September 3rd, 1964
Just after midnight on a restricted Indianapolis airstrip at the Weir Cook Municipal Airport, a chartered plane touched down and taxied to an awaiting army of state and local police. Reporters would later note that the security measures taken during this arrival surpassed those used when JFK stopped there in 1962.
Four young men, all with the same dark, tousled haircut, emerged from the plane and hustled across the tarmac into a town car. Flashing police escorts surrounded them. In the distance, officers held back the few dozen disappointed fans who made it to the airport. Even without seeing their faces, everyone knew the four young men well. John. Paul. George. Ringo. Everyone also knew the reason for such secrecy.
This hyper-manic fanaticism had landed in the United States with the four young men from Liverpool in February of 1964 and had pounded American cities like tsunamis at each performance. America had never seen anything like Beatlemania before, and never would again.
It was a cultural tidal wave composed of mania, hysteria, hormones, the advent of television, early rock n’ roll, commercialism, celebrity…and the four young Brits who had glued it all together with their preternatural musicianship.
That night, the four young men had one thing on their minds as they drove to a motel near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: sleep. They had hammed it up for the handful of reporters at the airport, but it was half-hearted. All four were beyond exhausted.
They had just finished a concert in Philadelphia’s Convention Hall. Their ears still rang from the collective screams of 12,000 fans. Their fingers were stiff and swollen from playing. And tonight, they had TWO shows to play. The first was at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds Coliseum (where 74 people had died a year earlier in a propane explosion) at 5 PM. The second was at 9:30 PM in front of the Fairgrounds grandstand outside. Ticket sellers estimated 30,000 fans in all.
Luckily, the secretive efforts of the Indiana police had paid off. Only a small cluster of screaming girls had tried swarming the car as it drove through the quiet night streets. Police easily fought them off. When the four Brits arrived at their motel, a few dozen girls waited outside, and they received the briefest glimpse of the Beatles for their efforts.
A single reporter had been able to breech security’s careful vetting of employees—he had disguised himself as a hotel worker—but he had wheedled his way into the wrong motel room, missing his clandestine Beatles exclusive. Nevertheless, newspapers had given his attempt some credit; The Indianapolis News titled his story “He Broke Security, Saw Beatles Lair.”
The Beatles played many concerts in many cities, but this pair of Indiana State Fair concerts differed in that it was a multimedia event. Photo shoots, then the first 30-minute concert in the Coliseum itself, followed by a press conference. Finally the second 30-minute concert, outdoors, before the grandstands. It would be the climax of the entire Indiana State Fair and one the organizers had paid dearly for.
Contemporary Americans are familiar with band tours, but no one in 1964 had seen a rock tour as a parade of national events until Beatlemania. Hoosier reporters in particular were obsessed with the band’s fee for playing the Indiana State Fair. Two shows, with press access in between, would gross the band $127,000. After paying various taxes, including $2,000 back to the state of Indiana, the four Brits would net $100,000. Almost every newspaper repeated this bit of trivia, something you’d rarely see today.
The concerts themselves were nothing spectacular, and are readily available on both YouTube and bootleg versions (see below). It wasn’t the fault of these four musicians, whose talent as rock n’ rollers is rarely questioned. But they didn’t sound great that day, just okay. Their harmonies rarely synced up. Cues came in late or early. Ringo rushed. Chords sounded muddled.
ALL these mistakes are common when a band can’t hear themselves play, which is exactly what happened. At that time, in-ear monitors were in their infancy. Musicians actual had to HEAR one another in 1964. With 13,000 fans (mostly teenage girls) shrieking like hormonal banshees, there was no hope of that. According to John Lennon, the Indiana audience was fairly tame: “This one was a bit quieter. You could almost hear us.”
Between shows, the four handled the press adroitly. They stayed away from contemporary issues and events, defusing prying reporters with quick wits and puns. It’s a lesson many could benefit from today. They were irreverent, but it was good-natured irreverence.
Indiana reporter: Where do you stand on the draft?
John Lennon: Eh, about five-eleven.
Articles of the event rarely included a review of the band’s performance. Instead, journalists focused on the regional wake of their appearance. Newspapers applauded the “well-behaved” Hoosier audience and once again counted the money put into the Brit’s pockets (afterwards, estimates ranged as low as $85,000 and as high as $152,000).
The four toured the Speedway. They went golfing. They met Miss Indiana State Fair (who stood taller than everyone except John). These photo ops were part of the band’s talent. Despite being millionaire musicians from the other side of the world, their goofiness made them seem accessible.
We Hoosiers would like to think their arrival at the Crossroads of America was unique in their cross county touring. It was not. They played a show to the same audience demographic in Philadelphia on September 2nd and would play to the same in Milwaukee on September 4th. However, this concert would be unique in that it would be the last time the American Midwest wholeheartedly embraced the band.
In 1966, John Lennon, tired and cynical from the vicious fame, would make his infamous comment “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.” The quote had been directly referring to a book The Passover Plot, but American pundits ran with it. The boys were shunned and hated. Their records burned by the cartload. After that, all across the Midwest, the four young men from working class Liverpool would be denounced from pulpits, podiums, and the press.
The rest…Well, you know how the rest turned out…