Tuesday, May 14, 2013

She's Got a Ticket to Ride

Press link to listen to the Beatles sing "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey":


She’s Got a Ticket To Ride
by Greg Larson

For the twelve-year-old, Gretta Farley, 1964 was a good year. She started listening to some Beatles records her older sister had bought, and she liked the snappy tunes. It was fun to play the records over and over and jiggle to the music. The four Beatles were cute and their music made Gretta happy.

In February, the Beatles “invaded” America, and Beatlemania became a fad. When the mop-haired performers made their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Gretta and some of the students in her class at the all-girl school decorated a current-events bulletin board with Beatles pictures and items. She enjoyed the new hobby of collecting Beatles articles and was an enthusiastic worker on the project, spending time with her friends to show off the musical group that was dear to their hearts. The Life magazine pictures of the Fab Four in New York seemed bigger than life itself.

During the summer of ’64, Gretta listened to the radio station WHB, where the Beatles hits kept popping out onto the airwaves. A radio announcement came one evening in August: Charles O. Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics baseball team, signed a contract with the Beatles for a concert in Kansas City to be held in September. Gretta couldn’t believe it. She rushed upstairs to share her exuberance with the rest of the family. The hottest group in the world was coming to Kansas City. But reality sank in, and she knew she would not be going to the concert. Her parents had no interest in the Beatles, and there was no way she was going to convince her mom to take her . . . and her older sister wasn’t as interested anymore about the boys from Liverpool.
Gretta's Beatles scrapbook
Gretta returned to school in the fall, and chatted with her friends about the upcoming Beatles concert, while Finley and Kansas City were making preparations for the event.

Charles O. Finley was known for his marketing antics. As a promoter, he considered any bizarre, tacky, attention-getting gimmick that would sell tickets. He changed the Kansas City Athletics baseball uniforms to garish green and gold. He put a mule named Charlie-O on a grass hill in right field at Municipal Stadium, and for a brief time he made the relief pitchers ride the mule from the bullpen to the pitching mound.

Finley believed a Beatles concert was one way to get future fans to the ballpark. He contacted Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, and was told that all of the 35 concert dates for the 1964 Beatles tour were filled. Only one empty date remained, September 17th, and it was to be a rest day in New Orleans. Epstein scoffed at Finley’s offer of $50,000 to fill the date with a Kansas City concert. Finley upped the ante to $100,000. Epstein conferred with the group. Their reaction was negative.

Finley contacted Epstein one more time and threw out a ridiculous offer of $150,000 for a thirty-minute concert. It was the most money any group had been offered for a performance. Epstein couldn’t turn it down. He convinced the boys it was no big deal to fill the empty date. Paul McCartney remembers being upset:

“Our days off were sacred . . . So by the time we got to Kansas City, we probably needed a day off. I can’t actually remember falling out with Brian about him wanting us to work on a day off, we’d talk to each other rather than fall out.”  Paul McCartney - Anthology

Surprisingly, ticket sales for the concert were mediocre. C.W. Gusewelle reported in The Kansas City Star that by mid-morning on the first day of sales there were no waiting lines. Some thought it was because the baseball fans and citizens of Kansas City hated Finley. The Athletics were horrible, and the Midwestern folks disliked Finley’s brash manner. The fans from the Show-me state and the metropolitan area were disappointed on a regular basis. To generate goodwill, Finley announced that all of the profits from the concert would benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital. He agreed to a minimum gift of $25,000 if tickets didn’t generate enough profit. The city hit Finley with a $5,000 rental fee for the concert. He grumbled. The Chiefs football team paid only $1.00 for their use of the stadium for pre-season games.

Ticket prices for the Kansas City Beatles concert were set at $4.50, $6.50, and $8.50. The $8.50 tickets were the highest cost in 1964 for a seat at a Beatles concert.  Due to the high ticket prices, the short period for ticket sales, and Kansas City’s hatred of Finley, it was the only date on the Beatles tour that never sold out. Slightly more than 20,000 tickets were sold for the 35,000 seats at Municipal Stadium. Finley’s marketing promotion was “Today’s Beatles Fans are Tomorrow’s Baseball Fans.”   
Reverse side of ticket
Clarence Kelley, the police chief of Kansas City, Missouri, was confident that crowd control and security would not be a problem. He didn’t want any hysterical fans to create mayhem or rush the stage at second base while he was police chief. To make sure, he sent his head of the patrol unit, Lieutenant Colonel Don Bishop, to Jacksonville, Florida, to view the Beatles open-air concert at the Gator Bowl stadium and plan for any contingency. Kelley said eight first-aid stations with twenty cots, and ambulances would be at-the-ready. Cotton balls were made available to the policemen to use as ear plugs to prevent hearing loss.

The Beatles flew into the downtown KC airport in the dark of night. At 2:00 A.M. they were whisked to the downtown Muehlebach Hotel, where police detectives had secured the 18th floor.  On the afternoon of September 17th, they staged a classic press-conference at the hotel, with only those with press passes allowed into the hotel meeting room. The seasoned and feisty Beatles made some of the press corps wonder who was interviewing whom.

At Gretta’s school, the chatter about the Beatles had increased dramatically. Through gossip and conversations with her friends, Gretta learned that some of her classmates had Beatles tickets. Her friend, Jane, had a bunch of tickets, and Gretta knew that Jane had invited another friend, Martha, to go to the concert. Gretta went home from school on September 17th wishing she had been invited, but it seemed her chances of going were nil.

Without Gretta’s knowledge, things started to happen. Martha’s dad decided to make the concert a father-daughter event. He bought two $8.50 tickets for Martha and him, which made one of Jane’s tickets available for someone else to use. Jane’s mom called Gretta’s mom: “Would Gretta like to use the extra ticket to the Beatles concert?” 

Well, yeah, yeah, yeah! Gretta’s mom popped for the $6.50 box seat ticket, upper deck, near the railing above first base. It was a dream come true.

On the early evening of the concert, Jane’s dad acted as chaperone and chauffeur, and he took the concertgoers, including Gretta, to a bus stop on Wornall Road. Special busses were running for the Beatles concert, and Jane’s group got on board. The little girls wriggled in their seats and chattered non-stop to Municipal Stadium. 

Gretta took very little spending money to the concert. Once they arrived at the stadium at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue, she saw vendors selling all types of Beatles merchandise, including the famous wigs. Her sole purchase was an official 1964 Beatles Tour program. As they made their way to the upper deck, she clutched her prize possession, which had big black and white photos of each of the Beatles.

Gretta Farley - 7th Grade

She remembers what she wore on that cool, clear night in September: a plaid skirt, an off-white blouse and a camel-colored sweater.                                             

The warm-up acts were boring, but the stadium came alive at 8:43 P.M. when the announcer shouted, “The Beatles!” and they ran out onto the field to the bandstand at second base. A line of 100 police officers prevented anyone on the field from rushing the performers. Gretta thought, “Gosh, it’s really happening! It’s just like I imagined!” She never got hysterical, but she remembers screaming and yelling just a bit. She was able to hear the music . . . songs like “All My Lovin’,” which was her favorite, and “Hard Day’s Night.” She accidentally stood on her program, which she’d placed under her seat . . . the dimples from the balcony concrete permanently engraving the black cover.

Headline - The Kansas City Times, September 18, 1964
Thirty-two minutes, twelve songs and it was over . . . $4,838 per minute for the performance.  The press reported that some of the girls were crying, “They’re gone, gone,” a girl said. “I’ll never see them again.”  Gretta remembers leaving the stadium in a happy mood.  Her dream had come true.  She had seen the group she loved, and she heard her favorite songs.

A Chicago promoter purchased the sheets from the Muehlebach Hotel suite occupied by the Beatles.  He cut the sheets into small pieces and sold them as souvenirs.

It was estimated Finley lost about $80,000 on the concert deal and the payment to Children’s Mercy Hospital, but he was pleased that the crowd behaved and had a good time.

For Gretta, the Beatles concert was a significant date.   She continued to fill her Beatles scrapbook, following the lives of the Beatles until the group broke up. Next to each newspaper and magazine clipping in the scrapbook she wrote a number and the notation “A.B.”  It was her code for remembering the number of days After the Beatles performed in Kansas City on the cool, clear night of September 17th, 1964.

Gretta's first Beatles albums