Atlanta • Wednesday, August 18, 1965

ConcertBy The Beatles • Part of the 1965 US tour
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Atlanta Stadium

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From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 17, 2015:

When the Beatles played Atlanta on Aug. 18, 1965, the concert inaugurated the city’s brand-new stadium with a 500-watt salute heard around the world.

The British band was already the biggest act on the planet, dominating radio and record sales. Their guarantee that summer was $50,000 per performance. They had just played to 55,000 people at New York’s Shea Stadium — at the time, the largest-grossing concert ever — and to 17,000 at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

As the concert approached, Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen prepared a key to the city for the visiting Britons. Legislators were photographed in Beatle wigs. Press coverage reached a crescendo on what the papers called “B Day.”

City planner Leon Eplan, who had helped Allen write a feasibility study for the stadium, was happy to see the facility earning money, since the Braves wouldn’t move from Milwaukee for another year.

But he wasn’t completely thrilled with the stadium’s final design, a perfectly round coliseum suited neither to baseball nor football. “I told them I felt the shape was probably good for two sports: one was chariot racing, the other was feeding Christians to the lions,” he said. “And neither one of those was revenue-producing.”

Dick Cecil, head of Braves Productions, had arrived in town ahead of the baseball team and aggressively courted the Beatles as part of his commitment to keep the stadium busy. Before their performance, Cecil left a dozen baseballs in the Beatles’ dressing room for the rockers to autograph. Cecil proudly handed out the keepsakes to other members of the Braves organization, including owner Bill Bartholomay, discovering later that some Beatles assistant actually did the autographing.

The sound system in Atlanta featured an innovation unused elsewhere: monitors. These allowed the musicians, for the first time, to hear themselves over the screams of their fans. Beatles manager Brian Epstein sent the engineers at Baker Audio a thank you note later, saying the sound was “Excellent. Without question proved the most effective of all during our U.S. tour 1965.”

F.B. “Duke” Mewborn of Baker Audio said he used four Altec 1570 tube amplifiers, generating about 500 watts in power, or slightly less than the power in Mewborn’s home stereo today. (When Paul McCartney performs nowadays he uses something like a 300,000-watt system.)

The Beatles offered Mewborn a position as the sound man for the rest of their tour, but Mewborn declined. According to Keith Hicks, Baker’s current president, Mewborn “basically said he didn’t see much future in four guys with long hair.”

Bob Hope, later the director of public relations for the Braves organization, was a 19-year-old usher at the show, and remembers that there were 15 rows of wooden sawhorses on the field between the audience and the performers. As the Beatles launched into “Twist and Shout” at the beginning of a 35-minute set, the sawhorses were enough, he said, to slow down fans who climbed the fence and tried to rush the stage. “We’d count how many they could get over before they were stopped,” Hope said. “I don’t think any got over more than 13.”

Judy Clark said she thinks she and her friend Elaine Atwood were the only students from their high school in Hiram who went to the concert. “People didn’t get it like we did,” she said. Sitting in the stands in a new skirt and top sewed by her mother, the 16-year-old Clark was determined to remember every moment, with the help of her Brownie camera. She saw other delirious girls with their heads in their laps, and she told them, “Sit up and look! You’re going to miss it all!”

Steve May, later an owner of Atlanta’s famed 688 Club, attended the performance, and it helped him develop an appetite for spectacle. At age 13, he already understood the elements of style: Dressed in Beatle boots, May scootered down to the stadium on his vanilla-white Vespa, which had been tricked out with 12 mirrors.

He traveled in a swarm of fellow scooter fanciers. “The cops would come chase us, but we never got caught.”

The opening acts for the Beatles included R&B sax player King Curtis and Cannibal and the Headhunters (“Land of 1000 Dances”). However, unbeknownst to Beatles manager Epstein, the local promoter also had added an area band to the bill: the Atlanta Vibrations. They were a high school surf-rock combo who’d recently won a battle of the bands sponsored by Thomas Organ. The Vibrations showed up early at the stadium, proudly wearing their collarless jackets and hauling their new Vox Super Beatle amps, provided by the music store.

Epstein told them to beat it. Then, fate intervened. John Lennon’s Vox organ was somehow damaged during the trip from Toronto, and there was only one other Vox organ in Atlanta. It was at Thomas Organ. The Vibrations sent a runner up to the Buckhead music shop to fetch back a working instrument.

Lennon used the borrowed Vox organ and Epstein let the Vibrations open the show. Spencer Kirkpatrick, later to form the influential Atlanta band Hydra, was the junior member of the group, and the lead guitarist. Standing on that stage, in front of 34,000 people, the 14-year-old Kirkpatrick experienced every emotion known to man, from terror to elation.

“I was about to pee down my leg,” he said.

The Vibrations played “Pipeline,” “Walk Don’t Run” and even an instrumental version of the Beatles tune “This Boy.” Then they listened to the rest of the music from the dugout.

Observing the reactions of the overexcited female Beatles fans, the freshman guitarist reasoned that rock ’n’ roll looked like a good career choice.

“We definitely had found our calling,” he said. “If this is what the music causes, we were in the right place.”

The Beatles with Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen in August 1965.

From Something New, August 17, 2015:

Attending last year’s show by The Jacksons at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Tony Taylor couldn’t help thinking back to another show he’d seen at that same venue.
It was Aug. 18, 1965. Twenty years ago. The day The Beatles came to town.

“There really was no comparison between the Michael Jackson concert and The Beatles at Atlanta Stadium,” maintains Taylor, who as a deejay for WQXI-AM (“Quixie in Dixie”) helped emcee The Beatles’ show.

“The Beatles concert at Atlanta Stadium sticks in my mind as perhaps the greatest event I ever witnessed,” he says. “The entire stadium bordered on hysteria. I can still see the faces of the girls, tears in their eyes, as they hung over the wall and the policemen tried to restrain them. I’ll never forget it.”

Unforgettable. Unbelievable. Words like that are used by members of the crowd of 34,000 who attended The Beatles’ only Atlanta performance.

Even those who weren’t screaming teenagers at the time recall The Beatles’ visit — which preceded the arrival in Atlanta of the Braves — as an epochal event in the emergence of Atlanta as a major city.

“The excitement was shared by the whole community,” says Taylor, now in advertising but at the time the 28-year-old midday man on Quixie, Atlanta’s dominant Top 40 station. “The city took on a different character. The reserved Southerner became a hysterical fan.”

As they’d done around the world, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr sparked unprecedented media coverage, beginning weeks before the show date. As early as July, Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. was quoted by The Atlanta Constitution as saying The Beatles’ visit to Atlanta was causing a stir comparable to the 1939 premiere of “Gone With the Wind” — and in Atlanta, that’s quite a stir.
“The Beatles were a big event, no question about it,” Allen says. “It was a landmark for Atlanta.”

“It was the only time we ever had as much publicity for a show as we thought we should have,” jokes 65-year-old Ralph Bridges, whose Famous Artists firm promoted The Beatles’ Atlanta Stadium concert. “It was fantastic.”

Bridges, who prior to that time had promoted only a handful of rock ‘n’ roll shows, had passed on bringing The Beatles to Atlanta during their 1964 tour because he wasn’t sure he could meet the $12,500 guarantee. A year later, the guarantee for the group was around $50,000. But by then, it was obvious The Beatles’ popularity wasn’t going to fade any time soon, so Bridges took the plunge.

Tickets for the concert at the then virtually new stadium went on sale in May. Lower level seats were priced by Famous Artists at $5.50. Upper level seats (where binoculars were essential) cost $4.50. Response was good, with ticket requests coming from as far away as Guatemala and California. “I was impressed,” Bridges says, “because among the first orders were one from Mayor Allen and one from Bobby Jones [the golfing legend and civic leader], who was buying them for his grandchildren.”

“My 70-year-old mother prompted me,” recalls Mayor Allen, who was 54 at the time. “She insisted I take her to the stadium to hear The Beatles.”

A week before the concert, Famous Artists ran an ad in the papers saying: “Beware of Rumors! We are not sold out. Good tickets still available.” Actually, that meant 8,000 of the upper deck $4.50 seats were available. All the $5.50 tickets were long gone. Because of the size of the stadium, however, it was not a sell-out, with about 2,000 of the 36,000 tickets printed going unsold.

Security — keeping the overenthusiastic fans from harming The Beatles or themselves — was Bridges’ greatest concern. “Superintendent James Mosely of the police department was a big help,” the promoter recalls. “He went with us to the Shea Stadium show in New York. That really scared us to death, because it was within an inch of a full-scale riot. The fans kept coming over the centerfield fence and I thought, ‘Oh, no! How are we going to stop them if that happens in Atlanta?’”

Bridges hired 150 off-duty policemen for the Atlanta Stadium show and, he says, “we prepared a series of lines of defense. It was just like a full-scale battle plan.” Between the crowd and The Beatles would be a waist-high fence, a rolled-wire barricade, a ring of wooden sawhorses and a line of 50 police officers. Insurance for the event cost the promoter $1,900.

Meanwhile, the media coverage had shifted into high gear. WQXI, the “official” Beatles station in town, was featuring regular reports on the progress of their American tour. The “Quixie A-Go-Go” TV show featured The Beatles prominently, and the Saturday before the show, The Atlanta Journal had an interview with Quixie deejay Paul Drew, who’d traveled with the Fab Four and was to join the ’65 tour in New York and travel with it to Atlanta. In a nice bit of overstatement, a photo of Drew in a Beatles wig was captioned: “Paul Drew, The Fifth Beatle.”

Sunday’s paper was full of The Beatles, including tips for parents asking that they not drive directly to the stadium, but let their kids use the special “Beatle Bus” shuttles. There also was a short item noting that “The Beatles in Atlanta: Blight or Blessing?” was the subject of the Rev. Howard Pyle’s sermon that day at Faith Baptist Church.

Wednesday morning, the Constitution’s front page declared that “B Day” had arrived. The Beatles and their entourage of 40 landed at a remote corner of the airport — out of view of fans waiting at the terminal — around 2 p.m. that afternoon on a private Lockheed Electra. Three limousines transported them to the stadium, where they would spend the entirety of their stay in Atlanta.

Janet Caldwell, now a political researcher but then a 31-year-old assistant to Bridges, remembers with amusement that despite all of Famous Artists’ fevered preparations, The Beatles still caught them napping on one item. “Ringo decided to wash his hair,” she says, “and we had to send out, rush, rush, for a hair dryer.”

“My wife Cindy had her stand-up hair dryer brought over from the house,” Bridges says. “That was real unusual in those days. Boys generally didn’t use hair dryers.”

Atlanta caterer Frank Cloudt, who’d been hired to provide The Beatles’ dinner, found them lounging on army cots in one of the stadium dressing rooms that afternoon. Cloudt wanted to know if it was true, as he’d been told, that they wanted hamburgers for their meal. “They said, ‘Oh, no, not again,’” he recalls.

So that evening The Beatles dined on their choice of meats — pork loin, a leg of spring lamb and top sirloin — along with corn on the cob (they had asked Cloudt if he could provide “corn on a stick”), fresh pole beans, fresh fruit, a relish platter and freshly-baked apple pie. A full bar also was provided, though only one Beatle (Cloudt can’t remember which one) had just one drink.

A year later, Cloudt says, when Bridges staged another Beatles show in Memphis, “they told Ralph that the supper they’d had in Atlanta was the best meal they’d ever had anywhere on tour. They enjoyed it.” So much so that they used Cloudt’s magic marker to autograph their four china plates, which Cloudt now keeps in a bank vault. Lennon’s punful plate reads: “Thanks for a flat wear.”

Cloudt, 42 at the time, was not a fan of The Beatles’ music and had approached the assignment with mixed feelings. But after spending some time sitting with the group and talking to them, he says, “I was very impressed. They were well-mannered and easy to talk to. They just seemed like lonely young guys away from home. But they were very accommodating, posing for pictures with groups of VIPs who kept coming in to meet them.”

“They were very easy to get along with,” says Bridges. “Paul in particular. He was taking as many pictures of everyone else as they were of him.”

The obligatory Beatles press conference at the stadium — about 15 minutes of mainly nonsensical questions — began shortly after 5 p.m. Around 150 “reporters” were present, many of them from high school newspapers. There also were some members of the local chapter of the Beatles Fan Club, headed by 15-year-old Brenda Jean Bene (now known as “B.J.” and married to WQXI deejay J.J. Jackson), who’d come to present their idols with stuffed animals, rings, jellybeans and other presents.

“I remember they were very nice,” says B.J., who had met The Beatles the year before at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, thanks to arrangements made by her favorite deejay, Paul Drew. “They didn’t act like big hotdogs,” she says. “John was zany. George was sort of quiet and Ringo was, too. Paul was very gentlemanly and would really take the time to answer your questions.”

What followed that evening was splashed all over Thursday morning’s front page. Taylor introduced Mayor Allen, who took the stage to declare The Beatles “honorary Atlantans.” Then came the opening acts — King Curtis, the Discotheque Dancers, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway and Sounds Incorporated.

Taylor, who stood next to The Beatles in the dugout as they waited their turn, recalls that “they looked tired, frightened. But when it came time to go onstage, that feat turned to a smile. It turned into a performance.” Caldwell, on the other hand, recalls, “They seemed to be enjoying the whole thing. They weren’t jaded yet.”

At 9:37 p.m., the crowd erupted into an ear-splitting shriek as The Beatles, clad in dark blue suits, ran from the third base dugout to the stage, situated on second base. “There seemed to be one continuous scream,” Caldwell says. “It was super high-pitched and unrelenting.”

“It was loud,” agrees B.J. “It was really hard to hear them over the screaming.”

The Beatles, however, praised the sound at the Atlanta concert as the best they’d encountered in America. (In those days, touring acts didn’t carry their own sound equipment.)

“I think what really impressed them was that they had enough monitors onstage so they could hear what they were playing,” says Duke Mewborn, president of Baker Audio, which provided the sound system for the show. The company, which generally does sound systems for places like Atlanta Airport rather than concerts, had installed the system for the stadium and so was asked to handle The Beatles’ show. “We gathered every piece of equipment we could beg or borrow,” Mewborn recalls. “We had two large clusters of loud speakers at first base and third base and about 5,000 watts of amplification. But we couldn’t anticipate how loud the crowd really was. It was awesome.”

Still, he says, “their management got in touch later and wanted us to do all their shows. That wasn’t our business, but we did consult on Candlestick Park and a couple of others.”

Inside the stadium, the sights were just as frenetic as the sound was loud. Caldwell remembers that “little girls would throw themselves bodily over the railings onto the rolls of wire and into the arms of the policemen, who would roll them back over.”

The six first-aid stations were kept busy, Bridges says, “mostly with cases of hysteria. I walked around the stadium to see what was going on, and the kids were just continually yelling. I asked a couple of them why they didn’t stop screaming so they could hear the music, and they said they just couldn’t help it.”

Bridges also remembers that, from the stage, the crowd “looked like thousands of fireflies because of all the cameras that were flashing all the time. I thought it was really beautiful.”

The show, covered with four pages of pictures and stories in the Constitution and six pages in the afternoon Atlanta Journal, began with “Twist and Shout.” Then came “She’s a Woman” (during which McCartney’s mike fell over), “I Feel Fine,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” (Harrison’s only lead vocal), “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Baby’s in Black,” “I Wanna Be Your Man (Starr’s vocal), “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!” and “I’m Down.”

“It was a good show,” B.J. recalls. “Better than in Jacksonville. It was perfect weather, unlike Jacksonville, where the winds gave Ringo a hard time.”

Press coverage of the concert generally was favorable, if a bit condescending. The Journal said that “hearing one of their concerts is the most amazing and entertaining headache a person can get.”

After the show, the limos took The Beatles directly back to Atlanta Airport, where they eluded a crowd of 200 fans and took off just before midnight for Houston, where their next show was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. the next day.

In articles that ran in the Atlanta papers over the next few days, it was revealed that McCartney had been the heaviest seller at the stadium concession stands, that the state had garnished $5,176 in state income taxes before the show (but expected to refund part of that), and that the show had grossed about $240,000.

“It was the biggest gross we ever had,” says Bridges, whose firm now is mostly a booking agency for acts like Ferrante & Teicher. “But when we got through figuring it up and paying everybody, I think we lost money. Still, we were glad we did it, because we got so much notoriety. It was the biggest thing that ever happened to us.”

And, it might be argued, the biggest thing ever to happen to Atlanta Stadium. […]

Read the press conference in Atlanta.

Last updated on April 19, 2019

Atlanta Stadium

This was the 1st and only concert played at Atlanta Stadium.


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