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The Beatles: 'Really big show' 50 years ago

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In the winter of 1964 there were three main TV networks, and weekends wound down with CBS' "Lassie" at 6 p.m., either ABC's "Wagon Train" or NBC's "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" at 6:30 and – depending on the guests – back to CBS for "The Ed Sullivan Show" at 7.

One Sunday night – Feb. 9, 1964 – kids didn't care which standup comic, Broadway star, animal act or entertainer balancing plates on a stick was scheduled.

The Beatles would play.

"February 9, 16 years old, I sat glued to the TV, literally with my face within a matter of inches from the screen, while my parents sat bemused behind me," remembers Peoria musician and retailer Craig Moore. "When my stepdad dared to speak and even to say something derogatory about the group on screen, I told him to 'shut up,' which was miles beyond any remark I had ever dared make to any adult before."

That night 50 years ago will be commemorated this Feb. 9 at the new Limelight Eventplex, 8102 N. University in Peoria, where more than four hours of music is planned, featuring rock 'n' roll and much more, from reunions of local favorites the Dave Chastain Band and Ready Steady Go to a string quartet from Bradley University and a high school marching band.

Feb. 9, 2014, a Sunday, is exactly 50 years to the day, and the show starts at 7 p.m., 50 years to the minute since Ed Sullivan shouted, "And here they are: the BEATLES!"

The new venue is opening for the first time to host the event, called "It was 50 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play: a celebration."

Of course, the Beatles selflessly influenced the music, the culture and the world, and in that spirit the performers will donate their time and talents and the proceeds will go to charity. With admission likely to be between $15 and $20, the show will benefit the Washington High School Tornado Relief Fund, St. Jude's and the Central Illinois Dream Factory – whose volunteers will be taking tickets.

Advance tickets will soon be available at Younger Than Yesterday, 2615 N. University in Peoria, and other area outlets.

The lineup of groups includes the Black Roses, Bradley University String Quartet, Encounter At L-5, the Flying D'rito Brothers, Heavy Shake, Joel Madigan, Men of Fortune, the Nikbeats, the Temporary Tribute Band, and Greg Williams, plus the aforementioned reunions of the Dave Chastain Band and Ready Steady Go – its original early '80s lineup.

Moore stresses that the concert won't be a slew of impersonators or drab cover versions of familiar tunes.

"We're not requiring rote copies," says the impresario, bassist and producer. "We want to hear the songs as the bands playing them would naturally do them."

The bands are all accomplished performers.

Black Roses are getting regular airplay of their first single, "Back Off," on WWCT-FM 99.9.

Heavy Shake is the Heath & Greg duo joined by bassist Ryan Simpson from Golden Fleece.

Men of Fortune will do a special electric arrangement of an otherwise acoustic Beatles track, plus providing sitar and tabla during a very special acoustic segment.

The Temporary Tribute Band in August backed Jim McCarty (Yardbirds, Renaissance) for a Peoria show, and that lineup (Josh Bradshaw, Don Mabus, Moore and Matthew Warren) will be joined by Dan Sutton and a few guests for the Feb. 9 set.

"Nip Beer, specializing in keyboards and optimism for the Dave Chastain Band, will be here with bandmates Dave Chastain, Mark French, Bud Pruett and Tommy Jernigan," Moore says. "The boys are going to revisit their 1981 John Lennon Memorial Show appearance that took everyone by surprise back then as it will – even more so – this time around, without a doubt.

"This show is all about the music itself and the impact the Beatles and their music has had on countless musicians and listeners alike, not to mention culture around the world, beginning on that night in February 1964," continues Moore, whose first band, the Pagans, formed in 1965 and the next year became GONN.

Moore has performed, recorded and promoted music from bands (including GONN, Smokehouse, Ready Steady Go, and Speechless) to storefronts (the Peoria Record Company on West Main Street, Younger Than Yesterday now on North University).

"I bought my first Beatles record, 'Please Please Me,' in March of 1963," he recalls. "I was thrilled by the sound of it."

Months went by with some rumbling in the news: a news feature on CBS-TV and another piece on Jack Paar's show.

"Then radio started playing 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' around December and Capitol Records got on board and went nuts with a publicity campaign," Moore says. "This record had the same audio effect on me and everybody else that 'Please Please Me' had had on me a year earlier, and in January it hit Number 1. Ed Sullivan started promoting their upcoming appearances, and [the LP] 'Meet The Beatles' came out, which was undeniably the most thrilling LP I had ever heard in my life.

"I was the [Keokuk, Iowa] high school DJ, playing records at all three lunch periods, after game dances, etc., getting invited to parties always with the caveat 'bring your records,' which was fine by me," he continues. "When I had started playing 'I Want To Hold Your Hand,' the reaction was loud and positive, but once the Beatles appeared on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' it turned into girls screaming bloody murder! For the record!

"The next day and over the next weeks and months, every record by the Beatles and every British band that followed in their wake elicited screams in the cafeteria as if the bands were there in person," he adds. "Every new Beatles record that came along was like a new commandment being handed down from Mount Sinai."

This winter, apostles of the Beatles songbook and impact will continue to spread the Word (and music!).

Co-sponsored by WWCT, the event has a Facebook page – "It was 50 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play - a celebration of the Beatles' debut in America" – with Moore posting up-to-date information as it develops, plus links to videos of some of the bands.

"Being for the benefit of so many," Moore says, recalling the line from the LP, "a splendid time is guaranteed for all!"

About the Author
Bill Knight recently retired after a couple decades teaching journalism at Western Illinois University. Now, you might find him strolling through the streets of Elmwood with his wife and fellow writer, Terry Bibo, along with their son, Opie, and his beloved collie, Lassie.* *Actually this last bit isn’t true. Not to mention the fact that our writer got “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lassie & Timmy” mixed up.