The Beatles in New Orleans

27 Aug

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By JOHN DeMERS

On Tuesday Sept. 16 I will walk into City Park Stadium in New Orleans to hear a tribute band play all the old Beatles hits. The last time I entered the stadium, exactly 50 years ago that night, the Beatles were playing all the old Beatles hits.

Except both they and I were young.

In one of the most lovingly nostalgic acts of self-promotion I can remember, the public television station in my hometown has not only produced an entertaining half-hour special about the Beatles’ visit but has created a full-scale live concert event at the stadium featuring a tribute band called The Fab Four. I just got a preview of the TV special, titled “When the Beatles Invaded New Orleans.” That and the fact I spent eight years talking about food every Friday night on WYES-TV’s Steppin’ Out program, with the same host (Peggy Scott Laborde) and possibly the same table, sealed the deal for me.

As I recall, my younger sister fell for the Beatles before I did – probably as it should be. I was 12 and not interested in music, but after a few weeks of listening to her and her friends playing bouncy hits like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on her tiny pink 45 rpm record player, I was ready to commit. I was watching when a national TV personality named Jack Paar (look him up, children) played a jumpy, scratchy, black-and-white film of the Beatles performing in Liverpool, so of course I was watching when the group made its first of several iconic live appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Cutting to the chase, there was nothing I didn’t think I’d like about having thousands – no, millions – of girls throwing themselves at me, body and soul. Like so many other boys across America, I started a band of my own within days. Historical note: Neither The Runaways, nor our later, mildly psychedelic rendition The Upstairs Window, ever appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

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I took my sister to see the Beatles in New Orleans, dropped off at the gates by our parents; and as things went, that was surely my cover for liking them myself. There we were that night, up in the stands with 12,000 other screaming, shouting, crying kids, asking each other what song the band was playing because we couldn’t hear above the screaming. The night was a highlight of my life – Top Ten, surely. Many things moved and changed and grew after that night, many things began and ended, even the Beatles themselves. But when my kids, a couple years ago, gave me a colorized and framed reproduction of the City Park concert poster, I couldn’t imagine anything I’d never thought of but that made me smile more.

Only two years after City Park, by 1966, both the Beatles and I were old hands. I convinced my parents to make our annual vacation trek to Boston, where my Dad was from, in time to meet up with the Beatles at the Suffolk Downs racetrack. By then, my sister and I knew enough to shove our way down in front of the biggest (and loudest) speakers I’d ever seen. The show was great, replacing those primal hits from 1964 with the complex harmonics and ideas of “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer” and “Yesterday.” A few days later, the Beatles announced there’d be no more concert tours, at least partially because more and more of their songs were created in the studio, not on any stage. Still, whenever I think back to them or those times, I almost never think of my Dad’s hometown. I think of mine.  

Ironically, between my life’s two Beatles concerts, the closest we got to each other was August 19, 1965, when they played two sold-out shows, afternoon and evening, at the Sam Houston Coliseum – in Houston. All the radio stations in New Orleans organized charter busses to these shows, and I begged my parents to let me be on one. But they, oh so parentally, said No. So yes, I did get to Texas “as quick as I could.” But it wasn’t quick enough. 

Thanks to the WYES page on YouTube, “The Beatles Invade New Orleans, ” featuring memories by Beatles historian Bruce Spizer, musician Deacon John, retired New Orleans DJ Bob Walker and broadcaster Marcia Kavanaugh (like me, a concert survivor) will be available to all after its airing this Friday at 7:30 and again at 11 p.m. Tickets to the live 90-minute concert by The Fab Four on Sept. 16 are $35 (the real Beatles were $5, but that seemed a lot more money when I was 12), with a tempting VIP package available for $150. Anything and everything about the event can be found at www.wyes.org or by calling (504) 457-2934. I’ll see you there. And please, don’t be looking for a 12-year-old.

Photos: (top) The Fab Four tribute band; (middle) the Beatles meet the mayor of New Orleans; (bottom) the WYES-TV special hosted by Peggy Scott Laborde.

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