The Beatles set a world record for the biggest crowd ever at a rock concert tonight in 1965 when they played before 55,600 (including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bob Dylan who got them stoned after the show) at New York’s Shea Stadium. They made $160,000 for playing 13 songs. Opening acts were Brenda Holloway, King Curtis, The Young Rascals, and Sounds Incorporated.
A smaller crowd watched John, Paul, George, and Ringo exactly one year later. 32,000 paid $3 to see them in Washington D.C. Not paying admission, but picketing outside were 5 members of the Ku Klux Klan, led by the Imperial Grand Wizard of Maryland. They were incensed that the Beatles had put in their contract that they would not perform before a segregated audience.
The Woodstock festival opened today in 1969, on Max Yasgur’s 600 acre dairy farm outside Bethel in upstate New York. Nearly a half-million people saw Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Santana, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Canned Heat, Joan Baez, Melanie, Ten Years After, Sly and the Family Stone, Johnny Winter, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shanker, Country Joe and the Fish, Blood Sweat and Tears, Arlo Guthrie, and an English singer unknown in the U.S. until the concert film came out, Joe Cocker. Joni Mitchell was supposed to appear, but had a prior contractual obligation to do a TV show. She later wrote the song Woodstock after hearing about the festival from her friends Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Over the three days there were three deaths, two births, four miscarriages, two weddings, and quite a few bad acid trips.
Meanwhile Led Zeppelin fulfilled their prior obligation to play a show in San Antonio, Texas with Jethro Tull. Manger Peter Grant declined to cancel Zeppelin’s tour for Woodstock, not wanting them to share the spotlight with The Who or Hendrix. As Jimmy Page later put it, “We were aware of Woodstock…but we were in San Antonio, making music, making love to their women, and drinking their tequila.” For their part, Jethro Tull had also been invited to play Woodstock, but frontman Ian Anderson didn’t like hippies.
26 years after the Beatles set a largest crowd world record, Paul Simon played a free show in New York’s Central Park today in 1991 before some 750,000 people.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
Russian inventor Leon Theremin would be 121 today. His most famous invention carries his name, one of the world’s first electronic instruments. First patented when he moved to The United States in 1928, it’s played without touching it. Sounds are created by the proximity of hands to the two antennas. It would be famously used later by The Beach Boys (Good Vibrations) and Led Zeppelin (Dazed and Confused). There is a fully operational Theremin that visitors to Seattle’s Pacific Science Center can play. Leon returned to The Soviet Union just before WWII (some say he was kidnapped), and after the war worked for the KGB, for whom he invented a listening device called “The Thing”, a disguised carved-wood replica of the Great Seal of the United States, presented to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as a gift of thanks for support during the war presented by Russian schoolchildren that hung on the wall and recorded conversations until it was discovered in 1952.
Spencer Davis Group drummer Pete York is 75.
Doobie Brothers guitarist and frontman Tom Johnston is 69.
Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers, Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, and Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge is 67.