February 9, 1964. Families across America, indeed the largest audience to date, gather around their TV sets to watch the Ed Sullivan Show. The guests were four fresh-faced and enormously talented lads called The Beatles who hailed from the working-class seaport city of Liverpool, England. The youth of America is captivated, and much to the chagrin of parents, "Beatle" hair begins to sprout from their children’s heads. That one performance sparked an explosion of youthful ideals and change that has not been duplicated. September 11, 1964. I’m jammed into a rented Greyhound bus with my junior high classmates, bound for my first ever concert in Jacksonville, Florida to see my musical heroes at the Gator Stadium. This was not a simple thing to do. Parents were leery of these long-haired interlopers from England and the affect they had on their children. Parents needed to be convinced of the safety of this event, and money had to be earned to pay for the bus and concert tickets which, unbelievably, cost $5.00! This was the Beatles’ first American Tour and although they were to travel the globe to international acclaim, I imagine that even the surviving members may remember the Jacksonville concert.
Hurricane Dora had howled ashore south of Jacksonville just after midnight on September 10. The Beatles flew from Montreal towards Jacksonville, but were diverted to Key West for their safety. The hurricane devastated Florida, leaving miles of power outages and flooding from more than 18 inches of rain. The storm caused so much damage that the name “Dora” was retired from the hurricane list.
Besides the hurricane, there had been another storm brewing. A major topic of the day was civil rights. It had been reported that the audience at the Gator Bowl would be segregated. Hearing that, the Beatles (only in their early 20’s but already possessing a strong social conscience) refused to play to a segregated crowd. When they were assured that there would be no segregation, the show went on.
The bus rolled into the parking lot at the Gator Bowl – finally. We found out seats – nosebleed section – and stared at the stage, willing them to appear. A sudden deafening roar rose from the masses as four youthful figures bounded onto the field and across the stage. Although they looked small from where we sat, there was no mistaking John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The sky was low and mean, the wind blasting their hair into chaos. John straddled the microphone with that “Lennon stance”: knees slightly bent, his head tilted back. Paul and George shared a microphone, and Ringo sat high in the back, drums secured to keep the wind from tumbling them off the stage. Pure ecstasy followed as they played and sang, only some of which was audible above the ecstatic crowd. After each song, they gave perfect bows, straight-legged and from the waist. How could parents disapprove of such mannerly guys! All too soon, the concert was over and they sprinted away. Hysterical hordes rushed the stage. Girls fainted and were carried from the scene by police. We rode back to Largo, utterly amazed.
The Beatles were the first band to have a concert in a stadium; the only band to have the top five songs in the country at the same time; the first to do a musical video; the first band to incorporate orchestral instruments with their own, their music quickly developing from a simple four-four beat to ground-breaking, sophisticated arrangements á la A Day in the Life, Eleanor Rigby and Sergeant Pepper’s. Throughout the sixties, they were the impetus of every pop and cultural trend. The band broke-up in 1969, but they have never been forgotten. They wrote the score to boomers’ lives and new generations continue to discover and delight in their music. The Beatles changed not just music, but the fabric of society itself. Our world has never been the same.