The Beatles performed one concert at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. It was their only performance in the US state.
The concert was originally to have been racially segregated, but The Beatles refused to perform until they received an assurance from the promoter that the audience would be mixed.
We never play to segregated audiences and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose out appearance money.
The group had been due to fly to Jacksonville on the morning of 9 September 1964, but their aeroplane was diverted to Key West when Hurricane Dora struck. Most of Jacksonville was left without electricity for several days, but because of hurricane damage 9,000 of the 32,000 ticket holders were unable to get to the venue.
They said the hurricane had passed when we flew into Jacksonville, but it was as windy as hell and it was dark with very heavy black clouds all over. It had cleared a bit, but there were still turbulent winds, and as we were approaching we could see the devastation: palm trees fallen over and mess laying everywhere.
On the morning of 11 September The Beatles flew from Key West to Imeson Airport, where 150 fans were awaiting their arrival. Their aeroplane taxied to a private hangar, from where they were taken to the George Washington Hotel, accompanied by a police motorcade.
A press conference was held at the hotel, after which they attempted to depart for the Gator Bowl. Around 25 police officers tried for 15 minutes to hold back around 500 fans, to allow the group to leave the hotel’s parking garage.
Once in their car, it took 15 minutes for The Beatles to move just 25 feet, from the elevator into the car and onto the street. The police eventually formed a moving wedge of motorcycle outriders and managed to safely escort the group to the Gator Bowl by 7.15pm.
Tickets were priced at $4 and $5. The night’s support acts were, in order of appearance, The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, and Jackie DeShannon. There were 140 police officers on duty, and 84 firefighters acting as ushers to prevent fans from charging the stage.
At the venue, The Beatles refused to take to the stage until newsreel and television cameramen had left. Eventually Derek Taylor took to the stage and told the crowd: “The Beatles are 100 feet away. They came thousands of miles to be here. The only thing preventing their appearance is cine cameramen.”
The announcement worked, and two police captains gave the orders for the filming to end. The Beatles knew that unauthorised footage would be syndicated in cinemas and on television with no royalties paid to them. Once officers removed the eight cameramen from the performance area, The Beatles’ concert began.
We’d discovered that there was a group of people following us around America, filming us, and we’d told them not to. They were in Florida and by this time we were saying, ‘Look, we told these people to bugger off and they’re here again and right out front.’ They had actually been given priority with their camera, right in front of the stage. The winds were howling and there was Mal, nailing the drum kit to the platform, about ten or twelve feet off the ground; and we were really pissed that the film crew was there, so we said that we weren’t going on. The promoters were getting stroppy with us, instead of kicking the camera people out. In the end Derek Taylor went on stage and was like Adolf Hitler up there, shouting to the crowd: ‘These camera people are not wanted, they must be removed.’ He was yelling, ‘Do you want The Beatles on this stage?’ – ‘Yeah!’ – ‘Well then, do you want to get rid of the cameras?’ – ‘Yeah!’ It was like a big Nuremberg rally, and I suppose the police and promoters thought that we were causing the trouble; but, even in those days, we knew there were some things you couldn’t control.
During the show, Ringo Starr‘s drums were secured to the stage because of winds reaching up to 45 mph.
My hair was blowing, and I thought it was weird, but the drums were tied down, so we made it, you know.
After the 30-minute show, the audience was told that The Beatles were taking a break. By the time the fans realised that the concert was over, the group were already on their way to Imeson Airport to catch a flight to Boston.