The Beatles at the Las Vegas Convention Center. 8-20-64. Las Vegas News Bureau photo.
August 20, 1964 was a Thursday, but not just any Thursday. It was the day the Beatles would perform in Las Vegas. The morning air had a certain vibe for those of us who were going to see them in person. On the top of the dresser in my bedroom were 2 tickets to the event of the century, and I protected them with my life. My parents were friends with Italo Ghelfi, an Italian-American from the San Francisco Bay Area who opened the Golden Gate Hotel in 1955. The former Sal Sagev (Las Vegas spelled backwards) was suddenly named after a famous bridge. Anyway, most of the major hotels purchased blocks of tickets from the Sahara for giveaways to their VIP customers. My mom asked Italo for tickets, and he responded in a big way. The 2 concerts were scheduled for 4:00 pm and 9:00 pm. I was lucky enough to receive very good tickets to the early show. They were priced at $4.40 and located on the main floor. Realizing that I was in possession of such a prestigious commodity, I decided to take my best friend, Mike Cortney. We were students at Bishop Gorman High School and like most teenagers, couldn’t wait for the show.
The Beatles arrived in Las Vegas about 1:30 am on the 20th and were rushed to the Sahara hotel under the cover of darkness. A few hours earlier, they performed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Stan Irwin, Vice-President of the Sahara-Nevada Corporation, had the Sahara host their Las Vegas appearance. The marquee at the Sahara stated “HOTEL SAHARA PRESENTS THE BEATLES Aug. 20, 4 PM & 9 PM L.V. CONVENTION CENTER” They stayed in a suite at the Sahara, but played at the Convention Center. The capacity of the Sahara’s Congo Room was only 600, whereas the Rotunda held about 7,500.
When the day came, Mike and I arrived at the Convention Center about an hour before the show, and were escorted to our seats. The concert started with a few opening acts, including Jackie DeShannon. The audience was not kind to the performers. They chanted “We want the Beatles” and were generally rude and unruly. It was the only time I can remember feeling sorry for entertainers. It was embarrassing. Soon, the moment everyone waited for had arrived. The Fab Four walked onto the stage. As they began to play, the teenage girls literally went crazy. They began screaming so loud that nobody, including the Beatles, could hear the music. The girls behind us started pulling our hair and pounding on our backs. The event almost got out of control when some members of the audience began to throw jelly beans at the stage. I could tell by the look on John Lennon’s face that he was annoyed with the situation. The performance lasted about 30 minutes. The Beatles started with “Twist and Shout” and ended with “Long Tall Sally.” There were 10 songs in between. When it was over, Mike and I walked to my car, a 1960 Volkswagen. We drove away with our lives barely intact. Our shirts were torn, our hair was missing and our ears were ringing, but we realized that we had just witnessed the event of a lifetime. I’ve seen many rock concerts since then. To this day, there’s the Beatles, and then there’s everyone else.