Aug 22, 1964 –59 Years ago The Day the Beatles shook Vancouver


August 22, 1964. Photo by Owen Coppin. From the private collection of Red Robinson

The Fab Four’s first appearance in Canada 59 years ago was cut short because of a near riot

While February 7, 1964 was the day The Beatles crossed the big pond to conquer America, it was on August 22, 1964, the day before the legendary Hollywood Bowl Concert, that The Beatles made their first appearance north of the 49th Parallel. That concert was held outdoors at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, B.C.

The late legendary broadcaster and Disc Jockey Red Robinson, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, had previously introduced the likes of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly to the general public. But it was on that night in Vancouver that Red emceed the show that would go down as an unforgettable date in Beatle’s history.

I had the incredible opportunity to interview Red in 2004 when he graciously agreed to emcee a show at the PNE featuring Rubber Soul – The Canadian Tribute a band I was managing at the time.

Robinson, then 27, was at the time the Program Director and DJ at CFUN Radio in Vancouver. “It was a great day,” says Robinson. The concert was held on a football field on the site of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), built in 1954 for The British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It was during those games that Roger Bannister and John Landy broke the four-minute mile.

Red Robinson Introduces Rubber Soul: A Canadian Beatles in 2004

The performance area was a makeshift stage at the north end of the field. There were no seats on the grassy area, which Robinson describes as “not really ideal” as fans and performers should be in close proximity to each other. The concept of using stadiums for concerts, however, was new at the time and he chalks the poor conditions up to the lack of experience with these types of venues.

That night 20,261 fans paid between C$3.25 and $5.50 for tickets to witness the Fab Four. Thousands more who couldn’t get tickets stood outside the perimeter of the stadium. As expected, the crowd was noisy and loud.

The fans were, “mostly ‘Teeny Boppers’” Robinson remembers, adding that the college crowd hadn’t yet discovered the Beatles. “I felt sorry for The Beatles. They had those funny amps . . . and the speakers were in front of the band and they really couldn’t hear anything.”

All Hell Broke Loose

Part way into the show “All hell broke loose” Robinson said. “Things were getting out of hand and the kids were out of control.” (Larry Kane described the scene in his book A Ticket to Ride (Running Press, 2003) as, “bloody lips and noses, bruises, welts, abrasions and contusions.”)

Robinson said that both Vancouver’s Chief of Police and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein ordered him to go up on stage and told him, in no uncertain terms, to interrupt The Beatles and tell the crowd to calm down or The Beatles would stop playing.

Robinson, who’d been in the business since the age of 16 and by this time a veteran at his trade, took the whole thing in stride.

“I’ve experienced this (rowdiness) before. I had my car ripped to shreds during a Ritchie Valens concert.” he said.

While Robinson was extremely reluctant to interrupt the performance, he knew that if he didn’t the police would pull the boys off the stage. So he made an attempt.

John Lennon saw Robinson getting up on stage and immediately shouted, “Get the F#$ off our stage; nobody interrupts The Beatles!”

“The noise and the screaming was so loud you had to shout to be heard,” Robinson said.

He went over to talk to Lennon, pointing to the side of the stage where Epstein and the Chief were standing. Epstein was frantic, waving his arms, giving him the high signs, yelling, “Leave him go! Let him talk!”

Lennon then realized what was happening and calmly told Robinson, in his Lennonesque way, “Oh okay – carry on, mate!”

Fearing for their safety, the Beatles only performed 11 songs and were then whisked directly off to the Vancouver Airport. (See Concert Set List below)

“It was an interesting evening and the show lasted only 27 minutes,” Robinson said.

Courtesy Red Robinson

Robinson is proud to have two rare colour photographs of The Beatles playing that night on stage. “A police officer friend of mine had a colour camera in 1964 . . . people had them, but colour photos were very expensive to process.”

Robinson passed away less than five months ago at 86 years of an age.

Please check out my second interview below with Red in 2014 as a commemoration of The Beatles 50th Anniversary of their 1st Canadian show.





Beatles’ Concert set list

Twist And Shout
You Can’t Do That
All My Loving
She Loves You
Things We Said Today
Roll Over Beethoven
Can’t Buy Me Love
If I Fell

A Hard Day’s Night
Long Tall Sally

(This was a typical set-list for the Beatles first American tour. However, for this particular show, there was a notable absence of I Want To Hold Your Hand, which was usually played after If I Fell. The Beatles would sometimes open with I Saw Her Standing There, omit She Loves You, and close with Twist And Shout.)

The original article of the interview appeared in Beatlology Magazine July 2004. 

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