When Beatlemania came to Atlanta

Republished on Aug. 18, 2014 -- the 49th anniversary of the Beatles' appearance at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Some 34,000 of them came, teens streaming to the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, some as early as 4 a.m. on a hot August night in 1965. Georgia was getting its first glimpse of the band soon to be deemed the greatest of the age.

While the British Invasion had started the year before when the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” now they were here and those who experienced that concert retain vivid recollections nearly a half-century later.

“I had never seen or been around that many people in my entire life. It was chaos,” said Michael Holbrook of Atlanta.

Holbrook’s seat was in the fifth row.

“People were up and down, hanging over rails screaming and they had not even started playing yet,” he said. “They had signs and banners. You wouldn’t believe what it sounded like.”

Customarily, the deafening screams of female fans was a defeating factor for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, who couldn’t hear themselves play during their American tours. It wasn’t until the Beatles got to Atlanta that the problem was improved. F.B. “Duke” Mewborn of the Atlanta-based company Baker Audio was part of the team that allowed the lads to actually hear what they were playing.

“The stage was set on second base and all the speakers were on the field operated from the control room. We pointed the loud speaker near the performers,” he said. The sound quality was well received by the band and the audience, who made comments about it in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution at the time. Beatles manager Brian Epstein told The Journal the sound was the best they’d encountered in America.

“When the Beatles took the stage, you couldn’t even conceive of what it sounded like in there. It was a deafening roar but I could hear every note they played,” Holbrook said.

Fans had been instructed to remain in the stands. But police lined the field, some on horseback, to stop the many fan attempts to rush the stage. A limo, parked on the field throughout the performance, was later used for the band’s quick getaway at the end of the show.

The concert brought together young people of all ages, from teens to college students like John Goldsmith, a graduate of University of Georgia. Goldsmith was a member of a local band, but he was the only member who made it to the concert.

“We were so jealous of them, we wanted to be like them,” he said. “We all saw them on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and we all went out to buy their (album) the next day.”

Guys came with their girlfriends. Girls arrived in packs with signs and decorated t-shirts. Vendors sold Beatle buttons and pricey merchandise outside the stadium. Even local stores got in on the Beatle buzz.

“This shoe store call Hardy’s Shoes downtown had Beatle boots in the window and the next day, my mom took off work, brought me back and bought me a pair of Beatle boots,” Holbrook said.

The Beatles were only in Atlanta for 10 short hours, spending about 30 minutes on stage. But the impact in Atlanta transcended those few minutes and has only grown in the memories of those who were there.

“What (the concert) represented was bigger than just a concert. (The Beatles) coming to Atlanta on a tour symbolized for an entire generation a turning point that young people had something to say,” said Stan Deaton of the Georgia Historical Society.

Amidst the fans’ screams and tears, the band played songs prompting some to dance, from “Twist and Shout” to “Help!” However, there was not much dancing during this influential show. With this band, dancing was just a distraction.

Holbrook recalled: “It was a level of energy I had never known existed. This was a religious moment, these people were serious.”

An incomprehensible passion was displayed that night, without any fireworks or video screens; just four young men on a stage with 700 watts of speaker power. Stories of the historic show have been passed down and new fans who were still decades away from birth still are sad they missed out.

“It’s amazing so much time has gone by. My kids are jealous I got to see them,” Goldsmith said.

Holbrook added, “You would have had to have been there.”

Quotes and headlines from AJC stories about the Beatles 1965 Atlanta concert
  • Beatles Lose Noise Contest to Teens, Thousands to 4
  • Beatles Come; Hair Goes Down
  • “The shriek of the crowd was like a science-fiction monster, and flashbulbs were exploding like a thousand fireflies. That’s what you could see and hear from the middle of Atlanta Stadium Wednesday night — as the Beatles let their hair down and the squirming, screaming crowd of 34,000 followed suit.”
  • “… newsmen were allowed to ask a few questions of the young British millionaires, who were dressed in sports clothes and open-necked shirts.
  • A sample question: “Can we look forward to any more Beatle movies?” Answer from John Lennon: “Well, there’ll be many more, but I don’t know whether you can look forward to them or not.”
  • “But Atlanta Stadium, where the hairy Britons will perform in concert tonight, received its first symptoms of Beatlemania at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Two 15-year-old girls arrived at the stadium from Florida.”
  • “You could watch Paul, who enjoys every moment of the performance, grinning continuously, winking at the people around the stage, doing little dance steps and waving for the crowd, his eyes twinkling the whole time like a small boy in his mother’s cookie jar.”
  • “The stands pulsated like with motion throughout the Beatles performance and camera flashbulbs made the crowd look like a lightning storm.”
  •  “Becky Faulkner of Tucker also likes Paul. ‘But I like John the best. He is so cool: he really is. And his poetry is out of this world.’”

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