Billy McGuigan entered the halls of Bellevue East High School excited to be back after 10 years.
He missed his high school reunion the weekend before, but he was back now, drawn to take another look at this place. He marveled at the changes to good, old alma mater before entering the auditorium where he spent much of his time in high school.
McGuigan now appears on a larger stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse, selling out that theater with his Beatles music tribute shows that take the audience back through their own memories.
McGuigan's self-designed “Yesterday and Today” Beatles show is now in its seventh year at the Playhouse and by all indications, McGuigan wants to keep the show running as long as he can.
“I've always loved their music,” McGuigan said of those mop-topped boys from Liverpool. “That's always what I've wanted to do.”
For McGuigan and his brothers, Ryan and Mathew, who, respectively, sing the parts of Paul, John and George without pretending to be them, the show is more than a concert — it's part of their inheritance.
The McGuigans grew up on the Beatles for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Billy said.
From a young age, their father, Bill, taught them the music of the Fab Four and about the importance of family.
Bill passed away when Billy was 21, Ryan was 18 and Mathew was 15. They played “Let it Be” at his funeral.
“When our dad died, we didn't get an inheritance, but in reality we did,” Billy said. “We got this show.”
Though the show didn't start until more than 10 years after their father's passing, the McGuigans pay tribute to their dad with each show.
They share their story through the Beatles' songbook and invite audience members to share their own memories with song requests.
“Yesterday and Today” is unique because the McGuigans aren't impersonating the Beatles and they aren't deciding the set list, the audience is.
In what Billy called the “infant stages” of the idea for the Playhouse show, the McGuigans had a band called “Yoko's Fault” — playing on the popular mythos of the Beatles' breakup due to overweening influence from conceptual artist Yoko Ono who was in a relationship with John Lennon.
They played a few gigs around town in the typical manner of a cover band. But one night at Cheeseburger in Paradise and after exhausting the set list of songs they knew, Billy asked the audience for requests. Billy said the brothers were inundated with them.
From there, the idea grew.
“I thought that would be the novelty: just making the requests,” Billy said. “I didn't realize that that's really what makes the show special.”
Billy remembered the first time it went from just reading the request to saying to himself: “Oh, wow, this is powerful.” These weren't just songs people wanted to hear, but feelings they were trying to get back again, stories they wanted to relive.
About two weeks into the first run of “Yesterday and Today,” the Brothers McGuigan received a request for the 1968 ballad “Hey Jude” from a woman whose brother died when she was a teenager. She said some of her friends gathered around his grave and sang it for her and requested that the McGuigans “please play it.”
“It affected me,” Billy said. “I looked into that person's eyes — she was crying. The audience started crying.”
Moments like that are what Billy looks forward to most during the show. He said shows almost always have moments, both sad and funny, that people remember long after the show.
Billy said he feels like the band is just getting good at the show and admires how it has evolved over the years.
“We are the facilitators of these people's memories, and when they realize that and the audience realizes that, it's like this big sigh of relief,” Billy said. “I think that's what makes it cool.”
“Yesterday and Today” has grown and now the McGuigans tour the country with the show when they aren't playing at the Omaha Playhouse.
Billy said going on tour reminds him and his brothers of their teenage years.
“It's become like a reconnection with my brothers,” said Billy, now in his 30s. “Most people don't get that chance.”
Billy has introduced his children, Cartney and Ciaran, to the Beatles, in hopes they, too, will think of the band and its fans as extended family.
Family remains important to Billy and he makes an effort to connect with his audiences on a personal level.
“We've given so much of ourselves personally and asked them to do the same,” Billy said. “You want them to feel like family.”