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Musician recalls opening for Beatles in 1964
Question of the Day
CODY, Wyo. (AP) - The unmarried stewardesses, who had passed weigh-in, moved down the aisle, their pressed skirt suits hiding their girdles, to the rear of the plane where the cigarette smoke billowed into a thick smog before being vented out into the sky.
Ahead, in the cockpit, the pilots wore wigs.
Somewhere between, Stan Beach, a 20-year-old guitarist for the Briarwood Singers, put his head back and thought he might let his hair grow out - nothing too shaggy, but enough to hang over his forehead.
Beach, now 69, is a frequent visitor to Cody where his daughter Nikki Brew and husband Ward Dominick and their children live.
It was 1964 and all five Briarwood Singers (Beach, Dorinda Duncan, Bob Hoffman, Harry Scholes and Barry Monroe), still were reeling from the excitement of the chaos they witnessed the night before - the screaming, the protests, the near-riot conditions.
They expected big things when they boarded the plane in Miami en route to New York City, but they had no idea four British musicians would cause such fuss.
But the chaos had not yet ended for the Briarwood Singers - the Beatles were on the same flight headed for Miami and another “Ed Sullivan Show” performance, the Cody Enterprise reports (http://bit.ly/1c7wwni).
The Beatles first landed in the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City at 1:20 p.m. EST, Feb. 7, 1964, on Pan Am flight 101. More than 3,000 fans greeted them.
On Feb. 9, they famously performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (their first American TV appearance) and 73 million people (45 percent of American TV households) tuned in.
Beach first heard the Beatles on the radio while parking his car at Sears.
“Here’s the new group, the Beatles,” the radio disc jockey said. “They’re the big rage now.”
It didn’t seem like anything special and it had a European sound, in Beach’s opinion.
But in time he heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” ”Love Me Do” and “Twist and Shout.”
After the Sullivan Show performance in NYC, the Beatles took a train to Washington, D.C., where they again were met by screaming fans who were held back by 20-foot gates at Union Station. In D.C. they performed their first U.S. concert (on Feb. 11) to a crowd of more than 8,000 people at the Coliseum.
They attended a reception at the British Embassy before returning to New York for a Feb. 12 concert at Carnegie Hall.
The Briarwood Singers were signed to United Artists which had arranged the Beatles’ Carnegie Hall concert.
The Beatles were paid less than $10,000 for the Carnegie Hall performances, says Beatles historian Bob Zack of Sarasota, Fla. Tickets cost between $3 and $5.50.
The Singers confidently played their set and the audience, nearly 3,000 people (mostly young girls) for each performance, listened attentively.
In attendance were several notables, according to Zack, including Lauren Bacall, Shirley Bassey, and Nelson Rockefeller’s wife, Happy.
The songs from their album, “Well, Well, Well,” were well liked, and the crowd enjoyed “Rovin’ Gambler,” ”Pastures Aplenty” and “500 Miles.”
It was folk music, and the nation was used to it, accepted it, even liked it.
“We did a lot of our faster songs,” Beach recalled.
The Briarwood Singers played a 20-minute set, thanked the crowd and left the stage.
Backstage, the venue manager asked them to go back out and play more music.
“The Beatles aren’t ready yet,” the manager said. “We need another 20 minutes.”
The Briarwood Singers took the stage again and during the second set played slower songs. The crowd was chanting, “We want the Beatles.”
The Briarwood Singers finished their second set, left the stage, and when the Beatles came on it was “pandemonium,” Beach says.
The Beatles opened with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and the girls screamed, nearly drowning out the rock music struggling to carry through Carnegie Hall.
“It was awesome,” Beach says. “I had never seen anything like it.”
The Briarwood Singers, in their green, plaid suit jackets and black slacks, were five of the many people invited to sit on the stage while the Fab Four performed.
Jelly beans flew onto the stage, thrown by the crowd.
The girls screamed the whole time, and when the Beatles sang a high note while bobbing their heads and “mop-tops,” the screaming got louder.
“It was something to behold,” Beach says.
(The Briarwood Singers and the Beatles performed a second concert that night to similar fanfare.)
The Beatles were the first rock ‘n’ roll band ever to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Classical music aficionados had greeted the Beatles with picket signs, but the hundreds of fans waiting to catch a glimpse of them sufficiently blocked the protesters from view.
The Briarwood Singers were the first musicians to arrive at the venue, and were greeted by the waiting fans, not as uproariously as the Beatles would be welcomed, but still politely. The Briarwoods waved as they passed and entered Carnegie Hall.
When the Beatles arrived, the police (more than 360 policemen worked the event) held the screaming fans back.
Once inside, Beach briefly met John Lennon. They shook hands as Beach was introduced. Lennon’s accent got in the way.
“And he (Lennon) said something - I have no idea what he said,” Beach says. “It almost sounded like, ‘Good to meet another American.’”
After the concert, the Briarwood Singers watched the Beatles get ushered out through a police line and into a limo.
“And that was it,” Beach says. “They were gone.”
A review in Variety the following day mentioned the Briarwood Singers, Beach says.
“It said, ‘The Briarwood Singers handled themselves admirably, regardless of the circumstances, and they did well,’” Beach paraphrased.
(A Jan. 31, 2004, article in the Observer headlined “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” recapped the performance saying, “Sharing the stage with the Beatles were the somewhat-overlooked group The Briarwoods.”)
When the return flight landed in Miami, the Briarwood Singers again witnessed the pandemonium of Beatlemania. Some 7,000 fans filled the top floor of Miami International Airport, awaiting the Beatles’ arrival. (The same 2004 Observer article reported a riot occurred at the airport.)
Beach’s sister accompanied the group to the concert in New York. Their father boarded the plane and made Beach’s sister wait onboard until the crowd dispersed.
And that’s where the Briarwood Singers’ relationship with the Beatles ended.
The Beatles went on to become the legend they are today. The Briarwoods? Not so much.
The Briarwood Singers gained some lasting success from the gig - their next concert playbill triumphantly exclaimed, “Welcome home! Briarwood Singers. United Artists recording stars returning direct from an engagement at Carnegie Hall with the Beatles.”
The interest in the Briarwood Singers persisted, and they borrowed the Beatles’ signature bow at the end of their shows.
The Crossway Airport Inn in Miami, the Briarwood Singers’ venue of choice, was recognized for having good talent, Beach says. Other artists playing Crossway at the time included Peter, Paul and Mary, the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Everly Brothers.
“Everyone was coming out to see whoever was playing, but we were kind of like, ‘Miami’s own,’” Beach says.
Beach joined the Coast Guard in 1964 as a result of the Vietnam War. The Briarwood Singers slowly broke up around the time he left.
In the Coast Guard, Beach trained to become a pilot and, after he left the service, he became a commercial pilot and had a long career in aviation.
Beach now lives in the western mountains of North Carolina, and is a guitar player for Chalk Mountain Connection, a classic rock cover band.
Twice a year, Beach travels to Cody to visit family. He enjoys fly fishing and time with his grandchildren before traveling to Kalispell, Mont., where he visits another daughter.
“I love Cody,” Beach says. “We almost moved here when I retired.”
Ultimately, Beach decided to stay in the East where he has family property and more grandchildren.
When recounting highlights of his life (marrying the right woman, having children and grandchildren, living in Asia, his career in aviation) opening for the Beatles no longer makes the list.
“Opening for the Beatles might have been the highlight then,” Beach says. “But now it’s … it’s what it was.”
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