Michael McManus clearly remembers the day he discovered the music of Queen. His father came home from work one afternoon, but instead of coming inside, he sat in his car outside their Boston home.
“He said, ‘Michael get down here,’” McManus said. “I thought I was in trouble so I went and sat in the car and ‘Killer Queen’ was on the radio. (Dad) says in his Boston accent, ‘listen to these guitahs and hahmonies,’ and I was smitten. Fast-forward some years later, in 1980, and he and I went to see Queen live and Freddie (Mercury), and it changed my life.”
McManus honed his guitar playing and years later met other musicians equally passionate about the music of Queen.
Today, McManus and fellow band members in Queen Nation get to recreate those memories on stage as they assume the personas and play the music of the original band in a 90-minute hit-filled set. McManus takes the stage as guitarist Brian May; Pete Burke on drums as Roger Taylor; Parker Combs on bass as John Deacon; and Gregory Finsley on keyboards and vocals as Freddie Mercury. Their mission is to carry on the musical torch and pay homage to the golden age of vintage Queen concerts. Queen Nation celebrated its 15-year anniversary in June and has played in front of thousands of people. They will perform Saturday at the Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds.
McManus said that while the release of the Academy Award-winning Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in 2018 has brought the tribute band more attention, they already had a busy tour schedule, playing 107 shows in 2018. They will play nearly 140 shows this year, he said.
“I think the biggest impact is the age difference now,” he said. “We do a lot tours in the summer, we do a lot of concerts in the park, family-friendly kind of things. You see these little kids, 6, 7, 8 years old and they’re wearing Freddie Mercury T-shirts, singing all the words. These kids are going to be Queen fans for life.”
The movie reached a whole new demographic, he said.
“I think what happened is a lot of kids who’d never heard of Queen, say between ages 10 and 15, they probably went to the movie, and saw it and heard all the wonderful music and looked at each other and said, ‘You know, our music sucks,’” McManus said.
“It’s just so positive and joyful, and uniting,” he said, singing “We are the Champions.” “It’s very uplifting, positive music. I think it strikes a chord with people. These kids who are just finding Queen now are going to be Queen fans for life.”
For the older generation, it brings back strong memories, he said.
“That’s something about Queen music, you hear a song, like ‘Somebody to Love,’ or ‘Killer Queen’ or ‘Fat-Bottomed Girls,’ it’s kind of like opening up a photo album,” he said. “Like ‘We are the Champions,’ it takes you back to a time in your life when it was popular.”
The four musicians not only sound like the original band, they look and act on stage like the real deal. McManus plays a replica of May’s “Red Special” guitar, but he uses guitar picks instead of a British sixpence coin, which May favors.
“I found the coin too abrasive,” McManus said. “I have Queen Nation picks so I can throw them out to people. It’s a lot easier than throwing sixpence at people.”
As far as looking the part, that’s important, he said. “People hear what they hear with their eyes, too. We want to make sure we give them the full treatment. We could just go up there in our street clothes and play Queen music, but it’s kind of like going to see a Beatles tribute and not having them come out with the moptops and Sgt. Pepper outfits.”
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.
If You Go
What: Queen Nation —A Tribute to the Music of Queen
When: Saturday, Aug. 10 (Gates open at 5 p.m.; music starts at 6; meet and greet at 7 p.m.)
Where: Tanana Valley State Fair, 1800 College Road
Tickets: $36 general admission; $60 meet and greet. Plus service fees and fair admission
Info: All-ages show, rain or shine. Standing room only. Bring your own chairs, but no coolers or outside food and drink. Beer garden on premises. Tickets online at bit.ly/2Tc9Fox.