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Ringling Bros. is in the midst of its annual run of shows in our market. The circus plays Fairfax through this weekend.
The show is yet another link to an amazing and underpublicized chain in the area’s pop cultural history. It goes back to brothers Izzy and Irvin Feld, who were literally snake oil salesmen growing up in Hagerstown in the 1920s, and later started a record business in the 1940s out of their store, Super Cut Rate Drugs, a pharmacy on 7th St. NW in Shaw.
The record retailing operation, which quickly turned into a cash cow by catering to the city’s otherwise ignored black pop fans, led the Felds to form a production company that booked concerts and other large entertainment events.
The Felds took over management of Ringling Bros. in 1957, and bought the circus whole a decade later.
Musically, among the Felds claims to fame are discovering Paul Anka, promoting Buddy Holly’s last tour in 1959, and producing some shows on the Beatles U.S. tours, including a Baltimore Civic Center concert in 1964 and the DC Stadium show in August 1966, held about week before the Fab Four gave up live performances altogether.
(A case could easily be made that without the Felds, Beatlemania never would have happened on
our side of the pond, since the brothers’ budget-cutting decisions to use inferior and often heat-less buses and to institute a no-days-off scheduling policy on the Holly tour inspired the headliner to rent his own plane, which crashed in a snowstorm in Clear Lake, Iowa in February 1959. Had Holly lived and continued to spread his songwriting genius, America likely would have had much less demand for the similar sort of pop music the Beatles used to take over Britain in the early 1960s.)
Irvin Feld’s son, Kenneth Feld, took over the family business in 1984 and still runs the circus out of Feld Entertainment’s Vienna headquarters.
The Feld family, for all its contributions to the entertainment world and loyalty to the DC area — once more: these folks brought the Beatles here, literally and figuratively — has almost no public presence in its hometown.
Sadly, the only publicity the Felds get comes from the oddities surrounding Irvin’s daughter Karen Feld, a gossip columnist for the DC Examiner when that paper hit town in 2005.
She’s currently suing brother Kenneth for a 2007 incident with Kenneth at an aunt’s memorial service.
Talk about a family circus.