As the anniversary date draws near, local pundits and longtime Las Vegans are pondering the lasting significance of The Beatles’ tumultuous stop in Las Vegas 50 years ago this month. The event continues to evoke both mystique and amusement, even among those who weren’t even born when it happened.
As everything tends to be magnified in Vegas, so were the generational and cultural divides The Beatles and their music represented when they arrived. Despite the band’s professed love for and amazement at Las Vegas, the local establishment didn’t exactly return the favor. There was no official welcome or greeting. Police threatened cancellation over work permits, telephoned bomb scares and alleged indiscretions at the hotel. The newspaper reporter sent to cover The Beatles’ arrival mocked and derided the band, before and after the shows. And even after all that, the group had nothing but nice things to say about Vegas.
So which was more significant, that they stood up to the attitude of some locals who saw them as a dismissible oddity, or that they managed to transform the town to their own brand of cool for those historic 21 hours?
Let me put it this way: Even after living here for years, I would interview entertainers who were in awe of playing “on the same stage as Elvis” at the old Las Vegas Hilton. Up until the demise of the Convention Center Rotunda in 1990, I was quick to remind them that the stage where The Beatles played was just up the street. The reaction was almost always “Oh, yeah, that’s right!” along with the sudden realization that playing that stage would be just as big an accomplishment. I attended my first-ever Vegas concert at the rotunda in 1979, and the thing I still remember most is that I got to touch that stage.
Perhaps it is because those in the audience that day are the current Las Vegas establishment that today’s wave of remembrance focuses on the sheer excitement and the music. What stands out about August 20, 1964 depends on whom you talk to. For some, it will always be about the weirdness of it all and the salacious side-stories. But for the rest, that was only a small part of maybe the biggest, coolest single event ever to happen here.
Dennis Mitchell hosts the syndicated radio show Dennis Mitchell’s Breakfast With The Beatles.