The Beatles' February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum indoor arena in Wash., D.C., their first ever live U.S. concert performance. Photo: Rowland Scherman, http://www.snapstour.com/
When the Beatles first came to the U.S. in 1964, primarily to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on February 9th, 1964, they also performed two live concerts. The first of these concerts — and their first ever in the U.S. — was performed in Washington, D.C. at the Washing- ton Coliseum on February 11th. Not to be confused with an outdoor athletic-type coliseum, the Washington Coliseum was an indoor arena where professional and college basketball teams played. Originally built in 1941, it was first named the Uline Arena when it hosted hockey games. It was renamed the Washington Coliseum in 1959. It held a capacity crowd of about 7,000 people. Although the building still stands today near Washington’s Union Station, it is now used as an indoor parking garage. However, it is a protected property by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, and is slated for redevelopment. In the 1960s it hosted a variety of music acts and concerts, of which the Beatles’ February 11th, 1964 concert was one.
Ticket stub to Beatles' first live American concert in Washington, D.C., February 11th, 1964.
The Beatles also made another live concert appearance during their February 1964 U.S. visit – at New York City’s Carnegie Hall on February 12th. In New York there were two shows, but in Washington, only one. However, the D.C. performance was filmed in black and white video by CBS with the permission of the Beatles’ then manager, Brian Epstein. This filmed version of the live D.C. performance was then packaged into a “closed-circuit” offering by a private company to be aired several weeks later at selected theaters across the U.S. More detail on these theater showings follows below. But first, the Washington performance.
Beatles’ D.C. Concert
At the Washington Coliseum, the Beatles performed on a boxing-ring stage, changing postion during the show. Feb 11, 1964.
The February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum, located at 3rd and M Streets N.E., occurred during a cold and snowy night. It was the Beatles’ first live American performance after their televised appearance on the CBS Ed Sullivan Show. They had arrived in D.C. earlier that day by train from New York. Before their show that evening, they also appeared at a brief press conference. At show time, there was a sold-out, over-capacity crowd of 8,000 fans, by one count. Before the Beatles came on, there were three other opening acts. Although three groups were advertised as the opening acts for the Beatles at the concert – including the girl group, The Chiffons, and also Tommy Roe and The Caravelles – an East Coast snow storm prevented The Chiffons and Tommy Roe from getting to Washington. Instead, replacement acts were found, and appearing that night as the opening acts were: Jay & The Americans, The Righteous Brothers, and The Caravelles. These acts were quite good, according to some in attendance that evening. But when the Beatles came on, the place erupted with screaming and incessant flash bulbs. They played for nearly an hour. Because of the set up in the Coliseum, the Beatles were essentially performing on a boxing ring-type stage, and had to move their equipment around on stage a few times in order to give everyone in the audience a chance to see them. Ringo was seen moving his drum set around on stage between sets.
Beatles Set List Washington, D.C. February 1964
Roll Over Beethoven
From Me to You
I Saw Her Standing There
All My Loving
I Wanna Be Your Man
Please Please Me
Till There Was You
She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Twist and Shout
Long Tall Sally
Some Beatles afficionados and music critics regard the D.C. performance as a singular event in Beatles history, especially since it captured the group’s fresh and exuberant performance for the first time with a live, American audience – the “big market” the Beatles had dreamed of cracking. Writes music critic Richie Unterberger:
“…[H]ere are the early Beatles at their on-stage best. They’re more visibly delighted, indeed almost overwhelmed, by the crowd’s enthusiasm here than at any time before or since. Despite the seeming overnight success of their invasion of America, it had in reality been a long hard climb to the top, taking about seven years of diligent work and numerous excruciating setbacks, and also a year or so where they’d made virtually no inroads into the U.S. market despite their mushrooming British superstardom. This was the payoff, and though the group would get fed up with touring before screaming teenagers within a couple of years, at the Washington Coliseum they were if anything having an even greater time than their admirers….”
Another shot of The Beatles at their February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum arena in Washington, D.C.
After their live D.C. performance, the group attended a masked ball at the city’s British Embassy. Reportedly, British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home decided not to attend for fear of being upstaged by the group. During the party, an unidentified woman cut off a lock of Ringo’s hair without asking him. The Beatles stayed at the embassy party for a time and then returned to their rooms at the Shoreham Hotel. The following day, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, meeting with British Prime Minister Home at the White House, says of the Beatles: “I like your advance guard. But don’t you think they need haircuts?” The Beatles that day returned to New York by train for their Carnegie Hall concerts – two 25-minute performances before 2,900 fans attending each show.
1964 ad for the Beatles' closed-circuit concerts.
The Closed-Circuit Concerts
However, about a month later, in mid-March 1964, the CBS filming of the Beatles’ live D.C. show – together with separate footage of performances by the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore – was shown in selected U.S. movie theaters as a closed-circuit concert. Billed in advertising as — “The Beatles: Direct From Their First American Concert” — the complete 90-minute film was transmitted over telephone lines to selected U.S. and Canadian theaters in four separate shows — two each day — over the weekend of March 14th and 15th, 1964.
The first round of closed-circuit concerts occurred on Saturday, March 14, 1964, and among the receiving theater locations that day, for example, were: the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Hippodrome Theater in Cleveland, Ohio; the El Monte Legion Stadium in El Monte, California; the Public Auditorium in Portland, Oregon; the Village Theater in Westwood, California; and many others. The following day, on Sunday, March 15, 1964, the show went out again to a number of locations, including: the Norva Theater in Norfolk, Virginia; Lake Theater in Oak Park, Illinois; Fox Theater in San Jose, California; and also back in Washington, D.C. at the Coliseum. In Albany, New York that weekend, there were three showings at the Palace Theater. In Indianapolis, Indiana, the Lyric Theater received the show on March 14th and March 15th, as did a big screen theater at the State Fair Coliseum in Dallas, Texas.
The total audience for the special closed-circuit broad- casts of the Beatles’ concert film was expected to exceed 500,000. The shows were seen in more than 100 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. The promoters – identified in advertising as the National General Corporation, or their subisidiary, Theater Color Vision — made millions. One 1964 estimate placed the take at some $4 million, or roughly $30 million in today’s money. This Beatles’ concert showing was apprarently the first use of closed-circuit broadcasting for a rock concert, as previously this closed-circuit theater network had been used only for championship boxing matches.
Excerpts from the film have shown up in numerous video compilations, including The Beatles Anthol- ogy. In 2003, a company named Passport released a DVD entitled The Beatles in Washington D.C., February 11, 1964.
Master Tape at Auction
Decades after the Beatles’ February 1964 performances, a reported master tape of the CBS film of the Beatles’ D.C. concert surfaced on the internet, appearing at the website, BeatleSource.com, display- ed in its shipping box. According to this site, the tape was auctioned off by “It’s Only Rock and Roll” in 2005 to an unnamed bidder for an unspecified price.
CBS Beatles tape in box.
In the website’s description of the master tape, however, it is noted: “. . . a variety of poor quality kinescopes trans- ferred to video versions of the [Beatles' D.C.] concert have circulated on bootlegs, imports and, most recently, as a commercially released DVD. These versions are missing the on-stage announcements and footage of the Beatles running through the audience en route to the stage. In addition, these inferior copies end abruptly midway through ‘Twist & Shout,’ and are totally missing the finale of ‘Long Tall Sally’ and footage of the Beatles leaving the stage. Even the footage seen by millions on the Beatles Anthology series was far removed in picture and sound quality from what fans saw in their local theaters in March 1964.”
The website also notes in its description of this tape: “We can unequivocally say that there exists no other videotaped Beatles concert that remotely approaches the quality of this performance by the Beatles at Washington Coliseum.”
DVD of Beach Boys 'lost' concert.
“Lost” Beach Boys
There also appears to have been a film excerpt made of the Beach Boys’ portion of this show, which in recent years has been marketed as a separate DVD. The disc offers 22 minutes of the Beach Boys performance, described in the marketing literature as a “long-lost concert video” only now available. That Beach Boys’ performance – which was spliced into the Beatles’ closed-circuit film along with the Lesley Gore performance – was originally videotaped by NBC-TV in Burbank, California. Both of those performances were part of a separate concert hosted in Los Angeles in late January 1964 by L.A. disc jockey Roger Christian. But after the Beatles’ closed-circuit TV show was aired, including the Gore and Beach Boys’ portions, the Beach Boys segment remained virtually unseen for decades. Then in 1998, according to one account, the Beach Boys’ portion, or a version of the original session, was rediscovered and began being sold in June 1999 as a separate DVD. “Beach Boys fans will be delighted with the quality of the digitally mastered picture and sound,” says one review of “The Lost Concert.” It also captured the Beach Boys in their early days, when Brian Wilson was featured in the lead, as he would later stop touring with the band. The DVD also includes cutaway shots that provide a glimpse of what teen audiences were like during the heyday of the surfing craze, according to one description. “[P]lenty of Gidget hairdos, and a few parents in the crowd, marveling at the frenzy of it all…,” says the description. Among the Beach Boys’ songs on the disc are: “Fun Fun Fun,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Shut Down,” “In My Room,” and others. See also, “Early Beach Boys, 1962-1966.”
Poster for Beatles' closed-circuit concert in Providence, R.I., 1964.
In late 2010, a high-quality video of the 1964 Beatles’ Washington, D.C. concert was reported to have surfaced in a couple of places, suggesting that it might be the 1964 master tape, or was somehow related to that tape. In November 2010, Apple, Inc.’s iTunes music service announced that it would begin selling Beatles’ music – singles, albums, and a special boxed set, among other items. The “Beatles Box Set” – which iTunes was then selling for $149.00 – included 13 remastered Beatles’ studio albums and other Beatles’ music. The box set was also advertised to include something else: the live 1964 Washington Coliseum Beatles’ concert film. iTunes reported that it had a “worldwide exclusive” on the film. Apple at that time was also allowing Beatles fans to stream and view the 1964 concert film from iTunes for free during November and December 2010.
Then, in December 2010, another report announced that the “not-seen-since-1964″ closed-circuit film – complete with Beach Boys and Lesely Gore segments, Roger Christian’s introductions, and the Beatles’ “Long Tall Sally” concert segment – would be given a special theatrical showing at the American Cinematheque Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on February 11, 2011. Hosting this screening would be: Alan Boyd, director of the documentary Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story; Domenic Priore, author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood; and Ron Furmanek, a rock ‘n roll film archivist. “This will be the first time the ENTIRE production has been seen in full since the two days it was screened as a nationwide closed-circuit theater event…”, said the announcement, adding: “Our test screenings left us bedazzled, feeling as though we had just seen The Beatles in person… it’s that good.” Since then, however, it is not clear how often the “lost concert” Beatles film was actually aired in U.S., if at all, as a tour of U.S. theaters was promised, but there appears to have been some difficulty in showing the film — at least in some locations.
The Beatles performing live at the Washington Coliseum, February 11, 1964 -- from left, Paul, George, John & Ringo.
More Innocent Time
In any event, the Beatles’ in-theater, closed-circuit concerts that were aired in 1964 offer a look at an earlier, more innocent time in the music concert business — and a rare piece of music industry history. It also appears that those music fans who attended the 1964 theater showings of the Beatles’ first live U.S. concert – along with the added Beach Boys and Lesley Gore performances – were part of a rare event that occurred only in a limited number of U.S. locations.
Jack Doyle, “Beatles’ Closed-Circuit Gig, March 1964,” PopHistoryDig.com, July 9, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Beatles on the Washington, D.C. mall, Feb 1964.
Beatles on D.C. mall with U.S. Capitol, Feb 1964.
February 1964: Fans outside the Washington, D.C. Coliseum waiting for the Beatles to arrive. (Photo, Keystone/Getty)
Jerry Doolittle, “Beatles Arrive, Teen- Agers Shriek, Police Do Their Duty, and That’s That,” The Washington Post-Times Herald, February 12, 1964, p. 1.
On YouTube.com, there are several videos of the Beatles’ February 1964 performance at the Washington Coliseum. These are typically grainy, black-and-white videos of various lengths, some 30 minutes or more, with shots of the Beatles performing, screaming fans, and the general pandemo- nium of that concert.
John S. Wilson, “2,900-Voice Chorus Joins the Beatles; Audience Shrieks and Bays and Ululates,” New York Times, February 13, 1964.
“Potential $4 Million Box Office For Beatles On Closed Circuit TV,” Broadcasting, February 24, 1964.
“Closed TV Shows Here for Beatles,” Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX), March 2, 1964.
Myra MacPherson, “Help! The Day The Mania Came To Washington,” Washing- ton Post, February 7, 1984.