The Beatles played at Crosley Field for their second and final concert in Cincinnati.
They took to the stage on Aug. 21, 1966, after the performance was cancelled the previous night, then flew to St. Louis for a concert that evening – the only time the Beatles played two cities on the same day.
No one knew at the time that just eight days later they would play their last show – at Candlestick Park in San Francisco – and then stop touring all together.
The Beatles would never be that close to their fans again.
Half a century has passed. The Beatles went on to reinvent popular music. Everyone got older and grayer. Some are gone – including John Lennon and George Harrison – and some remain.
For the lucky ones who were at the concert, that indelible experience is captured in memory. For the rest of us, let me take you down . .
Girls were screaming everywhere, a shrill roar every time someone glimpsed a mop-top from the player’s tunnel at the Reds’ ballpark. Handmade signs draped from the upper deck proclaimed “Beatles – We Luv Ya” and “Hi Ringo.”
The opening acts went on. The Remains, Bobby Hebb crooning “Sunny,” then the Cyrkle singing “Red Rubber Ball” and the Ronettes (minus Ronnie Bennett). Good solid groups, all of them, but not the Beatles.
It had been two years since Beatlemania had exploded, a tonic for the nation’s ills after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The WSAI-AM “Good Guys” DJs had brought the Fab Four to Cincinnati Gardens on their first U.S. tour in August 1964.
The concert was a smashing success, and the lads were booked at Crosley Field for the 1966 U.S. tour. It didn’t go smoothly.
If the rain comes …
The concert had been scheduled for 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20, 1966. Tickets sold for $4.75, up to $5.50.
Just before show time, the rain started coming down hard. For two hours, fans in the exposed stands of Crosley Field were drenched as they waited and waited for the Beatles to come out. The promoters hadn’t put up a canopy, in violation of the contract, so the stage was sopping wet.
“Cincinnati was an open-air venue, and they had a bandstand in the centre of the ballpark, with a canvas top on it,” George Harrison recalled. “It was really bad weather, pouring with rain, and when Mal [Evans, the Beatles’ road manager] got there to set up the equipment he said, ‘Where’s the electricity power feed?’ And the fella said, ‘What do you mean, electricity? I thought they played guitars.’ He didn't even know we played electric guitars.
“It was so wet that we couldn’t play. They’d brought in the electricity, but the stage was soaking and we would have been electrocuted, so we cancelled – the only gig we ever missed.”
About 10:25 p.m., a spokesman announced that due the threat that the Beatles could be electrocuted the concert was cancelled. Disappointed teens threw away their tickets.
Backstage, John Lennon stepped up and agreed that they would come back to play the next day. The band spent the night at Vernon Manor in Mount Auburn.
The Enquirer headline: “Beatles All Wet But They’ll Be Back Noon Today.”
After church on Sunday morning, the teen-age crowd filed back to their seats. Ticket stubs were slashed with a black marker for re-admittance.
About 1:30 p.m., the Beatles finally emerged from the player’s tunnel near third base, their guitars slung over their shoulders, and trotted out to the stage. The crowd took to their feet. The stage, now under a canopy, was at second base, some 100 feet from the audience, and a row of policemen (with cotton in their ears) stood as a barricade for overzealous fans.
The Beatles wore matching gray suits with red pinstripes and blue paisley shirts. George sported small round sunglasses, and he and Paul waved, exciting the girls.
The screaming was non-stop.
Then, a guitar jangled and John started singing. Justletmehearsomeofthat rock and roll music!
The crowd roared. The band had no monitors so they couldn’t hear themselves play.
Two huge speakers blasted out the music and you could actually hear their singing unless you were too close to a hysterical teenager or were one of them.
“I reckon we could send out four waxwork dummies of ourselves and that would satisfy the crowds,” John Lennon once said. “Beatles concerts are nothing to do with the music any more. They’re just bloody tribal rites.”
That summer, the luster of Beatlemania had started to fade.
In August, a teen magazine printed an interview John had given months before where he discussed religion.
“Christianity will go,” John had said. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ’n’ roll or Christianity.”
The reaction in the Bible Belt to the “more popular than Jesus” quote, taken out of context, was swift and vicious. People held “Beatle burning” bonfires. The Ku Klux Klan leveled threats. John apologized, but they weren’t too forgiving in the South.
The night before the Cincinnati show, the Beatles’ Memphis concerts were canceled, then back on. During the song “If I Needed Someone,” a kid threw a cherry bomb on stage. The Beatles looked at one other to see which of them had been shot, then without skipping a beat they finished the performance.
Shows were no longer selling out. The stands at Crosley were half full. About 15,000 fans filled two decks of a ballpark that seated 30,000.
“I don’t think what John said bothered the fans,” Ringo told an Enquirer reporter. “But we’ve lost audiences, you see, because their mums and dads pay for the tickets.”
My love don’t give me presents …
In between songs, the Beatles took turns addressing the crowd. John stepped out from beneath the canopy and a thousand Brownies snapped a picture.
The Beatles played for only 28 minutes, 11 songs total, and none from their new album, “Revolver,” released a few weeks earlier. “Eleanor Rigby” was all over the airwaves, but there hadn’t been time for the band to rehearse the new songs for the tour.
Also, their music had evolved to be too complex to be done with the instrumentation they toured with.
At their live shows, “Yesterday” was performed by all four Beatles and in a different key rather than just Paul on acoustic guitar backed by a string quartet. That version, never released except on bootlegs, was heard by only the concertgoers.
Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away
“We had to get up early and get on and play the concert at midday, then take all the gear apart and go to the airport, fly to St. Louis, set up and play the gig originally planned for that day,” George recalled. “In those days all we had were three amps, three guitars, and a set of drums. Imagine trying to do it now!”
The St. Louis show that night also had a torrential downpour, but the Beatles were protected under a canopy and played the show.
“We were having to worry about the rain getting in the amps and this took us right back to the Cavern days–it was worse than those early days” Paul remembered “And I don’t even think the house was full.”
“I finally agreed. I’d been trying to say, ‘Ah, touring’s good and it keeps us sharp. We need touring, and musicians need to play. Keep music live.’ I had held on that attitude when there were doubts, but finally I agreed with them.
“George and John were the ones most against touring; they got particularly fed up. So we agreed to say nothing, but never to tour again.”
Hey, we’ll have some fun
Some fun toni-hi-ight
The last chords rang out, the Beatles bowed and said “thank you,” then hopped into a car waiting behind the stage and drove to a door near the scoreboard. They waved goodbye and were gone. Their music still echoes across generations.
THE BEATLES' SETLIST
1. “Rock and Roll Music”
2. “She’s a Woman”
3. “If I Needed Someone”
4. “Day Tripper”
5. “Baby’s in Black”
6. “I Feel Fine”
8. “I Wanna Be Your Man”
9. “Nowhere Man”
10. “Paperback Writer”
11. “Long Tall Sally”