The Beatles Concert 1

The first records I bought were 45 rpm vinyl with tunes from Buddy Holly's group, the Crickets. After the plane crash that took his life, I do not recall buying any other music until I started my collection of folk music, Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Tim Hardin. When British pop music began to make its way into the American psyche, it did not have the impact for me that it had for many. I definitely fell on the Rolling Stones side of the Mersey. In fact, it was not uncommon for that divide to take on some gender bias, with the young women preferring the Beatles and the guys preferring the Stones.

By wonderful coincidence, Valentine's Day and the first American concert by the Beatles came remarkably close together in 1964. My brother and I decided to get tickets for the show as gifts for our valentines. The concert was in the Washington Coliseum, which I still knew as the Uline Arena. Uline was actually the name of a man who had an ice business and he built a rink because he had the freezing equipment. It became the home of the city's minor league hockey and basketball teams before the NHL and NBA expanded to bring teams to DC. I remember going there to see Ringling Brothers Circus and the Ice Capades and seeing the ice trucks lined up outside the warehouse that was next door. It was not in a part of town that inspired confidence in high school kids. My brother and I were glad to double date for this show and I think for both of us we were more interested in offering an appealing gift than really enthused by the music.

This turned out to be a really good choice for both of us because as the fab four made their landing in New York for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the weather forecast for the DC area got pretty gloomy. The predictions were for 6 to 12 inches of snow to fall the day of the concert. I was fifteen at the time and had had my driver's license for two months. If I had not been going with my seventeen year old brother, I am sure that I would have been looking for other transportation as the snow began to fall. I do not remember how much snow was on the ground when we left for the concert, but school was canceled the following day and I was impressed with Tom's ability to handle the car in what seemed to me to be blizzard conditions.

Parts of that show can be seen on You Tube if you want to compare my version of the show to the film, but the atmosphere can not be recreated. First, remember that this was the first live performance in the United States, two days after appearing on national tv and that the crowd had ignored a major winter storm to be there. Yeah there was a buzz in that arena. Second, remember that my perceptions are shaped by being more interested in acoustic guitar and protest lyrics than such charming thoughts as “I want to hold your hand” (even though that pre-Valentine's Day, that was exactly what I wanted). As a result, when the Righteous Brothers walked out on stage as the opening act, I was disappointed (as were 8,000 others).

The stage had been set up in the center of the arena with people sitting on all four sides. This was the perfect configuration for Medley and Hatfield. They were not hampered by instruments and could move freely around the stage and face the whole audience. They took full advantage of that stage. The energy, motion, emotion and stage presence of that performance is something I will never forget. In an interview, Bobby Hatfield said that they left that first tour, in part, because they got tired of performing to chants of “We want the Beatles”. I heard those words that snowy night and may have felt some of that as well, but there were warm, wooly socks all over that floor when their set ended. In short, they were terrific.

The Beatles finally made their appearance and as great as the music had been, I have no idea what they sounded like. From the moment they stepped on stage, the shrieks from the audience drowned out rational thought, let alone the sound system. I may have heard three or four bars of their performance when the throbbing audience was in danger of passing into unconsciousness from hyperventilating and those convinced me that it really was the Beatles. As fluidly as the Righteous Brothers had moved around the stage, the Beatles stopped every couple of songs and spun their whole presentation to a different part of the audience. I have read reviews that say the music was wonderful based on the movie of the concert. I hope so, but based on my ears, I just can't comment.

I was fifteen, out in a snowstorm on a school night and impressing my date. This was really great. Many years later, I watched news footage of mourners out side the Dakota holding candles and singing “All we are saying, is give peace a chance” and compared those two outpourings of emotion. The words they wrote had such power over so many years. I learned a couple of things that night. I learned that music was a powerful medium. I learned that gifted performers can take over a stage and audience in a way that you will never hear in the recordings. I learned to not buy tickets to concerts that the audience had an agenda other than listening to the music. Finally, I learned that gift giving is about pleasing the recipient, particularly on Valentine's Day.

Lee McGavin
Leander, TX 2010

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