We didn’t set out to see the Beatles. And we didn’t, even though we were right there at the concert.
Mike, my husband of less than a year, decided it would be fun to compete in the Pacific Northwest Exposition open invitational wrestling tournament in Vancouver, B.C. He had successfully wrestled varsity for Oregon State University and loved to grapple for fun. The summer of 1964 was winding down and he would soon return to teaching high school math. He had turned 23 in May; I wouldn’t be 21 until November. It was a last hurrah of summer for the young and restless.
Mike reserved a hotel room, we threw a change of clothes and toiletries into two big paper bags and climbed into his olive green 1955 Chevy for the drive to Canada.
Aug. 21, 1964. We arrived late in the afternoon and, to our surprise, checked into a very posh hotel. Well-heeled adults wearing tuxes and fur coats were departing for an evening on the town. We were in jeans, sweatshirts, maybe an orange and black letter jacket, with paper bags for luggage. We barely noticed a few stares as we were looking forward to this adventure.
All Mike had to do the next morning was weigh in to establish his freestyle wrestling division. Outside the gigantic expo building we noticed a sign: The Beatles, in concert, 8 p.m. tonight, Empire Stadium.
What? The Beatles are going to be here? Where we are? Who didn’t love “I Want to Hold Your Hand”?
After Mike weighed in and before he wrestled, we had plenty of time to get ourselves and another couple the $5.25 concert tickets. (Some complained about 25 cents tacked on to the five dollars.) Harder to believe, we had tickets for dead center, row three! We were pumped.
Unfortunately, this excitement may have undermined Mike’s concentration and he lost his close match. He was disappointed but still happy to have competed. We were enjoying balmy weather in foreign surroundings. We walked around the area with another couple from Oregon State, Don and Marilyn, who had driven to the tournament on a whim.
The concert began at 8:15 p.m. Five rows of guardrails surrounded the stage set up at Empire Stadium. Strings of connected metal chairs created rows and seats for 20,261 people who were spread across a grassy soccer field.
First came the Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, The Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon. And now, the Beatles!
It was like someone tilted the stadium and shook it. The field trembled as young girls rushed the guardrails and stage. Incessant screaming. We had not experienced anything like this. Shirts and bras were flying toward the stage, occasional young bodies lunging over our heads, one girl standing on our shoulders crying, blouse hanging down by her ankles.
None of us were scared, more like stunned. Not long after the madness began, the incensed Marilyn would intermittently turn around, shaking her finger at the teeming teens and shout, “Sit down! Sit down!”
No one could hear her, nor the Beatles. No one sat down. When physically possible I jumped up, trying to see the stage. “I can’t see them! Can you see them? Can you hear them?”
The Beatles reportedly took to the stage at 9:25 p.m. But we couldn’t see the stage or anyone on it, not even the featured groups beforehand. Crazed fans were no laughing matter for local authorities, either. Young teens risked lives trying to get close to their idols. When they got close to the stage, police nabbed them and hauled them away. Two kids had been crushed in their pursuit, but survived.
We never caught a glimpse. Not a chord or a note heard. After just 11 songs, The Beatles reportedly ran from the stage to their waiting limousine and were driven from the stadium accompanied by motorcycles.
Us? We had an unforgettable memory. Getting to see or hear the Beatles? That was a bust.
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