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It was 50 years ago today, the Beatles came to Philly to play

A half-century ago today, the Fab Four visited Philadelphia for the first time.

Hy Lit (center, leaning) with the Beatles before their 1964 concert at Convention Hall.
Hy Lit (center, leaning) with the Beatles before their 1964 concert at Convention Hall.Read more

AS AUGUST 1964 melted into September, the city was just beginning to recover from the previous week's riots in North Philadelphia. But the brittle calm was splintered into a million pieces by a maelstrom of an entirely different kind.

Fifty years ago today, The Beatles hit Philly, almost eight months after their epochal first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." They performed at Convention Hall, at 34th and Civic Center Boulevard. The show was promoted by Hy Lit, of WIBG-AM ("Wibbage"), then the overwhelming station of choice for the region's baby boomers.

According to, Lit had pounced on the chance to bring the Fab Four to town back in February of that year. While attending a Capitol Records-sponsored junket in New York City the week The Beatles arrived in America, he asked the band's agent what it would take to lure them to the Quaker City.

According to the website, Lit didn't "even blink" when he was told that $25,000 was the magic number. Interestingly, according to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics online inflation calculator, that sum today equals $192,137.10, which probably doesn't cover the sound and lighting costs at a Lady Gaga concert.

The show's 12,000-plus tickets were scaled from $2.50 to $5.50. The bill featured The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, Clarence "Frogman" Henry and Jackie DeShannon. Of these, perhaps only Bill Black was prepared for the hysteria that nearly levitated the arena that night, as he had been Elvis Presley's original bassist.

The set list pretty much hewed to what the group had been doing throughout the tour, a mix of eight originals and four "covers" (including Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally"). But, as so many people have attested through the decades, it really didn't matter what The Beatles played, as every note was completely obscured by the nonstop shrieking of the audience.

Among those in attendance was local broadcasting icon Larry Kane, then a 21-year-old reporter for Miami's WFUN-AM, and the sole American reporter on The Beatles' entire North American tour that summer. The first Philly show remains etched in his memory.

According to Kane, the local date was a major stress-fest. The Beatles hit town just days after the Columbia Avenue riots, so no one knew if civic peace would be maintained during their stay. Compounding the problem was a nationally disseminated prediction by psychic Jeanne Dixon that the band's chartered plane would crash en route from Philadelphia to Indianapolis. (Kane recalled that George Harrison actually had a member of the entourage get Dixon on the phone, and that she didn't calm Harrison's fears).

"Of all the 67 Beatles concerts I saw, this was definitely the most chaotic," said Kane, whose first of three Beatles-related tomes, "Ticket to Ride" (about that 1964 tour), is being re-released this month by Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group. "The reason it was the most chaotic was because the fans were the most chaotic.

"They had folding chairs on the floor of [Convention Hall] and what you saw was the chairs being folded, and as they were folded, the kids were moving closer and closer to the stage."

He added that police officers stationed on the floor had to use restraint, so instead of swinging their billy clubs, "they tried to stop them with body blocks. It was quite a scene because the girls won. I found out that night that Philadelphia girls were different than any other girls in the country. They were unstoppable."

The gig, said Kane, was no picnic for the band. Not only were they forced to spend more than eight hours in their dressing room in the bowels of the barn-like auditorium, but they were more than a little miffed that the audience was virtually all-white, a circumstance that dismayed the musicians whom Kane described as racially "color-blind."

Another local icon at Convention Hall that night was the late Frank Rizzo, then the second-in-command to Police Commissioner Howard Leary.

"I was in their dressing room," Rizzo told the Courier-Post, of South Jersey, in a 1989 interview. "There was marijuana smoke everywhere. I shoulda run 'em all in.

"One of them was sitting in a chair playing with a rubber band and paper cup. Another one was upset; he didn't have no rubber band and paper cup."