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The Beatles played Crosley Field 50 years ago today and these concert photos offer a front-row seat

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Posted at 9:00 AM, Aug 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-21 09:15:20-04

About 14,000 fans filled Crosley Field in Cincinnati’s West End on a Saturday night in August 1966, waiting for the most famous band in the world to play.

The weather was bad, but the opening acts — The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle and The Ronettes — went on as planned. Then the decision came down: The Beatles would not be performing that night because there was no canopy covering the stage, and the risk of electrocution was too great. Fans went home, disappointed but assured that their favorite band would perform the next day in an afternoon show.

The Beatles played Crosley Field on Sunday, Aug. 21, 1966, in the broad daylight before flying to St. Louis for another show — the only time they played shows in two different cities in one day and one of their last concerts ever.

The daytime concert let Beatles tour manager Bob Bonis capture incredible photos of John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney at Crosley Field, the only known close-up color photographs of the concert. His estate allowed WCPO permission to use these pictures. Limited-edition prints of the photos are available on the Bob Bonis Archive website. See more photos here.

 

David Bracey was a cub reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer at the time. When the Fab Four arrived in America, the British national became the default Beatles reporter.

“My qualification for it was that I spoke funny,” Bracey said. “I was dubbed a Beatles expert, which was a total misnomer.”

Bracey flew to Toronto a week before the Cincinnati show to get a preview of what to expect. He hung out in the locker room with the Beatles and their touring crew while they waited to perform.

“We just sat around and talked — it was purely social,” Bracey said. “Everyone was bored. While chatting with them, just as mates, I bummed a cigarette off one of them. I had the mindfulness to put the butt in my pocket and give it to a friend who loved the Beatles.”

Only after covering the Beatles did Bracey become a fan.

“I don’t think many people knew they were going to be historically significant in the history of music,” he said.

Debbie Behle of Taylor Mill was 16 at the time of the 1966 show. She bought tickets for the show as one of her first dates with her eventual husband, who was in a Beatles cover band at their high school.

Debbie Behle's ticket stub. The black mark was used to check in ticket holders after the tickets had already been torn the previous night. (Provided / Debbie Behle)

 

Behle shared her ticket stub with WCPO: The black mark was used to check in ticket holders for the daytime show after the tickets had already been torn the previous night. The $5.50 ticket would be about $40 in today’s dollars.

The only other time the Beatles performed in the Queen City was at Cincinnati Gardens in August 1964; Behle had wanted to see that show, but her mother was convinced she would be trampled to death.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, then a DJ for Top 40 radio station WSAI, was among the five DJs who fronted the money to bring the Beatles to Cincinnati for that first show in 1964.

“It’s amazing how simple the rock shows were,” he said. “They only had those amps at Cincinnati Gardens, and that was it. And today, bands have got great big buses of stuff. And the cost of the thing was reasonable, too, it was, like, $5.50 a ticket, and now McCartney wants, like, $200 for a ticket.”

It was nearly impossible to hear the music at the shows — even with amplifiers designed for larger concert venues, screaming fans drowned the Beatles out. 

“When the Beatles came on, there was so much screaming I couldn’t hear them,” Behle said. “I was so upset. I was like, ‘Be quiet, they’re playing!’”

The Crosley Field concert lasted about 30 minutes; the Beatles performed only a dozen songs. The setlist featured mostly older hits; the band wasn’t touring with a string quartet or brass section to back them on new singles.

At the time, no one knew it would be the Fab Four’s second and last appearance in Cincinnati, let alone one of the band’s final shows ever. The Beatles played only six more shows in the United States before swearing off touring altogether.

The band that had already achieved so much was about to reinvent itself.

Their album “Revolver,” released just a few weeks before the Cincinnati show, hinted at what was to come: Its jangly pop tunes like “Taxman” were getting more subversive, and the double-sided single of “Yellow Submarine” and “Eleanor Rigby” was positively avant-garde. In late 1966 and early 1967 the Beatles recorded “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” an experimental concept album that won four Grammys and changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll.  

Hear more Beatles

  • Hear more about the Beatles in Cincinnati in this two-hour special from WVXU-FM.
  • WVXU also will host a special event Sunday at the Blue Ash Sports Center's Crosley Field to commemorate the occasion. WVXU contributor John Kiesewetter will interview DJs Dusty Rhodes and Jim LaBarbara, as well as Scott Belmer, author of “The Beatles Invade Cincinnati 1964 & 1966.” There will be Beatles music playing all morning and a Beatles sing-along with Jeff and Misty Perholtz from The Newbees. 
  • Check out the Beatles Bash at the York Street Cafe in Newport at 8 p.m. Aug. 27.

Grace Dobush is a freelance journalist specializing in tech, culture and politics, contributing to publications including Wired, Quartz and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceDobushToGo.