Sept. 16, 1964: New Orleans comes together to meet the Beatles
As with everywhere else in America, by fall 1964 Beatlemania had already been underway for some months in New Orleans — in spirit, anyway. Then, it arrived in the flesh shortly before 3 a.m. on Sept. 16, 1964, when the Beatles themselves — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — touched down at New Orleans International Airport for a whirlwind stay in the city ahead of their scheduled performance at City Park Stadium. It was destined to be a chaotic visit, marked by logistical foul-ups and which later that night saw the band’s brief concert dissolve into pandemonium, as hundreds of fans took turns rushing the stage — only to be tackled by a phalanx of waiting police officers. Though the lads declared it the “roughest” stop of the tour from a logistical standpoint, they appeared amused at the chaos. As for their twisting and shouting local fans, it was a day they would never forget.
The Congress Inn no longer stands, but City Park Stadium is still there (though it has since been renamed Tad Gormley Stadium). On Sept. 16, 1984, the 20th anniversary of the Beatles’ concert, local radio station WRNO hosted the look-alike and sound-alike band Beatlemania to re-create the historic concert and to help dedicate a historic marker at the stadium memorializing the band’s local stop — “for there will never be another Beatles,” it reads.
- The City Park show started at 9:25 p.m., with an estimated 12,000 screaming fans attending. “I want to thank everyone for coming, especially the football players,” McCartney joked near the show’s end, a reference to the scrum created as police repeatedly tackled fans attempting to rush the stage.
- Tickets to the show, sponsored by local radio station WNOE, cost $5 — or about $39 in 2017 money.
- In all, the concert consisted of 11 songs and lasted all of 30 minutes.
- “Spirits of ammonia,” or smelling salts, were reportedly administered to an estimated 200 Beatles fans overcome by the excitement, according to a story in the next day’s Times-Picayune. In addition, one girl reportedly suffered a broken arm in the commotion but refused to go the hospital until after the show.
- New Orleans musician Clarence “Frogman” Henry was one of the opening acts, having joined the tour midway through when one of the original opening act — the Righteous Brothers — bowed out, reportedly piqued at fans’ relentless screaming for the Beatles during their opening performance.
- Henry became something of a local musical liaison, helping arrange for the Beatles to meet one of their musical idols, New Orleans’ Fats Domino, in their trailer/dressing room before the show.
- Mayor Vic Schiro met the band at the Congress Inn to present them with keys to the city as well as honorary citizenships. John Lennon’s characteristically cheeky response: “I want to put my arm around you. You look a nice fellow, Lord Mayor.”
- Schiro’s proclamation, which decreed Sept. 16, 1964, to be Beatles Day in New Orleans, read in part: “”In order to be hospitable to our English cousins, the Beatles, who will serenade New Orleans in the hurricane month of September, it devolves upon myself to officially welcome this English storm.”
- The Beatles had originally been booked to stay downtown at the Roosevelt Hotel, but management there was reportedly afraid of what Beatlemania might bring to the swanky establishment. That forced the band to stay in a three-room suite at the one-story Congress Inn, where the windows to their room were boarded up to keep fans out.
- The Beatles initially scheduled a day off after the City Park concert so they could experience first-hand the city that had generated so many of the rhythm & blues songs that had influenced them. Those plans were scrapped when Charles O. Finley, then owner of Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Athletics, offered them $150,000 — about six times their normal fee, and almost $1.2 million today — to add Kansas City to their tour so his daughter could see them play. They took the money.
- After leaving New Orleans and arriving in Kansas City, the band was asked if there was any place in America they’d love to see. Without missing a beat, Lennon — still apparently stinging from the loss of that planned day off — replied: “New Orleans is one of them.”
- According to New Orleanian and noted Beatles historian Bruce Spizer, the band’s set list for the New Orleans show was as follows: “Twist and Shout,” “You Can’t Do That,” “All My Loving,” “She Loves You,” “Things We Said Today,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “If I Fell,” “Boys,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and, finally, “Long Tall Sally.”
- The Beatles’ 1964 North American tour saw them play 26 concerts in 24 cities over 32 days. The New Orleans show marked their 23rd performance of the tour.
In all, the Beatles were in New Orleans for less than 24 hours, but the visit was enough to generate a lifetime of memories for local fans. “The thing I remember the most about the concert was the total pandemonium,” longtime local radio personality Bob Walker remembered in a 1984 interview with The Times-Picayune. “It never ceased. It was one long wail. I’d never experienced anything like it and probably never will again.” Locals’ fondness for the Fab Four might have waned in the ensuing years — but only a little. McCartney, who with Starr is one of two surviving Beatles, has returned to the city multiple times in the decades since, including for full concert stops in 1993, 2002 and 2014, as well as a pre-game Super Bowl gig in 2002. Each time, his local fans proved that they still love him, yeah, yeah, yeah.