Music History

Twenty fabled moments in Denver music, #20: Beatlemania at Red Rocks in 1964

Over the course of the next few weeks, Backbeat will be counting down the twenty most fabled moments in Denver music history. The series kicks off today with a look back at the Beatles' legendary trip to the Mile High City in August 1964, and the pandemonium it created.

The Beatles did not just play gigs on their first American tour. Their 1964 tour was a cultural event with a capital C, the kind that jumps from the realm of pop music and into front-page headlines. The band's iconic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was just the beginning. What came next? A full U.S. tour, of course, which included a chaotic stay in Denver.

Let's start at the beginning: August 26, 1964, John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived via plane at Stapleton International Airport from Los Angeles, where they had played the Hollywood Bowl three days earlier. This was only the sixth stop on the band's inaugural North American tour, and Denver was one of the smaller venues on the Fab Four's schedule. Things got odd before the band even disembarked the plane -- like David Lynch odd. According to the Rocky Mountain News, an estimated crowd of 10,000 kids were on hand, with some hiding in the grass near the runway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the band. The News described the scene thusly:

At daybreak, officers on 3-wheel motorcycles and solo motorbikes rolled through the heavy wheat stubble of the airport area, flushing Beatle fans like rabbits in the tall grass.

One officer was quoted as saying it was "the weirdest thing I've ever seen" in his sixteen years as a Denver cop. Oh, but this was just a warm-up. The Beatles' caravan of cars, bound for the Brown Palace, where the band was staying, was trailed by kids chasing the motorcade on foot, on motorcycle and bicycle. Joining them, naturally, were reporters, DJs and, of course, a swarm of police officers.

Traffic downtown flowed like molasses. Around the Brown Palace, hordes of screaming, crying, teenage girls clamored for a glimpse of the boys. Some as young as twelve and thirteen went to the concierge to ask for jobs as housekeepers in the hotel, presumably in hopes of seeing their idols. One woman even reportedly asked the hotel management for the bedsheets the Beatles slept on, as a birthday gift. A limousine appeared, carrying reporters who were traveling with the band. Fans mobbed the car, thinking it was the band, while the Beatles' limo sidestepped the crowd and went to a side entrance to the hotel.

Even the governor was not immune to the commotion. While waiting through several red lights downtown caused by the collective Beatles freakout (the crowd outside the Brown Palace was by now up to 5,000 fans), Governor John Love asked his driver, DPD officer Will Kagohara, to direct traffic, allowing him to get to an afternoon appointment. The crowd swelled. One fan bit a cop's hand in the frenzy. Another girl went to the hospital after a car ran over her foot. In total, six civilians and one officer wound up in the emergency room due to the near-riot at the hotel.

Then there was the show. Red Rocks was packed. Fans began arriving 24 hours in advance, sleeping at the venue until cops kicked them out. It was a scene that would be repeated numerous times throughout the Beatles' stay -- overzealous fans, and the officers' sometimes comical attempts at maintaining the peace.

Jelly beans were a big concern for the 27 rookie cops who had just graduated from the police academy. Fans who had paid $6.60 for a ticket to see the show were throwing jelly beans on stage, and the cops were not happy. Others in the crowd pleaded with the cops to get them some of the candy that was now onstage, presumably being trampled underfoot by John, Paul and George. You know your band has achieved a certain status when concertgoers plead with cops for candy you just stomped on.

Despite the insanity of the Beatles' stay -- the two-mile long procession of fans at the airport, the bloodthirsty girl who bit the cop, fans climbing on top of the press corps' limo, the throngs of fans who hiked the hill at Red Rocks because the couldn't afford the $6.60 ticket price -- the show was fairly orderly. This was pre-arena rock, and the misconduct that occurred didn't appear to be malicious. Instead it was an event that, even without the benefit of hindsight, fans knew was a particularly special moment in pop music history.

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Mark Sanders
Contact: Mark Sanders