'A turning point:' Events mark Beatles' anniversary
Louise Harrison is among the lucky few who can say she was there when her "kid brother's band" (better known as the Beatles) made its smashing debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
And next week, when fans mark the 50th anniversary of that iconic moment, she'll be in the suburbs to make sure they get a glimpse of what it was like.
"The excitement was tangible, really," recalled the sister of late guitarist George Harrison. "You could almost touch it."
Harrison's appearance at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles is one of several upcoming events celebrating 50 years since the Fab Four hit U.S. soil and, on Feb. 9, 1964, captured some 73 million viewers on American television.
The Beatle sibling has teamed with the Missouri-based Liverpool Legends, a look-alike, sound-alike act that recreates that monumental performance - complete with an "Ed Sullivan" character - and tells the band's story with music from throughout its relatively brief career.
"We do the whole story, right from the get-go to the so-called breakup," Harrison said.
In Wheaton, author and Beatles historian Robert Rodriguez of Downers Grove also will present rare recordings and photos, and discuss the band's earliest years. And in Lincolnshire, suburban act the Cavern Beat is performing a concert that includes their own take on the Sullivan show, as well as audience requests.
Tribute shows also are planned in Aurora and Skokie.
"There's a tremendous yearning for nostalgia," said Phil Gawthorpe, who plays Beatles manager Brian Epstein for the Cavern Beat and isn't surprised fans still crave a live Beatles experience.
"It's remarkable so many people watched it the first time," the Arlington Heights man said. "I don't see a phenomenon like that happening again."
For Louise Harrison, it was definitely phenomenal - but not always glamorous.
Before the Sullivan debut, she remembers helping her brother nurse a high fever and a bad case of strep throat.
"Most of my energy was focused on making sure George was able to stand up and perform," she said. "I was rather dismayed at the whole attitude (by the producers). There was no real concern about his health. It was, 'Is he going to be able to perform?' That really bothered me as a sister. It was kind of a letdown."
Harrison, who left England for southern Illinois in 1963, said she spent months pitching Beatles records to U.S. radio stations before the band scored its first Number One hit here with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in early 1964.
Her brother later commented that he didn't anticipate the hoopla that would ensue when the unassuming group from Liverpool, England, touched down in New York on Feb. 7, 1964, to meet thousands of screaming fans.
"George was watching some videotape of them landing at Kennedy and coming down the steps of the plane. He said, 'If we had any idea how important that was, we probably would have been nervous,'" Harrison recalled.
But they "didn't have any idea," she said.
"They were just happy-go-lucky, four lads having fun. They were still relatively naive and innocent - and still enjoying it tremendously," Harrison said.
Rodriguez, who's written five books on various aspects of the Fab Four's history, said there's a moment in the grainy, black-and-white Sullivan footage where George Harrison flashes a grin at John Lennon as if to say "we did it."
"Kind of acknowledging they had reached the top of that mountain at long last, something they were dreaming about as teenagers," he said, adding the Beatles represented a cultural "turning of the page."
"You don't have to be a Beatles fan to recognize the fact that at this sad moment in American history, in the wake of the assassination of a youthful president (John F. Kennedy), it was a turning point where the '50s wound down and the '60s began," Rodriguez said. "The fact that we're still celebrating this is a recognition that everybody's lives changed."
Louise Harrison's appearance in St. Charles will be followed by a screening of "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles," on the Arcada's 40-foot screen. That celebration, which will air at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on CBS, included a performance by the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
Ron Onesti, the Arcada's CEO and president, said his venue's event is just one of several upcoming concerts celebrating a half-century of Beatlemania.
"They changed the course of music as we know it," he said. "For us, it's about fostering this to younger people and new generations. This music, it's important."
February marks 50 years since the Beatles arrived in America and took the country by storm with a monumental performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Here's a look at how the suburbs are celebrating:
• Saturday, Feb. 1: Beatles tribute band American English performs at 9:30 p.m. at Hollywood Casino in Aurora. Free admission; hollywoodcasinoaurora.com.
• Sunday, Feb. 2: The Vernon Hills Area Public Library in Lincolnshire presents “50 Years of Beatles Music” featuring the Cavern Beat. Admission to the 2 p.m. tribute concert is free but registration is required. For information, visit www.vapld.info.
• Wednesday, Feb. 5: Author and Beatles historian Robert Rodriguez hosts “An Evening with the Fab Four” at 7 p.m. at the Wheaton Public Library. Free admission. Details at www.wheaton.lib.il.us.
• Saturday, Feb. 8: Beatles tribute BritBeat performs at 8 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Tickets are $28.50 to $42.50; northshorecenter.org.
• Sunday, Feb. 9: Louise Harrison and the Liverpool Legends appear at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles for a tribute concert and airing of a Grammy tribute to the Beatles. Tickets to the 4:30 p.m. event are $29 to $49; oshows.com.