September 05, 2014
Fifty years ago, did Las Vegas love The Beatles? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
By the summer of 1964, the boys from Liverpool had conquered the record charts and television. Whether they could conquer Las Vegas was hard to say. Younger people were especially crazy about them, but Las Vegas audiences tended to be older.
Stan Irwin decided to take a chance. Irwin was a longtime performer who served as entertainment director at the Sahara Hotel. He said booking agents tried other hotels, which turned down the Fab Four—as he put it, “I’m the only one who seemed to know about the Beatles, so I bought them.” He booked them for the Congo Room, which seated about six hundred. He realized the Beatles would need more space and went down Paradise to the Convention Center, which had opened five years before. Using the rotunda and the balcony would allow about eight thousand to attend. Tickets sold quickly, but mainly to local teenagers. About a week before the show, interest spiked.
It wasn’t as though the rest of Las Vegas hadn’t noticed the group. The Huntridge Theater was showing their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night. At the Castaways, Breck Wall was spoofing them as part of his long-running Bottoms Up revue.
The real thing—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—arrived at McCarran airport on August 20, 1964, at about 1 a.m. A car took them to the Sahara, where they stayed in a suite—literally. About two thousand fans had come to greet them. Local officials didn’t want them going to casinos because they feared that their underage fans would follow them and get into trouble. The only outsiders to get in were a reporter and photographer from the Las Vegas Sun. One of them showed Ringo how to make the television set work.
So they stayed in their room until the afternoon sound check. The Sahara did bring slot machines to the suite so that they could gamble a little … and, of course, got a great publicity shot out of it.
The Beatles played two shows, at 4 and 9 p.m. Estimates vary, but somewhere between eleven thousand sixteen thousand people saw them at the Convention Center that day. Irwin said he introduced them by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, the …” and then the crowd went crazy and nobody heard another word he said. They didn’t hear much of what the Beatles said or sang, either. They were on for about thirty minutes as part of a show that included the Righteous Brothers, Jackie DeShannon, the Insiders, and Larry Lee and the Leisures. The four stayed the night at the Sahara and then headed to Seattle to continue their tour.
This may have been the beginning of arena entertainment in Las Vegas. The showrooms were bigger than the lounges, but still intimate. Headliners usually stayed more than one day. Today, major acts often appear only once and in an arena or large room that seats thousands. The Beatles showed it was possible to fill a large space.
And they are still with us. When the Cirque du Soleil show Love opened at The Mirage, Paul and Ringo came, along with Yoko Ono. So have many others, remembering the glory days half a century ago, when four seemingly long-haired guys changed the world.
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