The Beatles leave London for their U.S. tour in 1964. The band opened the tour at Cow Palace in San Francisco. (AFP/Getty Images)
The Beatles leave London for their U.S. tour in 1964. The band opened the tour at Cow Palace in San Francisco. (AFP/Getty Images)

Later this week, Sir Paul McCartney will play Candlestick Park at the last public event at the old stadium before it’s demolished.

The concert has brought back memories of the Beatles’ previous visits to the Bay Area, including the kickoff for their first American tour, an event that took place at the Cow Palace 50 years ago, on Aug. 19, 1964.

The Beatles had been on “The Ed Sullivan Show” earlier in the year, an appearance that helped fuel the frenzy for John, Paul, George and Ringo in the U.S.

“I was like a kid in a candy store. I’m going to a Beatles concert,” says Jim Lucas, who teaches English at Pajaro Valley High School in Watsonville. In 1964, he was a 12-year-old surf-rock fan and budding guitarist. “My best friend Bernard Gilpin’s dad got the tickets.”

Lucas had to lie to his parents about where he’d be the night of the concert.

“Oh, these long-haired freaks. ‘No, you’re not going to see something like that.’ So I had to tell my parents I was spending the night at Bernard’s house,” Lucas recalls.

On the KQED Facebook page, Jay Dodson writes, “We sat in the very back row and the Beatles were so far away and the screaming was so loud it was really hard to hear. But nevertheless, we were really excited to be there. Everyone I knew, especially myself, we so taken aback by their sound and look and creativity.”

The screams drowning out the music was a common complaint. Janis Bosenko writes she was at the concert in the seventh row, “When the crowd surged forward we were crushed against the SFPD barricades. Couldn’t hear the Beatles singing. Screams were so loud. My ears rang for days.”

This footage was taken by a local news crew covering the story. There is no audio.

Jim Lucas remembers the show a bit differently.

“There was screaming,” Lucas remembers, “but they had those Vox 90s (guitar amplifiers) turned up quite loud, and Ringo was thumping pretty good on those Ludwigs (his drums), but you could definitely hear them. And anybody who said you couldn’t hear them, then they weren’t there.”

Janis Sanz writes that she was 15 at the time. Her dad drove her and a friend to the concert, and waited for them in the parking lot.

“Once the boys hit the stage an enormous high-pitched scream went up and out through the entire place.” Sanz writes, “Luckily, I was close enough to hear the music. I stood there dumbfounded, with tears in my eyes, but I didn’t scream. Felt like I was in a trance when I walked out of there. What an event.”

The Beatles played just 12 songs in a concert lasting 38 minutes, with a few interruptions as kids rushed and jumped onto the stage, only to be escorted off by police. Fans also pelted the band with jelly beans, which were reportedly the Beatles’ favorite candy.

But the concert has lingered in memory for many of the 17,000 who attended, even for a few who weren’t very fond of the music.

“I wasn’t a Beatles fan,” says Rob Caughlan, a documentary filmmaker. “I was much too cool for bubble-gum rock. I was more into Miles Davis.”

Caughlan had snagged a couple of spare tickets off the bulletin board at the San Mateo Times, where he was a cub reporter. He says he became a fan of the Beatles after the concert, when he attended a press conference they held for local reporters.

“I don’t think there were more than 10 or 12 reporters there,” Caughlan remembers. “And the Beatles came out and sat on the edge of the table there, and they were really funny and witty and disrespectful, and just having fun being Beatles. They mocked the reporters that were asking lame questions … and that was when I became a Beatles fan. I thought, ‘OK, all these little girls actually spotted these guys early. These guys are actually pretty cool.’ ”

As Sir Paul Plays Candlestick on Thursday, Beatles’ Fans Still Believe in Yesterday 31 October,2014Cy Musiker

  • irwin fletcher

    I don’t get the screaming. What possesses someone to scream like that at someone, even if it the Beatles? You can watch fan shot videos of concerts now and hear this high pitched squeal coming from girls up front. Cheering or applauding is one thing but the screaming-for-your-life, window breaking stuff is insane.

    • Jim Lucas

      The excitement was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. As soon as they brought out Ringo’s drums when Sounds Unlimited finished opening the screaming began. Then when the Beatles came out on stage it was bedlam. But it was a cool kind of thing. Excitement to the max doesn’t begin to put it into perspective. You had to personally be there to get it.



Cy Musiker

Cy Musiker co-hosts The Do List and covers the arts for KQED News and The California Report.  He loves live performance, especially great theater, jazz, roots music, anything by Mahler. Cy has an MJ from UC Berkeley's School of Journalism, and got his BA from Hampshire College. His work has been recognized by the Society for Professional Journalists with their Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Journalism. When he can, Cy likes to swim in Tomales Bay, run with his dog in the East Bay Hills, and hike the Sierra.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor