What It Was Like To Attend The Beatles' Shea Stadium Concert

The Beatles performed at New York's Shea Stadium for the first time on August 15, 1965. The date kicked off their first North American tour, but it was a historic show for a variety of reasons. Set on a makeshift stage on the multi-purpose stadium's infield, the band played for 56,000 fans in what Rolling Stone called the most famous gig in rock 'n' roll history. The footage from the show has become infamous for the intense screaming from the stands, which in most recordings makes the band extremely hard to hear. Vermilion County First quotes drummer Ringo Starr in "The Beatles Anthology": "What I remember most about the concert was that we were so far away from the audience...And screaming had become the thing to do...Everybody screamed. If you look at the footage, you can see how we reacted to the place. It was very big and very strange." 

It's very likely that if you had been in the audience, you wouldn't have been able to hear The Beatles at all. That was the case for Paul McCartney's future wife Linda; in "The Beatles Anthology," McCartney remembered: "As [Linda] was a real music fan she was quite annoyed with everyone screaming. I think she enjoyed the experience, but she genuinely wanted to hear the show. That wasn't the deal though. Not then." Enjoying the experience rather than the music seems to have been the only option.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium was the first show of its kind

Per Vermilion County First, concert promoter Sid Bernstein purposely booked Shea Stadium as opposed to Madison Square Garden or any other venue because he wanted it to be an event as opposed to just a concert. Indeed, it was the first open-air stadium rock concert, pioneering a staple in live music performance. And as for the faulty acoustics, Bernstein noted that just being there at the height of Beatlemania was enough for the fans: "I even meet people today, who occasionally say, 'I saw the show at Shea Stadium.' And I ask, 'Which one?' And they say, 'Y'know, the '65 — the first one.' And I'll say, 'Did you hear anything?' And everybody will say, 'Didn't matter — I was there.'"

The Beatles played Shea Stadium again just one year later in August 1966, but unlike their 1965 concert, there were plenty of empty seats. Per Rolling Stone, The Beatles had changed their sound quite a bit and were experimenting with psychedelia and more avant-garde songs on their "Revolver" album with songs like "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yellow Submarine. It's likely that the band's young fans hadn't caught up with their beloved Fab Four's new direction. Rolling Stone saw evidence of the changes coming at the 1965 Shea concert, observing that John Lennon's voice was noticeably "wider" and more "conversational" than it had been, perhaps preparing for the more experimental and introspective music that was part of the Beatles' next incarnation.