By Gillian G. Gaar
Promoter Sid Bernstein, who brought The Beatles to Shea Stadium for a legendary concert Aug. 15, 1965, won’t be hosting any celebrations of the 40th anniversary of that event (it’s since been announced that tribute group Strawberry Fields will play a special pregame concert Aug. 16; www.strawberryfields thetribute.com for details).
But if Bernstein has his way, he will host a 2006 celebration for the 41st anniversary, at Shea, with tribute group the Fab Faux. “I’m coming back into music, into promotion and into fun,” the ever-congenial Bernstein told Goldmine.
Forty years ago, that optimism led Bernstein to producing what would become a record-setting concert in attendance (55,600) and income ($304,000, with The Beatles’ cut $160,000). Bernstein had also promoted The Beatles’ two Carnegie Hall shows in 1964 and been told by Carnegie’s box-office manager that he could’ve sold out 30 days worth of shows. “And I didn’t need a computer to figure out that that equaled a lot of people!” said Bernstein.
Bernstein then booked Shea for The Beatles’ 1965 tour, promising their manager, Brian Epstein, he would pay $10 for every seat left unsold (the top ticket price: $5.65). Bernstein said he didn’t advertise the show, merely spreading the word among teenagers in his neighborhood, who duly sent in ticket requests. He did have “about 20” posters printed up “so I could have some kind of souvenir” (reproduced in his book, initially published as Not Just The Beatles: The Autobiography Of Sid Bernstein). Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Live! also has an ad Bernstein ran for a series of his concerts, including Shea.
Publicist Ida Langsam, who promoted Bernstein’s book, was in the audience at Shea, having previously seen The Beatles in 1964 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. “You couldn’t hear very much,” she said of Shea. “I remember standing for the whole thing and screaming and trying to figure out what song they were singing and hugging my best friend and jumping up and down. I just wanted to look at Paul. I could see him; we had binoculars.
And I remember the excitement of the event, the atmosphere. For me, there was a feeling of togetherness — and yet there was also a feeling of competition, like, ‘I want Paul to notice me! I don’t want him to look at the other girls!’ As though he could see us! Also, because it was such a new experience for me, I wasn’t disappointed that they had such a short set and that they ran off, cause I didn’t know anything else.”
A 50-minute special of the show aired on TV the following year, and The Beatles returned to Shea for another, less heralded show that did not sell out (though The Beatles actually took home more money: $189,000). Neither, at the time, did Bernstein realize the concert would be one for the history books. “Nobody dreamt that,” he said. “It was a whole new world, a whole new beginning. I won’t lie about it — I was amazed at what happened at Carnegie; I was amazed at how many people we turned away at the first Shea Stadium show. It was a once in a lifetime deal. And I don’t know that something like that will ever happen again.”