It’s been 50 years since The Beatles played their first Seattle concert on Aug. 21, 1964. At least 14,000 screaming fans packed the old Seattle Center Coliseum, but most of them didn’t actually hear it.
“The noise was deafening,” recalls legendary Seattle DJ and concert promoter Pat O’Day, who brought the Fab Four to town and introduced them at the show.
The concert was just the third appearance of The Beatles first U.S. tour, and the first ever concert at the venue built for the World’s Fair. O’Day says the Coliseum and the concert industry in general simply wasn’t equipped to handle a show like that.
“The sound systems were inadequate, staging was poor, lighting was inadequate, so those early concerts were not good musical experiences,” says O’Day.
On stage, Paul McCartney and John Lennon shared a single amplifier. Ringo Starr’s drum kit didn’t have a single microphone. The band’s vocals were piped through a tiny public address system.
“There were a few little tiny speakers hanging up by the ceiling. You couldn’t hear it halfway back if the place was empty,” says O’Day.
The crowd was so loud; it even overwhelmed the band. O’Day says he was standing next to the tiny stage when George Harrison turned to him and seemingly gave up.
“George was playing and he looks down at me like ‘what difference does it make?’ So he reached down and unplugged his guitar, looked at me, and then plugged it back in and took his hands and spread them like it doesn’t matter,” he laughs.
It didn’t matter to fans like Dianne Schlicke. She was just 14 years old at the time and had managed to convince her father to buy her a ticket.
“It was just $5,” she recalls. “You couldn’t even buy a Coke for that now at a concert.”
Schlicke had gotten The Beatles bug after seeing them on the famous Ed Sullivan Show earlier that year. When they took the stage, the then-Roosevelt High School student says she went crazy along with the thousands of others.
“I was shrieking,” she laughs. “Here I was standing among a bunch of strangers and we were all just screaming our heads off just like we had seen on TV. It was kind of cathartic,” she laughs.
The band’s performance lasted just 30 minutes, but O’Day says even though the set list was limited, the impact was lasting.
“It was a phenomenon. It opened the industry’s eyes for the viability of the concert business,” says O’Day.
While The Beatles would go on to change the face of music, the Seattle show inspired O’Day and his company, Concerts West, to pioneer sound systems for the likes of Elton John and Led Zeppelin that would usher in the modern era of live music.
The big lesson? “Overcome the crowd with horsepower,” O’Day laughs.
For Schlicke, the concert remains one of her fondest memories.
“It was an amazing experience. It was one of the nicest things my father ever did for me. But he was really disgusted with me when I got home because I was still kind of hysterical,” she laughs.
O’Day and fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame DJ Marco Collins will host a Beatles tribute concert called “Get Back” at McCaw Hall on Saturday, Aug. 23.
Listen to Pat O’Day reflect on The Beatles’ first Seattle show: