Elusive in the sky were diamonds. A dark canopy had blocked out the stars, and from it a steady rain fell on those who had gathered at City Park’s Tad Gormley stadium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles having performed there. A group with a legally proper name of Fab Four and an uncanny ability to look and sound like the original band took stage and showed even greater power than expected. At the moment of the first strum from a guitar the rain stopped, never to return. Umbrellas were closed; spectators now liberated from the weather had room to sway.
A half-century earlier the Beatles were still a relatively new group with a limited repertoire. Ahead would be Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, the mysterious white album; evolution and revolution; strawberry fields forever. This night, over a couple of hours, the Fab Four would perform from the full Beatles repertoire, so in that sense the show was better that what was performed on Sept. 16, 1964. Absent, too, were the teenage girls who stormed the stage and made the event more of a rodeo than a concert. Some were there, older by five decades but still capable of conjuring up the excitement from that night. Paul worship never subsided.
Originally the Beatles had planned to stay an extra day in New Orleans to meet some of the area’s musicians. A last-minute addition of a performance in Kansas City changed all that. What a loss. Imagine if at some bar there had been a jam with the Beatles, Fats Dominion and Allen Toussaint. Might the muse have given birth to something great?
There was already a touch with local greatness in the audience at both the original concert and the recreation. Though the crowd was almost entirely white, the times, by 1964, had changed so that he could cross the color line. His name was John Moore and from the beginning he was a big fan of the band from Liverpool. An aspiring musician, better known as Deacon John, he had been performing at local dances back then and still does today. The event’s organizer, WYES-TV, saved a seat for him up front, near the stage, where he could still be carried by the beat.
“Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away / Now it looks like they are here to stay / Oh, I believe in yesterday,” the performer who looked and sounded amazingly like the real thing sang as the crowd swooned. Costume changes emphasized the many lives of the group, from the brightly colored pop uniforms of Sgt. Pepper to the John Lennon look-alike dressed in denim and a military shirt lamenting the era’s upheaval: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man.”
Another performer, made up to look and sound uncannily like Ed Sullivan, paced the show. It was Sullivan, whose Sunday night variety broadcast gave the Beatles their first national exposure, who made the group famous. American TV launched the group’s stardom; this night public TV was resurrecting the moment. There could be no denying the absolute genius that came out of Liverpool, music whose roots had been influenced by sounds coming from New Orleans.
By the time the show ended there were glimpses of stars in the sky. The storm that had earlier been ominous had in the end cooled the night. Deacon John was beaming. The show had been great. Earlier that day he had attended the funeral of Cosimo Matassa, the early producer of local rhythm-and-blues recording. During the course of one day, Matassa’s passing and the Beatles’ one night resurrection bridged the transition in the rock ‘n’ roll era. The music, in various forms, still brought happiness to its audience – as long as they believed in yesterday.