An invasion on U.S. soil began 50 years ago when four mop-topped young lads from Liverpool landed at JFK International Airport in New York. It was spreading overseas and now America was ready for . . . the Beatles. First stop was “The Ed Sullivan Show,” broadcast live from New York on Sunday night. The audience went wild in those black and white TV days. But their first North American concert was on Feb. 11, 1964, in the nation’s capital at The Washington Coliseum where over 8,000 fans were waiting. The historic night was recreated here in Washington by “Beatlemania Now,” a tribute band that plays, acts and looks like the Beatles.
AARP was the social media sponsor for the 50th anniversary concert called “Yesterday & Today” held in Washington, DC. AARP’s involvement was a perfect match because the association celebrates 2014 as the “Year of the Boomer” with the youngest boomers turning 50 years old. A "Life Reimagined" information booth was set up outside the old Uline Arena where AARP DC staff and volunteers shared information with concert goers.
Same place, same time (reportedly 8:31 p.m.), same 12-song set list, plus a lot of additional songs from the group’s large hit catalog.
“We set up the stage for a “like” kind of performance of the Beatles,” says Douglas Jemal, a D.C. developer who is now working on renovating the property. “We went back 50 years to recreate that night. It was a Tuesday just as it is tonight. The building has a vibe, the building has a soul and the building has a spirit,” he added.
A complementary invasion was also going on 50 years ago: the Baby Boomers were all there, plus some older seniors and some younger upstarts. Remembering back in the day.
Art Smith of Fairfax, Va., was there.
“The Beatles came on and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard in my life. But you couldn’t really hear them, couldn’t hear a word they sang. It was just the girls screaming.”
One of the young’uns in attendance 50 years ago was government worker Gina Santucci.
“This is actually a great opportunity for me to see the thing that I missed the first time around. I was born in 1963 and was part of the second wave of Beatles fans and when I was in junior high school there was a bit of a resurgence in the Beatles and my best friend and I would listen to every album. We could check them out at the library at school and that’s what we did during our lunch time.”
Though not at the DC concert 50 years ago, was Perla Anzures, senior accountant, AARP, who won tickets to the tribute concert through an AARP employee contest.
“I’ve been always a big fan of the Beatles since I was thirteen. And 50 years is a long time. And I can sing their songs and dance with their music. I have been an avid fan for a long, long time. For me being here is just like a history for me, just like a dream come true for me.”
Coming with Perla was Nela Davis, executive assistant to AARP CEO A. Barry Rand. She remembers when the group visited the Philippines.
“They appeared in our coliseum but I remember watching them on TV when they arrived at the airport. I grew up with the Beatles’ music and they’re still popular.”
For the folks attending the tribute concert, the performers “Beatlemania Now,” of course, sported the mop-top hairstyle. One British attendee, Paul Roe, a tattoo artist, explained the origin of that kind of haircut.
“In England it was a definitive dividing line. ‘I can do this to my hair and not care about what people will think because I’m working class.’ You had your middle and upper classes that had to look right every day, all day long. They were looking the way other people wanted them to. But ultimately the “mod movement” was, ‘I’m gonna look the way I want to be.’”
Wandering through the cavernous “seen better days” venue was a man who looked like a flower child wearing hippie garb with those round John Lennon glasses on.
“John Lennon in his ‘Sgt. Pepper’ phase,” said environmentalist Steve Drydon, as I cast an inquiring glance.
Was Lennon his favorite Beatle?
“I used to like Paul a lot when they were happening and then later on I decided that John was the best Beatle because he was the only revolutionary. He was the only one who wanted to do something really far out,” he said.
Somebody else was on the bill that night in 1964 and reappeared again this cold night in February. Sharon Jackson, a banker, was familiar with the songs he sang and was singing along.
“You seem to know who he is,” I said.
“Yes, I’m familiar with all the songs he’s played so far.
“And how is that?” I asked.
“Actually I was only four years old when he was here for the first time in D.C., and my mother listened to the music so that’s why I’m so familiar with it.”
And that man was . . . Tommy Roe, himself no stranger to number 1 hits and million sellers.
“I toured with the Beatles a year earlier, in March of ’63 in England, and we struck up a good relationship. Brian Epstein and I were talking about him managing me" said Roe. "So when the Beatles got “The Ed Sullivan Show” they were also scheduled to do the Washington, D.C. show. Brian got in touch with my manager in Atlanta and asked if I would open up the show for them. So I drove up with my band and we did two songs: 'Sheila' and 'Everybody' and opened for them on their first American concert right here."
Repeat performance. A reunion where everybody got “a little help from their friends.”
Photo: Uline Arena replicated the marquee from the original Beatles concert 50 years ago.
(Interviews and story by Rocci Fisch, an AARP DC volunteer)