ON THIS DATE (48 YEARS AGO)
February 11, 1964 – At the Colosseum in Washington, DC, the Beatles played their first U.S. concert. The opening acts were Tommy Roe, the Caravelles, and the Chiffons.
When the Beatles first came to the U.S. in 1964, primarily to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on February 9th, 1964, they also performed two live concerts. The first of these concerts — and their first ever in the U.S. — was performed in Washington, D.C. at the Washing- ton Coliseum on February 11th. Not to be confused with an outdoor athletic-type coliseum, the Washington Coliseum was an indoor arena where professional and college basketball teams played. Originally built in 1941, it was first named the Uline Arena when it hosted hockey games. It was renamed the Washington Coliseum in 1959. It held a capacity crowd of about 7,000 people. Although the building still stands today near Washington’s Union Station, it is now used as an indoor parking garage. However, it is a protected property by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, and is slated for redevelopment. In the 1960s it hosted a variety of music acts and concerts, of which the Beatles’ February 11th, 1964 concert was one.
The Beatles also made another live concert appearance during their February 1964 U.S. visit – at New York City’s Carnegie Hall on February 12th. In New York there were two shows, but in Washington, only one. However, the D.C. performance was filmed in black and white video by CBS with the permission of the Beatles’ then manager, Brian Epstein. This filmed version of the live D.C. performance was then packaged into a “closed-circuit” offering by a private company to be aired several weeks later at selected theaters across the U.S. More detail on this follows below. But first, the Washington performance.
The Beatles traveled from New York to Washington, DC early on this day by rail, as an East Coast snowstorm had caused all flights to be cancelled.
A special sleeper carriage was attached to the Congressman, the Pennsylvania Railroad express train. The carriage was called The King George, and was already full with press people by the time The Beatles boarded.
Originally, we were going to fly to Washington, but, because of the heavy snow storm that I was told was coming, I advised Brian Epstein to make special arrangements to get a special train to take us to Washington. We went down to Washington and had a lot of fun on the train but we almost got killed when we got off the train. Some 10,000 kids had broken through the barriers. I remember being pinned against a locomotive on the outside, and feeling the life going out of me. I said to myself, ‘My God! Murray the K dies with an English group!’ George looked at me and said, ‘Isn’t this fun?’ I did my show that night direct from their dressing room.
Murry the K, The Beatles Off The Record, Keith Badman
Upon arrival at Washington’s Union Station The Beatles were greeted by 2,000 fans who braved the eight inches of snow on the ground. They gave a press conference before visiting WWDC, which had been the first US radio station to play a Beatles record.
The group and their entourage checked in at the Shoreham Hotel, where they took the entire seventh floor to avoid fans. One family refused to be relocated so the hotel staff cut off the hot water, electricity and central heating, telling them there was a power failure and they had to move.
The Beatles’ concert that night was at the Washington Coliseum, a boxing arena. Upon their arrival at the venue the group held a press conference.
The February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum, located at 3rd and M Streets N.E., occurred during a cold and snowy night. It was the Beatles’ first live American performance after their televised appearance on the CBS Ed Sullivan Show. They had arrived in D.C. earlier that day by train from New York. Before their show that evening, they also appeared at a brief press conference. At show time, there was a sold-out, over-capacity crowd of 8,092 fans, most of whom were girls. Before the Beatles came on, there were three other opening acts. The Caravelles did their hit “You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry,” Tommy Roe did “Shelia,” and The Chiffons did “He’s So Fine” and “One Fine Day.”
When the Beatles came on, the place erupted with screaming and incessant flash bulbs. The Beatles played for nearly an hour.
Roll Over Beethoven
From Me to You
I Saw Her Standing There
All My Loving
I Wanna Be Your Man
Please Please Me
Till There Was You
She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Twist and Shout
Long Tall Sally
Performing in the round, and Ringo Starr’s drum riser was turned 180 degrees after the third song by Mal Evans, to allow the audience behind them to watch the performance. This was repeated again after I Wanna Be Your Man, and following She Loves You they turned 45 degrees.
In addition to this somewhat awkward set-up, George Harrison’s microphone wasn’t working during the opening song, and he was given a faulty replacement. It didn’t dampen the audience’s appreciation, however; they responded with typical screams of Beatlemania, causing one of the 362 police officers present to block his ears with bullets.
Many of the fans pelted The Beatles with jelly beans, after a New York newspaper had reported The Beatles discussing their liking for them.
That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished. You’re blind aren’t you? We’ve never liked people throwing stuff like that. We don’t mind them throwing streamers, but jelly beans are a bit dangerous, you see! Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.
~ George Harrison, The Beatles Off The Record, Keith Badman
Brian Epstein had allowed CBS to film The Beatles’ performance, which was shown by the National General Corporation in a telecast in US cinemas on 14 and 15 March 1964. The performance has since been released on DVD, and extracts were included in Anthology.
After their live D.C. the performance, the group attended a masked ball at the city’s British Embassy. Reportedly, British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home decided not to attend for fear of being upstaged by the group. During the party, an unidentified woman cut off a lock of Ringo’s hair without asking him. The Beatles stayed at the embassy party for a time and then returned to their rooms at the Shoreham Hotel. The following day, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, meeting with British Prime Minister Home at the White House, says of the Beatles: “I like your advance guard. But don’t you think they need haircuts?”
People were sort of touching us as we walked past, that kind of thing. Wherever we went we were supposed to be not normal and we were supposed to put up with all sorts of shit from lord mayors and their wives and be touched and pawed like A Hard Day’s Night only a million more times. At the American Embassy, the British Embassy in Washington, or wherever it was, some bloody animal cut Ringo’s hair, in the middle of… I walked out of that. Swearing at all of them and I just left in the middle of it.
~ John Lennon, 1970 Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
The Beatles that day returned to New York by train for their Carnegie Hall concerts – two 25-minute performances before 2,900 fans attending each show.