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Fifty years ago today, The Beatles played their first U.S. concert on a glorified boxing-ring stage at the Washington Coliseum at 3rd and M streets NE. For the band, it was a first taste of a live American audience (and American politics—the day after, President Lyndon B. Johnson reportedly told British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home that the boys needed haircuts). For the audience, a sold-out, 8,000-person crowd that by all accounts went absolutely beserk (every screaming minute can be relived on Wednesday at the Shaw Library, where the D.C. Music Salon shows a video of the event along with a photo display), the show would be part of a story they’d tell for the next five decades.
Michael Oberman still bears physical witness to the insanity of the crowd that night: “the scars that still on my arm from my date digging her fingernails into my arm doing the show.” Now a 66-year-old resident of Columbia, Md., Oberman was 16 and living in Silver Spring when he snagged tickets to the concert from his brother, who was four years older and working as the music columnist for the Washington Star. Oberman had already seen big acts—he was backstage at the Howard Theatre the year before with James Brown—but nothing like the insanity of the Beatles concert.
“The screaming was almost unbearable,” he says. “Cops were stuffing anything they could find into their ears.” The Coliseum’s sound system was so primitive, Oberman says it was hard to actually experience the music.
“You kind of knew what songs were being played, but you often couldn’t hear the music,” he says.
Which was sort of besides the point, given that many of the audience members were more keen on getting a look at the musicians than hearing them—according to Oberman, the perception among girls he knew was that John and Paul were cute, George had the bad teeth, and Ringo had a weird nose.
“There wasn’t a girl in that audience who didn’t want to sleep with The Beatles,” Oberman says, though he suspects few would have followed through with it. (As for his own female companion, that evening was their first and last date.)
Tom Carrico was 13 and living in Bethesda when he scored two tickets to the concert. “Of course we had no Ticketmaster then,” he says. “I think you just mailed in a check…and crossed your fingers and prayed that you’d get something back in the mail.” He thinks he paid three or four bucks for his passes.
“I was a fan of course, geez, the music was great, but no one knew,” he says. “No one knew what Beatlemania was going to be like in the arena that night. It was nuts. It was like an explosion went off. It was a real atmosphere in pandemonium in a positive way, that I had never experienced before.”
Carrico had been going to rock shows since he was 5 or 6 years old and recalls seeing the screaming girls at various concerts. “But the Beatles thing was explosive,” he says. “Much more than Ricky Nelson.”
Carrico had no romantic prospects that evening, as his intended date was forbidden to go to the show by her parents due to heavy snow, but he remained a loyal Beatles fan, even as his own music career went in a different direction. A year after the show, Carrico began taking bass lessons and got into R&B. He led a soul cover band for five years before damaging his hearing and moving onto management. Now 63, Carrico lives in Takoma Park and still runs his own company, Studio One Artists Management. He’s managed the careers of artists including Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Nighthawks.
“The Beatles reinforced to me what a great hit song is, period,” he says. “If you can write a great song that’s catchy, has a good beat, sung with great voices and you have great lyrics too, holy moly, that’s a blueprint for success.”
Additional reporting by Raphaella Baek and Quinn Kelley
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress