Paul McCartney, Al Gore, Tommy Roe recall Beatles' first U.S. concert in D.C.

Paul McCartney was honored in 2010 for his contributions to pop music by the United States Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center.
By J. Freedom duLac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 6:48 PM

On Feb. 11, 1964, Beatlemania blasted Washington - all shrieks and Arthur haircuts and songs that nobody could quite make out.

Two nights after a hysteria-inducing appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the Beatles played their first U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum, just north of Union Station.

With "I Want to Hold Your Hand" sitting atop the American Billboard chart, 8,092 people witnessed a dozen songs performed by the band that changed everything.

Bruce Spizer, author of seven Beatles books, says the concert at the long-defunct Coliseum (now a covered parking garage) "was one of the most exciting live performances the Beatles ever gave." Apple's iTunes is streaming the concert free of charge.

With Paul McCartney returning to Washington this weekend to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, here's the tale of the 1964 visit, as told by some of the people who lived it - including Sir Paul, who spoke to us last week from London.

John B. Lynn, son of Harry Lynn, who owned the Coliseum: My father got the call asking if he'd be interested in having the Beatles. He, of course, had never heard of them. But he said yes. He brought home a box of Beatles albums and singles to give out, and my brother and I became the most popular people in school.

Paul McCartney: We'd seen a lot of British stars come back from America with their tails between their legs. We made a promise to ourselves to not go until we had a No. 1. We were so excited to be madly popular in America, which was to us the Holy Grail because every shred of music we ever loved came from there. It was euphoric, and now we were heading to Washington on the train, which was very glamorous. And to cap it off, there was that beautiful snow.

Bill Eppridge, former contract photographer for Life magazine: We were going to fly down from New York, but a big snowstorm hit Washington. The Beatles reserved a couple of cars on the train and got tickets for the press traveling with them. I couldn't have had a better time. We all liked them. They were always looking for something to do. They had a race up and down the car, and two of them went up and over the seats and two of them crawled in the baggage racks. And then they grabbed the waiters' uniforms and served drinks.

Albert Maysles, documentary filmmaker ("What's Happening! The Beatles In the USA," "The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit"): All kinds of funny things happened on the train. They were behaving for the camera. Ringo carried some camera bags and worked his way through the coach. They were strangers in a new land, enjoying that kind of fresh experience. I remember a child meeting Ringo and the conversation they had, which was so endearing.

Linda Binns Liles, train passenger on Feb. 11, 1964: My family was riding back [to Richmond], and we happened to be in the only car that got to see the Beatles. They walked through and gave autographs. I was like: "Well, I got two of their autographs, I think I need all four." I was 9 years old, not a crazy teenager -- when we stopped at stations, there were teenagers jumping up and down, trying to look in the windows -- so I was able to get back there. I introduced myself to Ringo Starr and promptly sat down and started talking with him. "You went to New York for the first time? So did I." We had a normal conversation. I was sure he was interested in my fourth-grade teacher as much as I was interested in what he was doing. Paul McCartney, who had me calling him Uncle Paul, asked me if i was coming to their D.C. concert, and I was like: "No, I've got to go to school tomorrow!" I was perfectly serious.

Lynn: My father wasn't in the habit of meeting his acts when they arrived in town. But he met the Beatles. He had been stationed in Liverpool during the war, so I think he might have felt some connection to them. He didn't expect the crowd -- especially on a snowy day.

Maysles: There was an enormous crowd waiting when we got to Union Station.

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