Classic Rock and Cheap Wine: An Eyewitness Account of the Beatles First American Concert

In last week’s Classic Rock installment I wrote that if you wanted to spark a lively conversation among aging baby boomers just pose the question, “What was your first rock concert?”

Without a doubt the best answer is any Beatles concert.

But, it just so happens, a close friend, JW from Virginia, attended the first Beatles concert. This was held on February 11, 1964 at the Coliseum in Washington D.C. —  two days after the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

After alluding to him in last week’s piece, JW wrote the following comment:

Late winter of ’64 we were still in a funk caused by Kennedy’s Assassination and not yet into the hoopla of the Johnson-Goldwater campaign. Saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s in NY, and they were to entertain down the East Coast: Washington and Miami. Manage to get tickets to sold-out Washington show in the round. Ringo was in the middle and on an elevated, rotating platform. They had made the mistake of saying that they like jelly-beans, so we all brought a supply. When the music started the crowd pelted the stage with jelly-beans trying to hit any of the Fab-Four, though Ringo was the principal target. He was up there turning on the platform, dodging the beans. Kids in the lower rows were pelted by the incoming from the other side. It was a blast!

For the record, JW was a high school senior at the time, born in the first baby boom crop of 1946, along with two future presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Reading JW’s comment piqued my interest so he agreed to answer a few questions.

Q.  You mentioned in your comment that “we were still in a funk caused by Kennedy’s assassination.” Given that the two events were less than three months apart — can you further elaborate on the emotional connection between Kennedy’s death and the Beatles popularity?

A.  The Kennedy assassination was a national shock: our emotions remained subdued during that Christmas holiday and into the cold of late winter 1964. I felt a sense of emptiness, since kids of my age had been so “grabbed” emotionally by the Kennedy Presidency, which was an exhilaration following the drabness of the 1950s. The Beatles lit a spark in us that seemed to re-enliven my peers, and lifted us into our college years. President Johnson was quite dull in comparison, and could not compete with the Beatles as a social phenomenon and distraction

Q. As a 17-year-old in the audience, did you have any inkling that you were watching history being made?

A.  Definitely, yes: all the kids were a-buzz about the Fab-Four before they even came to the US. When the first US tour was announced, I knew it would be really big so I went out of my way to get tickets immediately when sales started, and it was sold-out early.

1964: Fans outside the Coliseum, Washington waiting for the Beatles to arrive. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Q.  From your perspective 48 years later, what are your lasting impressions of that first Beatles concert?

A. The frenzy of the crowd was unforgettable, and as I described in my comment, arching jelly-beans over the Fab-Four heads into the crowd on the other side was like the food-fight in “Animal House.” Also, Ringo turning around on his elevated turntable and  “I Wanna Hold Your Handdddddddddddddd!!!!!!!!”

Thanks for the memories, JW.

While we are regaling in baby boom nostalgia, JW is truly a walking exhibit! Besides witnessing the first Beatles concert, JW marched in President John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade as a Boy Scout. Then later, as a member of Yale’s 1964 freshman class, that aforementioned 1946 born president, George W. Bush, was one of JW’s classmates.

Like many baby boomers, JW is a fruit of the vine connoisseur, so I asked him to make this week’s cheap wine recommendation. As a Virginian, JW takes great pride in his state’s small, but nationally award- winning wineries and thus chose Naked Mountain Chardonnay.

Fortunately, I am familiar with this quaint, picturesque vineyard situated about 60 miles west of Washington D.C. in Markham, Virginia. And, while enjoying the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, have been seen consuming a glass or two of their buttery, richly-flavored oak tasting Chardonnay — so I applaud JW for his refined selection.

Let’s toast to JW and the first 1946 crop of baby boomers who paved the way and changed our nation forever. Now that 10,000 of their younger peers are reaching the age of 65 every day for the next 17 years, they are scheduled to bankrupt Medicare and Social Security — again changing our nation forever.

But that my friends is a discussion for another day.


Check out Myra’s previous Classic Rock and Cheap Wine columns:

Classic Rock and Cheap Wine: Jimi Hendrix, Love Beads, and My First Concert

Classic Rock & Cheap Wine: A Three Dog Night Without ‘Joy to the World’ After a Trip to the Police Station

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