop admitted he didn't always feel that way.
He said, "Maybe five or ten years ago when the economy tanked and everybody started freaking out over that, I think, as a musician, I kind of got to the point where I was like, 'Man, what I do is totally unimportant in the grand scheme of things. People in the medical field make a big impact on the world but what we do is totally unimportant.'
"Other people kind of set me straight and realize that what we do is very important because a lot of people walk into our shows on a Friday or Saturday night after having the worst week ever — maybe someone passed away or they are kind of in a depressed state. People tell us that, 'I was in the worst mood today but you guys brought a smile to my face and I know that I'm going to walk out of here and have a great day tomorrow.
"That's really cool and one of the things that keeps us going."
The band's detour with The Beatles has carried it all the way to Japan.
"We've been very fortunate," Fulop said. "It's kind of wild to look back and see some of the things we've been able to do."
Fulop is amazed that The Return has lasted more than twice as long as group it emulates. The Beatles' 10-year run ended with a 1970 breakup.
"Even at a local show, it is unbelievable to see all age groups there," Fulop said. "It's people who watched The Beatles live when they appeared on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' (in 1964) and their kids and grandkids. You don't see that very often because people usually stick to the music they grew up with and that's it."
Fulop said he is looking forward to getting up close and personal with the Mars Theatre audience.
"I love the charm of the old theatres. I can't wait to see it," he said.
Tickets for The Return cost $40. They can be obtained online at http://marstheatre.com/films-events-concerts/concerts-events/.
For more information, call 912-754-1118,