In September 1964 — 50 years ago — The Beatles came to Indianapolis for two shows.
It was the only appearance the Fab Four made in the Hoosier state.
When the Beatles came to America, they changed not only the country but also a sometimes sleepy Midwestern city in ways that reached beyond their catchy tunes about young love.
“It was one of those life-changing events,” Dawn Snider says of the Beatles concert she attended in Indianapolis 50 years ago. “I knew what it was even at the age of 13 years and four months.”
An excited Snider arrived at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Grandstand on September 3, 1964. “I knew the minute I got there that it was special,” she says. Then a resident of Nashville, Snider drove up to Indianapolis to attend the outdoor 9:30 p.m. concert with her brother and three cousins.
Beyond the Beatlemania that had been sweeping the nation for the past nine months – shifted into overdrive by the band’s February 1964 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” – the Liverpool band had an impact greater than their scream-inducing songs.
“Our parents’ eyes were twirling. They did not know what to do with us,” says former Forest Hills resident Candee Poore Wilson. “We were not behaving the way they were accustomed to (children) behaving. It really was the start of a huge cultural change.”
Wilson, then13, attended both the 5 p.m. indoor concert at the fairgrounds Coliseum and the later outdoor show with a friend the same age and two older girls who had procured tickets. She often wore all black faux-leather clothes resembling the Beatles’ garb, and the trendy outfit got her photographed by the Indianapolis Star. Boys started growing their hair, and “all of us already had our hair cut like the Beatles” – even girls.
“The Beatles were an important event” in many ways, Indianapolis resident Charles Payne remembers. Lacking tickets, the 17-year-old Payne, two younger brothers and a few pals from his childhood Butler-Tarkington neighborhood rode their bikes to the fairgrounds anyway and saw the second show from outside a chain-link fence not far from the temporary stage erected on the dirt track in front of the grandstand. The outdoor concert was scheduled after heavy demand for tickets at the Coliseum performance.
“The turmoil of the ’60s was just getting started. Martin Luther King had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Civil Rights Act was signed. The 1963 March on Washington had been the year before,” Payne says. “You also had large numbers of people going to college. The women’s movement was just getting started.
“The Beatles were right there when the movements were getting started,” he says. “The Beatles were capitalizing on it. They were another facet of what was happening.
“They opened up young people’s eyes,” recalls Payne, a retired Indianapolis Public Schools social studies teacher and department head at Broad Ripple High School. Payne believes the Beatles “were not a phenomenon by themselves – if we did not have the changing attitudes they wouldn’t have been as big as they were. It was like freedom for young people.”
A simpler freedom for Indianapolis teenagers was driving – and those old enough to drive, or with a friend who did, followed the Beatles all over town. Wilson was among those who went out to the Speedway Motel, “because we’d heard they were there.” Her trip didn’t yield any results.
For North Webster school special needs employee Celeste Ragland, then 14, the Speedway trek provided enough of a result that she still recounts the memory. She grew up at 30th Street and Park Avenue and attended the Coliseum concert with her 16-year-old sister. After the evening grandstand show concluded, a friend drove a group to the motel. “There were lots of kids out there. We thought we saw them through a curtain” of their motel room, she laughs.
Brown County resident Linda McQueary, then 17, wasn’t driving as far as Indianapolis but attended the grandstand show with a best friend and an older, married sister and her husband.
“It was a pinch-me moment,” says McQueary, who lived in Carmel for many years while working for Guardian Life Insurance. “It was my first concert. Tears were rolling down. It was pretty overwhelming for a 17-year-old from Brown County.
“There was a tremendous amount of squealing and jumping up and down and vibration,” in the grandstand seats, she says.
McQueary saw the Beatles again in 1966 at Dodger Stadium when she spent the summer near Los Angeles after her freshman year at Indiana University. That concert stopped when fans got down onto the baseball field and the band temporarily left the stage. Girls in the audience passed out just as they had at the Indiana fairgrounds, according to McQueary.
Wilson, now an education program manager in Vienna, Va., recalled the September 1964 heat forced her to skip her leather-like black outfit for the State Fair concerts. She donned only her “John Lennon hat” — a leatherette cap with a bill like the one Lennon bought at Mary Quant’s shop in London. That turned out to be a wise choice for Wilson, as “emergency people were everywhere” taking out the girls who were fainting from the heat inside the Coliseum, as well as the emotion.
“Every time they shook their heads, the place would go nuts,” Wilson says. Hearing the band itself was nearly impossible at the first show, with listed ticket sales at more than 12,000: “Inside the Coliseum there was no place for that sound to go,” she remembers. Sitting about six rows back from the stage at the grandstand show, where attendance was estimated at 17,000, “There was still screaming, but because you weren’t in that enclosed space, you could actually hear them. … It was really hot, but I did not faint. The hysteria didn’t get me.”
Emotions for the Beatles still run high for Snider, who became a lifelong fan. The registered nurse buys Beatles books, listens to recordings two or three times a week, saw Paul McCartney in concert in Indianapolis last year and is going again to a McCartney show this October in Louisville.
The men in Snider’s life have appreciated her interest in the Fab Four. “Till There Was You,” the Beatles’ cover of “The Music Man” Broadway ballad, was played at her first wedding, which ended in divorce. (“After my divorce, I changed my name back and joked that I’m not changing it unless it’s to McCartney,” Snider says.)
She later married Bruce Gregory Temple, the longtime editor and publisher of the Brown County Democrat who died in 2002. They enjoyed sharing their favorite musical genres with each other. “I even mentioned the Beatles in the eulogy for my husband. He taught me about jazz, and I turned him on to the genius of the Beatles.”
In 2006, she married Gary Harden. In 2012, Harden surprised her for their anniversary by having her car painted with the famous crosswalk from the Abbey Road album cover.
Temple died of cancer, and Harden also has battled cancer and other illness.
Snider explains her continuing affection for the band as something that “gives you joy. When I’m feeling blue or depressed (I listen to the Beatles) and my heart becomes light again.”
The Beatles appeared at the Indiana State Fair in the middle of a 25-city North American tour that started in San Francisco and ended in New York. Before Indianapolis, they performed in Philadelphia, and then went on to Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit. Other stops included the Denver area; Kansas City, Mo.; Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans, and Dallas.
“The Beatles opened up rock and roll to the rest of the country,” Payne says, especially in the South, Midwest and Plains states.
Unlike Elvis Presley, who was criticized for his sensual stage act and sometimes banned, “the Beatles were different. They were musicians,” he says.
Rock and roll had its origins in black music, and Elvis was one of the first white performers to create a bridge. But the Beatles completed the crossover, according to Payne. Their State Fair shows included covers of the Isley Brothers, Chuck Berry, the Shirelles and Little Richard.
“They let white America understand rock and roll,” Payne says. “The Beatles overall opened up people’s minds.”