50 years since the British Invasion in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- If you think of a list of the greatest Las Vegas entertainers, the names of Elvis or Sinatra might come to mind, but Las Vegas has also come to be known as a keeper of the flame for the Beatles, the most popular music act in history.

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles played two sold out shows at the Las Vegas Convention Center and helped put Las Vegas on the map for a new generation of music fans. The anniversary is being marked in many ways, and remembered by those who attended the shows.

The power structure in Las Vegas wasn't all that thrilled with the Beatles, thinking it was a teenage fad that would fizzle out soon enough. But the kids of that day knew what the casinos and their parents didn't -- that this was something new and exciting and which could not be denied. The two shows at the convention center sold out.

The Beatles never played in Las Vegas again -- not as a foursome anyway -- but Las Vegas now holds an important spot in the ongoing Beatles legend.

For 19 years, Beatles tribute band The Fab has been dazzling audiences with faithful re-creations of Beatles classics. The band says it knows every single Beatles tune.

"I've been asked that question before. 'Don't you just get tired, not sick, but tired of playing these songs'? And every time we play them, it's like the first time for me," said Patrick Woodward, founder of The Fab.

In an Elvis/Sinatra town, the Beatles are everywhere, especially now. Downtown, a facsimile of the famous Abbey Road street crossing was dedicated. Showgirls and politicians crossed it, a full page reminiscences appeared in the local paper, the convention authority put together a photo exhibit, dedicated a plaque, and produced a video history of the Beatles' visit.

Dennis Mitchell, host of Breakfast with the Beatles, a popular radio show and podcast, thinks the Beatles helped put Las Vegas on the entertainment map, and in ways no other performer ever did.

"We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles being here. I don't know what the 50th anniversary of the first Rat Pack show was. I don't know what the 50th anniversary of any number of Las Vegas hallmarks and landmarks that are famous. But you've got this, one of the coolest events in city history, and time has proven that out," Mitchell said.

For several years now, an elegant embodiment of the Beatles work is shown nightly at the Mirage, produced with their approval of the living Beatles and their producer.

What started it all were the two concerts at the convention center on Aug. 20, 1964. Photos show an audience that looks different from the typical shrieking Beatles crowd, adults, many wearing ties, sitting orderly in their chairs, many of the kids in the audience would later ascend to positions of prominence here. Shelley Berkley became a congresswoman, Steve Miller, a city councilman, Rossie Rallenkotter runs the convention authority itself.

"I got tickets because my dad worked at the Sands," Rallenkotter said.

Valerie Weiner became a state senator.

"We stood in line for hours to buy tickets," Weiner said.

Sig Rogich became a public relations honcho and advisor to presidents but back then sat in the 4th row.

"My girlfriend's dad worked at the Sahara so he got us tickets," he said.

An army of police ringed the small stage as they fully expected to be overrun by teenagers. Both shows were sold out, oversold by quite a bit. When the band started up, it was pandemonium.

The Beatles played a dozen or so songs in a half-hour set, but no one heard any of it. The music was completely drowned out by screaming teenagers. The Beatles were paid $25,000, about twice as much as the highest paid stars of that era. The 16,000 in the crowd set an attendance record that was never broken while the rotunda still stood.

They never played in Las Vegas again, but left an indelible mark on the city.

"The Beatles loved Elvis. They loved Frank Sinatra. They loved all the people who built Las Vegas. They didn't have to play Las Vegas, I think they just wanted to play in Las Vegas," said Pat Woodward.

"The establishment frowned on them and gave them a hard time on their arrival and all that stuff. The kids in the audience are now running our town," Mitchell said.


More Stories

Don't Miss

  • Community Calendar
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Connect with 8 News NOW
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Community Pride
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Politics Now
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • I-Team Reports
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest News

Video Center