Commemorating The Beatles’ American Debut
To some, five decades back seem like ancient history: “Biblical times.”
Indeed, in 1964, social media meant face-to-face conversations or maybe passing notes in class. At home, there were three main TV networks, and weekends wound down with CBS’ “Lassie” at 6 p.m., either ABC’s “Wagon Train” or NBC’s “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” at 6:30 and – depending on guests – back to CBS for “The Ed Sullivan Show” at 7.
One Sunday night – February 9, 1964 – kids didn’t care which standup comic, Broadway star, animal act or entertainer balancing plates on a stick was scheduled for Sullivan’s showcase. The Beatles would play.
West-central Illinois musician and retailer Craig Moore recalls, “February 9, 16 years old, I sat glued to the TV, literally with my face within a matter of inches from the screen, while my parents sat bemused behind me. When my stepdad dared to speak and even to say something derogatory about the group on screen, I told him to ‘shut up,’ which was miles beyond any remark I had ever dared make to any adult before.”
That night will be commemorated this Sunday at Peoria’s Limelight Eventplex, where more than four hours of music will feature rock ‘n’ roll and much more, from reunions of area favorites the Dave Chastain Band and Ready Steady Go to classical musicians.
February 9 is exactly 50 years to the day, and the show starts at 7 p.m., 50 years to the minute since Ed Sullivan shouted, “And here they are: the Beatles!"
The performers will donate their time and talents, and all proceeds will benefit the Dream Factory, the Washington, Ill., High School Tornado Relief Fund, and St. Jude’s.
Admission for festival seating is $20, with tickets on sale at the Younger Than Yesterday store in Peoria and other area outlets, with mail orders available. A $50 “VIP” package includes admission, a t-shirt, booklet, early entrance and reserve seating.
The lineup of groups also includes the Black Roses, a Bradley University string quartet, Encounter At L-5, the Flying D'rito Brothers, Heavy Shake, Joel Madigan, Men of Fortune, the Nikbeats, the Temporary Tribute Band, a version of Moore’s garage band (playing as GONN & Friends), and Greg Williams.
The concert won’t be impersonators or cover versions of familiar tunes, Moore stresses, saying, “We're not requiring rote copies. We want to hear the songs as the bands playing them would naturally do them.
“This show is all about the music itself and the impact the Beatles and their music has had on countless musicians and listeners alike, not to mention culture around the world,” continues Moore, whose first band, the Pagans, formed in 1965 and the next year became GONN.
Moore has performed, recorded and promoted music from bands (including GONN, Ilmo Smokehouse, Ready Steady Go, and Speechless) to stores (the Peoria Record Company and Younger Than Yesterday).
He recalls, “I bought my first Beatles record, ‘Please Please Me,’ in March of 1963. I was thrilled by the sound of it. Radio started playing ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ around December,” he continues. “In January it hit Number 1. Ed Sullivan started promoting their upcoming appearances, and [the album] ‘Meet The Beatles’ came out, the most thrilling LP I had ever heard in my life.”
Moore was the [Keokuk, Iowa] high school DJ, playing records at lunch periods, dances, and so on, and he says when he started playing ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ the reaction was loud and positive. But once the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the reception turned into girls screaming – for the record.
He laughs and says, “Every new Beatles record that came along was like a new commandment being handed down from Mount Sinai.”
This winter, apostles of the Beatles songbook and impact will continue to spread the Word (and music).
The event has a Facebook page – “It was 50 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play - a celebration of the Beatles’ debut in America” – with up-to-date information posted as it develops, plus links to videos of some of the bands.
Recalling the line from the Beatles LP, Moore says, “Being for the benefit of so many, a splendid time is guaranteed for all!”
Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.