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All together now: Columbian readers relive 1965 Beatles concert in Portland

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

“Beatles, women and children first!”

So shouted the ever-snarky but no longer panicked John Lennon, reportedly, when climbing off the plane with bandmates Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr after a terrifying flight to Portland.

That’s not a well-known part of the story, but it sure would have changed the world if the Beatles had died in a plane crash on approach to the Rose City.

The Beatles only came to Portland once. They played two brief concerts, afternoon and evening, on Aug. 22, 1965, at the Memorial Coliseum. Earlier this summer, a Columbian reader described a different Beatles concert in our “Everybody Has a Story” column. Then we heard from another enduring fan with a similar recollection, and similar undying excitement, about seeing the band in Portland.

“All Together Now,” we thought, and put out a general invitation: Were you there? Since the coronavirus pandemic has ended rock concerts and other live entertainment spectacles for now, let’s relive an unforgettable local one on its 55th anniversary.

We heard from Beatlemaniacs in the Vancouver-Portland metro area and beyond, and we also dug into the research of Beatles historian and author Joe Goodden for that tidbit about terror in the air.

Set list

The set list for the Beatles concert at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Aug. 22, 1965:
“Twist and Shout”
“She’s a Woman”
“I Feel Fine”
“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”
“Ticket to Ride”
“Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”
“Can’t Buy Me Love”
“Baby’s in Black”
“Act Naturally”
“A Hard Day’s Night”
“Help!”
“I’m Down”

According to Goodden’s online “Beatles Bible,” the band gave a trademark wisecracking press conference that morning at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (Serious Beatles scholars note: At that press conference, a music shop presented Harrison the sunburst-red 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar that he recorded on the “Rubber Soul” album later that year.) Then they boarded their private chartered jet, a Lockheed Electra, and made for Portland.

Man, it was a dreadful flight. One of the airplane’s four engines caught fire during the descent into Portland International Airport. Lennon may have joked about it when he was safe on the ground, but according to Goodden he scribbled down some final messages and stowed them inside a film cannister when he thought he might not survive.

Moms and dads

Beatles fans were none the wiser. Having discovered the British band on the Ed Sullivan TV show a year and a half earlier, their main concern now was scrounging up $4, $5 or even a whopping $6 for the best seats at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. Teenagers saved earnings from summer jobs or meager allowances from parents — some who were pretty ambivalent about bankrolling a pilgrimage to worship those noisy, hairy boys.

“My dad thought they were horrible,” said Char O’Day of Vancouver. “Look at that long hair, look what the world is coming to!”

“My dad didn’t appreciate the long hair,” agreed Sandy Peterson-Fry, a Portland native and career Vancouver teacher. “No son of his was ever going to have hair like that.”

His daughter was allowed to go, as long as the expense was all hers.

“I had to pay my own way,” Peterson-Fry said. “I was working picking berries and beans, and it was a full day’s work.”

“I had a part-time job at the library and I bought my own ticket,” Karyl Severson said.

Severson learned to appreciate music through her mother, who worked at KVAN radio in Vancouver and attended jazz concerts, she said.

“My mom was very enthusiastic about the Beatles,” Severson said.

Loni Marcotte’s mother outfitted her concertgoing daughter and her girlfriends in style. “My mom made us matching turquoise outfits for the event, including white Beatle hats and go-go boots,” Marcotte remembered.

Other young fans were brokenhearted — and maybe still are.

“I wanted to go so bad but I was only 12 years old and my parents said no,” Rick Billings wrote on Facebook. “I was not happy. I had a Beatle wig that my dad brought home from somewhere.”

“Couldn’t go, too young,” Janet Oseth said. “But, my girlfriend’s mom drove us to the airport and we watched them land and get off the plane. Worthy of some screams from behind the fence!”

The Beatles made little impression on Dedee Clancy’s dad, she remembered.

“We’d ask Dad to name the Beatles. All he could come up with was ‘Johnny Ringo’ and ‘George McHarris’ and we’d laugh,” said Clancy, of Portland. “He was OK with it.”

Ecstasy

Peterson-Fry smuggled a movie camera into Memorial Coliseum.

“Rather than sneak in a picture camera, I had to sneak in a whole movie camera,” she said with a laugh. “There were signs everywhere saying ‘no pictures.’ ”

But once she got her film camera past initial security, ushers were surprisingly cooperative about helping her get an unobstructed view, she said. (Despite all that, her film wound up nothing special, she said.)

Sophisticated concert sound systems were still in the future. What concertgoers mostly remember hearing is each other, they said.

“Everybody was singing out loud,” Peterson-Fry said. “Really loud.”

Or maybe that was screaming?

“I never heard so much screaming in my whole life. It was total chaos,” Marcotte said. “There was so much screaming going on you could barely make out what song they were singing. It was mostly a visual experience watching them play.”

“The girls were going nuts,” said Linda Saunders, who grew up in Centralia. “It was just crazy. I remember it exactly. I can close my eyes and still see it. They came out and they were wearing these tan Nehru jackets and I think John or Paul was wearing a sheriff’s star?” (That was Paul. The band had been “deputized” and gifted with badges by their Wells Fargo security detail.)

Funnily enough, it must have been all those other girls who caused mayhem. Of the many grown-up girls we interviewed, only one copped to screaming for the Beatles.

“The audience was screaming and clapping, and I was too,” said Michelle Seekins. “Every shake of a Beatle head was the prompt to scream again.”

“Stop screaming,” O’Day remembers urging her neighbors. “I don’t think anybody could hear. I was excited, but I wanted to hear them.”

RELIVE THE BEATLES LIVE

You can relive the Beatles’ summer tours of America thanks to a pair of powerful recordings. The CD “The Beatles Live at The Hollywood Bowl” features edited-together performances from August 1964 and August 1965. The film “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” — a document of sheer madness — was recorded in New York City days before the Portland concert.

“The girls around us were acting ridiculous,” Saunders said. “I’m sure I have some hearing damage.”

“I just didn’t do that sort of thing,” Clancy said. Instead, she and her sister waited until they got home. Only then did they let loose. “We just jumped up and down and screamed,” she said.

A few celebrities attended the Portland concert. Poet Allen Ginsberg penned a piece called “Portland Coliseum” that describes “red sweatered ecstasy that rises upward to the wired roof.” After the show, Marcotte and others tried catching band members as they snuck out a side exit but ran into a different bunch of famous musicians who were doing the same.

“Oh my God, it’s the Beach Boys,” Marcotte shouted, causing a stampede. “The whole crowd turned and started chasing them. Brian Wilson brushed my shoulder that day. Quite an experience for a 13-year-old.”

Pilgrimage

Hearing damage aside, Saunders was such a Beatlemaniac, she even became pen pals with a boy who lived in the Beatles’ hometown, Liverpool. She wound up going on a European junket that included a show at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Beatles had played hundreds of gigs on their way to major fame.

“It was a pilgrimage,” Saunders said. “I was just thrilled to be where they’d grown up.”

Clancy enjoyed some idol worship of her own when she attended a Beatles tribute band concert a few years ago. Her teen-aged neighbor in the audience was awestruck to learn that Clancy had seen and heard the real Beatles, in person. “He grabbed my arm and started kissing it,” Clancy said.

“It’s almost like a badge of honor,” O’Day said. “I saw the Beatles in 1965.”

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