September 1964, 50 years ago was a momentous month in Florida history. The state was recovering from Hurricane Cleo which hit southeast Florida in late August with particular venom, destroying the Storyland amusement park which never reopened and passed over the Coral Springs Covered Bridge after destroying most of the city. The Fort Lauderdale News did not publish on the morning of August 27th the only time the paper’s history that happened. Florida Atlantic University’s grand opening was delayed by two weeks because of the storm. Cleo was the tropical cyclone that inflicted the widest swath of damage in south Florida until Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Cleo’s odd path hitting the region from the south and streaking up the state
With the state recovering Hurricane Dora became the first tropical cyclone to make landfall on the first coast since Atlantic Hurricane records were kept starting in the 1870’s. To date it remains the only Hurricane to make a direct hit on the Jacksonville and St Augustine areas and it came ashore as a Category 3 storm. Dora maintained Hurricane intensity inland and dumped over a foot of rain in the entire area between Taylor and St John’s Counties.
A few days later, the Beatles would be in Jacksonville…
The Beatles made only one concert appearance in Florida. That was in September 1964, just months after the Beatles had spent several days vacationing in southeast Florida before a February 16th performance on Ed Sullivan Show being recorded in Miami Beach. The concert was scheduled for Jacksonville on September 11, 1964.
As discussed above Hurricane Cleo had slammed into southeast Florida and caused a great deal of damage. Since the First Coast is about as Hurricane proof as any area in the state, promoters and Beatles Manager Brian Epstein thought visiting Jacksonville was a safer bet for a concert than Miami or Tampa. Only one storm would strike the area directly in the entirety of the 20th Century. Unfortunately for the Beatles this storm made landfall only about 40 hours before the scheduled performance at the Gator Bowl.
Power went out throughout the Jacksonville area and remained out for six days. The Beatles show however went forward, in-front of an integrated audience. The Beatles refused to play in a segregated stadium, although concert promoters originally intended to conform with state and local laws related to “race mixing”.
The Beatles Bible describes the day:
“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.”
The concert still boasted 23,000 attendees despite the weather and lack of power. The wind gusts were so strong that Ringo Starr’s drum set had to be anchored down to the stage. The concert went well but the Beatles whisked away to Boston, never to return to Florida. The next stadium show by a former Beatles member in Florida would not occur until April 1990 when Paul McCartney played Joe Robbie Stadium.
Ironically the closest the First Coast has come to being hit by a Hurricane since was two years ago,r just a day after a US-Scotland soccer match played in front of 45,000 fans in Jacksonville. Tropical Storm Beryl slammed into Jacksonville and thankfully the soccer community in this country (myself included) had fled town by the time the storm reached.
The Beatles of course stopped touring in 1966, and did make a reference to Miami Beach in “Back in the USSR” a McCartney song on the 1968 White Album.