Memphis • Friday, August 19, 1966 • 8:30pm show

ConcertBy The Beatles • Part of the Summer 1966 US tour
See all concerts in USA on the map
Country:
USA
City:
Memphis
Location:
Mid-South Coliseum
Attendance:
12,500

Some songs from this concert appear on:


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About

The day before, The Beatles held a concert in Boston. Following the performance, they and their team lodged in a Boston hotel. The next morning, they departed at 11:30 am, heading to Memphis, Tennessee, where two concerts awaited them.

The Coliseum, with a seating capacity of 13,300, witnessed an audience of 10,000 for the 4 pm show. The second show, commencing at 8:30 pm, attracted a larger crowd of 12,500. Between these performances, The Beatles addressed the media in a press conference.

Supporting acts for this tour included The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle, and The Ronettes.

Throughout the tour, The Beatles contended with the backlash from John Lennon’s controversial statement that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” The sentiment against The Beatles was particularly pronounced in America’s Bible belt. Even after multiple clarifications by The Beatles’ representatives and Lennon’s public apology, Memphis city officials voted to cancel the concerts scheduled for August 19, refusing to allow their facilities to be a platform for religious mockery. Further, the Ku Klux Klan, in a display of protest, nailed a Beatles album to a cross, threatening retribution. Conservative factions also organized public Beatles record burnings.

Despite the initial cancellation, the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, decided to move forward with the Memphis concert. The atmosphere was tense, with threats looming. Reverend Jimmy Stroad led a demonstration outside the Coliseum, and six Ku Klux Klan members picketed, donning their traditional robes.

While the afternoon performance went without a hitch, the evening show was marred when someone hurled a lit firecracker onstage. Although no one was hurt, the band was left shaken, believing it to be an assassination attempt.

This evening show was captured by two young girls on tape, revealing that the explosion took place during the performance of “If I Needed Someone.” In the aftermath of the startling noise, The Beatles powered through, finishing the song with increased urgency.

Post-concert, to outsmart potential protestors, various decoy vehicles were deployed. Yet, demonstrators still managed to encircle The Beatles’ coach. The group was then swiftly escorted to Memphis Metropolitan Airport and took off for Cincinnati, Ohio, landing at 1:35 the next morning.


Everyone started to relax after [the press conference]. The worst was over and all was going so well. We started watching the second show with hardly a worry clouding our Beatlemaniac minds. We were shocked out of that reverie in the third number. Some idiot in the mezzanine had exploded a cherry bomb, which sounded far too much like a gunshot. It was several seconds (though it seemed like hours) before we started breathing again. The Beatles never missed a note.

When asked about it later, Paul simply said that when he heard it, his heart stopped, but he realized he was still standing and didn’t feel anything. He looked at John and saw that he was still standing, so they all kept right on playing.

Throughout the tour, The Beatles never seemed to get shook about possible danger to themselves, while all around them people were having coronaries. Paul explained that they didn’t worry about being hurt by their fans because they knew their fans just wanted to talk to them, touch them. It was only when there were thousands rushing the stage that it could become dangerous, but even then the whole thing was an adventure, not a frightening trauma. “When we were playin’ in the old days, it was really dangerous,” Paul said. “Guys would start fights, real fights, and we were in more danger then than we could be today.”

Judith Sims – From TeenSet Magazine – Quoted in “Ticket To ride – The Extraordinary Diary of The Beatles’ Last Tour” by Barry Tashian

It was not a happy tour. There were stadium invasions and Ku Klux Klan demonstrations that tarnished the Beatles image. And, more frighteningly, on 19 August, there was an anonymous telephone call that said one or all the Beatles would be shot during the two shows that day in Memphis. During the second show, a firecracker was thrown on to the stage and the four Beatles were all scared stiff.

Alistair Taylor – From “With the Beatles: A Stunning Insight by The Man who was with the Band Every Step of the Way“, 2011

At the second show someone in the crowd threw a fire cracker – a “cherry bomb”, the Americans called it – which exploded with a loud bang close to the stage. Our heads swung round instinctively to face John, as did those of the other three boys on stage. Our fear was that a sniper had fired a fatal shot at John and we would see him sink to the floor in a heap. Thankfully, that fear was unfounded – or, more accurately, it was premature by a matter of some 14 years.

Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & me: the real Beatles story“, 2006

A firecracker was let off during the concert in Memphis and everybody, all of us at the side of the stage, including the three Beatles on stage, all looked immediately at John Lennon. We would not at that moment have been surprised to see that guy go down. John had half-heartedly joked about the Memphis concert in an earlier press conference, and when we got there everything seemed to be controlled and calm, but underneath somehow, there was this nasty atmosphere. It was a very tense and pressured kind of day.

Tony Barrow – From Beatles Interview: Memphis, Tennessee 8/19/1966 – Beatles Interviews Database

One night on a show in the South somewhere somebody let off a firecracker while we were on stage. There had been threats to shoot us, the Klan were burning Beatle records outside and a lot of the crew-cut kids were joining in with them. Somebody let off a firecracker and every one of us – I think it’s on film – look at each other, because each thought it was the other that had been shot. It was that bad.

John Lennon, 1974 – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

The first few days were peculiar because it just wasn’t a Beatles tour. We would have been more worried if we hadn’t been working and so preoccupied. But, after we had been to Memphis, which we were most worried about, it was fine. We were in America, as usual, and that was that. The Americas were roused, and if anyone had wanted to shoot us, it would have been easy for them at one of the concerts with thousands of people milling around. In fact, as it turned out, the whole thing had been blown up terrifically by the time it had reached the British papers. We found out that the guy who started it, did it purely as an unashamed publicity stunt. If we’d known that before we went, we wouldn’t have been so anxious.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

During the 8 P.M. show, after the opening acts were finished, we assembled on the bus. Near the beginning of The Beatles’ set, we heard what sounded like a gunshot. It was a real tense moment until we found out that it was only a cherry bomb. The Beatles were all right. ln fact, their music never skipped a beat. A few minutes later, we drove back to the plane and waited there. The Beatles followed directly. They seemed happy and relieved that the Memphis show was behind them and they were still in one piece!

Barry Tashian – Leader of the Remains, one of the opening acts of the Beatles for the 1966 US Tour – From “Ticket To ride – The Extraordinary Diary of The Beatles’ Last Tour” by Barry Tashian

Describe the mood of The Beatles during their 19 day tour of America.

Well, I’d say the mood was fairly different at different times on the tour. In the beginning there was a big uproar about the statement that John had made. Also, he had to face the American press in Chicago. At first, it was very tense in that regard. After that had kind of smoothed out, we were having a good time with them on tour. They seemed calm and seemed to be enjoying themselves, but working hard. I mean, it was a fast traveling tour. It was the biggest tour in the world at the time. We were in a different city every day. So it was a hardworking tour and there were a lot of logistical problems like getting in and out of cities and in and out of hotels and in and out of stadiums without The Beatles having any security problems. Then in Memphis, with the big cherry bomb incident, when that was over and we got out of Memphis, there was a visible relief. Earlier that day coming from Boston on the plane, there was kind of a heavy mood. But after that Memphis concert, things lightened.

Barry Tashian – From the support act The Remains – From Gary James’ Interview With Barry Tashian Of The Remains (classicbands.com)

We went to the afternoon show. They didn’t fill the Mid-South Coliseum. We enjoyed Bobby Hebb, one of the openers who had a popular song, ”Sunny.” When it was time for The Beatles to come on, they suddenly appeared from behind their amplifiers. Remember, this was the advent of the giant Vox amps. The audience was both surprised and amused by this. During the evening concert, someone threw a cherry bomb which sounded like a gun going off. A friend of mine happened to be watching Paul McCartney through binoculars. McCartney’s face froze and his eyes darted about, but the band played on. The lighting at the Coliseum was low, but somewhat illuminated, as opposed to dark with a spotlight on the band. In hindsight, I wonder if keeping the lights up was a way to help with crowd control.

Shomer – From Meet the Beatles for Real: Fans recall Beatles concert and the cherry bomb

I was at the night show on August 19 at the Mid-South Coliseum. Contrary to what many people say, the cherry bomb was not thrown on the stage. I had center seats near the stage, and when the cherry bomb exploded I looked to my left and the cops were hauling away some guy about 75 feet or so from the stage. All I remember is that the Beatles seemed to duck in time and did not miss a beat on If I Needed Someone. Great show. 

Joe – From Meet the Beatles for Real: Fans recall Beatles concert and the cherry bomb

The stage was backed up to the wall in the old coliseum at the fairgrounds in Memphis. Security was tight and there was a Jesus rally going on at the city auditorium in protest of The Beatles being in town. There was a chain link fence around the stage with space for policemen to walk between the fence and the stage.

My girlfriend, whom I married two years later, and I were on row 16 on the floor. She sat and held her ears the entire evening. She was into church and classical music, and only there to humor me.

The Beatles were escorted directly from the airport and directly back when the concert ended. They marched onto the stage and took their bows and immediately began songs back to back. I think they performed every hit of theirs that was on the market at that time, plus a few selected American rock and roll hits of their choosing. Everyone rose to their feet, and on the floor, we had to stand in our chairs – except my girlfriend, Sandra.

They played and sang without a break for about one hour. They did not miss a beat even after someone set off a cherry bomb in the balcony seats behind me and to my left. They ducked, but did not stop the performance. Of course, there was fear that it was a gunshot. Police surrounded the culprit and took him and his friends out. There was no further disturbance that I know about.

With a press pass, I was able to go to the stage and shoot two rolls of film. There were only a few of us photographers. The Beatles were gracious and clowned sometimes for the cameras. I have been a photographer for more than these 40 years and this is one of the most profound memories personally and professionally, including Woodstock a few years later and many concerts since.

Nathan – From Meet the Beatles for Real: Fans recall Beatles concert and the cherry bomb

From Performance in Memphis – The Beatles History (beatles-chronology.ru)
From Beatles Unused Memphis Concert Ticket (1966)…. Music Memorabilia | Lot #89163 | Heritage Auctions (ha.com) – A 4″ x 1.5″ black and red on off-white printed ticket, issued for the Beatles 8:30 PM concert at the Mid-South Coliseum on August 19, 1966, their only appearance in Elvis Presley’s hometown.

Bible Belt hits back at Beatles

MEMPHIS (UPI) -The Beatles hit the Bible Belt Friday, and the Bible Belt hit right back.

There was small-scale pandemonium at the Metropolitan airport, but it was nothing like the reception given the shaggy singers in northern cities.

About 250-300 teenagers, most of them girls in bell-bottom trousers, swarmed the airport but only a handful got a glimpse of the Beatles, who landed at a seldom-used corner and were whisked away in air-conditioned buses.

But the turnout was small for a city of 600,000.

Even though more than 20,000 tickets were sold for the two Beatles concerts here, it was clear that Memphis was merely tolerating the singers, since their disastrous excursion into the world of theology.

When John Lennon made his famous statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ, Memphis was incensed.

The mayor called a special meeting of the city commission to ask that the Beatles be banned. Local ministers scheduled a youth rally to conflict with the Beatles performances. Hundreds of letters inundated the newspapers with protests.

The city commission wouldn’t ban the mop tops but it did adopt a strongly worded resolution condemning the Lennon statement and asking the Beatles to withdraw from their $50,000-guaranteed contract on their own. The Beatles refused.

Officially the Beatles were ignored Friday, but the local fan club saved face by purchasing a replica of a key to the city and presenting it to their idols.

From Johnson City Press – August 20, 1966
From Johnson City Press – August 20, 1966

Bible Belt Takes Swing at Beatles

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — (UPI) The Beatles hit the Bible Belt Friday, and the Bible Belt hit right back. There was small-scale pandemonium at the Metropolitan’ Airport, but it was nothing like the reception given the shaggy-haired singers in northern cities. About 300 teenagers, mostly girls wearing bell-bottom trousers, swarmed around the airport for two hours before the Beatles arrived.

Even though more than 20,000 tickets were sold for the two Beatles concerts here, it was clear that Memphis had not forgotten the singers’ excursion into the world of theology. Local ministers scheduled a youth rally to conflict with the Beatles performances. When John Lennon made his statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, the city was incensed. Hundreds of letters inundated the local newspapers with protests.

The mayor called a special meeting of the city commission to ask that the Beatles be banned. The city commission refused to go along with Mayor William Ingram’s plan, but it did adopt a strongly worded resolution condemning the Lennon statement and asking the Beatles to withdraw from their $50,000-guaranteed contract on their own. The Beatles refused.

Officially the Beatles were ignored Friday, but the local fan club saved face by purchasing a replica of a key to the city and presenting it to their idols.

Security guards checked, the mid-South Coliseum almost hourly in advance of the performances to keep out invaders. Dressing rooms at the Coliseum were sealed off to the public and equipped with small beds. Supper of roast beef, rolls, green beans, salad, pie and coffee was ordered from a caterer so the singers wouldn’t have to venture into the crowds.

More than 100 policemen and private guards were assigned to keep the Beatles separated from their fans.

The Beatles next stop is Cincinnati, Ohio.

From The Miami Herald – August 21, 1966
From The Miami Herald – August 21, 1966

Bangers and fruit for the Beatles

THE BEATLES were greeted with fireworks, fruit and debris during their concert last night in Memphis, Tennessee, in the heart of the “Bible Belt.”

Two boys and a girl were slightly injured when a firework bounced near the audience, and another firework exploded at the feet of Ringo Starr, the drummer. It was thrown as the group started their second number before a crowd of about 11,000 teenagers.

Police charged through the aisles and hustled a young man out of a side entrance.

People in a balcony above the Beatles began dropping fruit and debris, and several dropped flashbulbs. Police quickly restored order. “The Beatles didn’t miss a note,” said one spectator after the incidents.

Six Ku Klux Klansmen wearing robes and carrying signs protesting against John Lennon’s statement about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus Christ picketed the entrance to the stadium before the concert, and handed out anti-Beatle literature.

The City Commission adopted a strongly-worded resolution condemning Lennon’s statement, and asked the Beatles to withdraw from their concert).

Officially the Beatles were ignored, but the local fan club saved face by buying a replica of a key to the city and presenting it to their idols.

Security guards checked the theatre almost hourly before the group’s two performances to keep out invaders, and more than 100 police and private guards were on hand to keep the Beatles away from their fans — and their critics.

After their concerts, the Liverpool group moved out of America’s deep south unscratched and apparently still topping the teenage popularity charts. They were appearing today in Cincinnati, Ohio.

From Evening Post – August 20, 1966
From Evening Post – August 20, 1966

Last updated on November 22, 2023

Mid-South Coliseum

This was the 1st concert played at Mid-South Coliseum.

A total of 2 concerts have been played there • 1966Aug 19th (8:30pm show)Aug 19th (4pm show)

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Read more on The Beatles Bible

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Rhonda 1 month ago

I was there my Father took us there I was 10 years old I have videos and pictures of me marching with a go home Beatles, I thought we were going to see the concert but actually we were brought there to demonstrate against the Beatles . I didn’t get to see them Preforming, I was only 10 so don’t blame me. I really wanted to go in my whole family was there actually I was born and raised in Tupelo Mississippi. I haven’t been there since my father passed away in 1997 at Xmas time I can’t say anymore but I know a lot more than you probably realize. God bless
Rhonda Walton Bellemore .


Rhonda Bellemore 1 month ago

John Lennon was the greatest!!
The whole band was wonderful sadly like I said I didn’t get to see them so I got to see the monkeys ha ha ha. They were all right, but not like the Beatles. I wanted to see them so bad but no I had to march around the Colosseum Memphis, Tennessee Colosseum with the sign saying go home Beatles with my sister beside me I was only 10 years old, raised in Tupelo Mississippi


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