On September 4, 1964, the Beatles played their only show in Wisconsin. Writer Dean Robbins tells us about the madness that greeted them on their first American tour.
I’m one of those crazy Beatles fans who want to know every single thing about the band. Luckily, every single thing has been documented, and it seems like there’s always more to learn.
Lately, I’ve been obsessing on the Fab Four’s appearance in Milwaukee on Sept. 4, 1964. It was their only trip to Wisconsin, and it was a memorable one. So memorable that people are blogging about it almost 50 years later.
The madness started the minute the Beatles’ plane landed in Mitchell Field. This was the lads’ first American tour, at the height of Beatlemania. That meant hundreds of fans showed up to swoon at the sight of them. But the 80 police officers on hand wanted nothing of the sort, so they arranged for the plane to land far away from the crowd. Then they shuttled the Beatles through a back exit, where no one could see them.
The band complained, to no avail. Later, at a press conference, Paul McCartney accused the police of pulling “a dirty trick” to keep them from greeting their fans.
The Beatles didn’t treat the local press any more respectfully than they did the local police. A reporter asked them what they planned to do when their bubble burst. Guitarist George Harrison answered, simply, “Ice hockey.”
Tickets for the show at Milwaukee Arena topped out at $5.50. Red Cross workers, armed with ammonia inhalants, stationed themselves around the arena to treat fainting girls.
As for the performance, it was drowned out by the screaming of 12,000 fans. The screams were so relentless that no one could tell “All My Loving” from “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Nevertheless, the Beatles rocked, and they playfully engaged the crowd between songs. Everybody there remembers having a good time.
Before the band left town, McCartney took time to call a local fan in the hospital. He had heard she didn’t get a chance to see the show. The band may have had no use for Wisconsin’s disapproving elders, but they loved the kids who responded so passionately to their music.
I should tell you why I’ve been obsessing on the Beatles’ visit to Milwaukee. It’s because I got to see a Beatle there myself in July 2013. Paul McCartney performed at a sold-out Miller Park, with ticket prices well over $5.50.
In many ways, though, the performance made me think of 1964. Paul still playfully engaged the crowd. And, at age 71, he still rocked, with a vengeance. When he launched into “All My Loving,” a number he’d also sung with the Beatles in Milwaukee, I couldn’t help myself.
(This story originally aired on September 4th, 2013. The rebroadcast comes just before Sir Paul McCartney’s return to Wisconsin in June 2019 with concerts in Madison and Green Bay.)