The Beatles could have played their first-ever U.S. concert at the York Fair in 1963.
But the York Fair board turned them down.
At least that’s what former top 40 radio announcer Phil Schwartz said.
He was on the air at York’s WSBA-AM radio station in the late 1970s when the station’s news reporter Robert Markham read him an interesting article that came through the wire service.
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“Anxious to book a popular band for the 1963 Great York Fair, several Fair board members stood around a phonograph listening to an obscure British rock group,” the article said. “After a few songs, the consensus among the board members was clear. This band will never sell out the grandstand. And so, the York Fair refused to book the Beatles.”
The article then quoted former York Fair board member George Hartenstein, who said, “When (the Beatles) played on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ several months later, the board realized they made a mistake.”
Schwartz, who considers himself a musicologist, said he was “shocked” to hear the York Fair had turned down the Beatles. But he doesn’t consider it a mistake.
At the time, the Beatles were popular in England, Germany and other parts of Europe. But they were not yet a household name in the U.S.
They had released three 45 RPM singles in the U.S. in the summer of 1963, including “She Loves You.” But, at the time, they all flopped, Schwartz said.
“Some promoter was trying to break into the market (in the U.S.),” he said. “But the York Fair had no insight on how big the band would get. Financially, they probably made the right decision. I doubt at the time the Beatles could have sold 10,000 tickets at the York Fair.”
According to an ad in the Sept. 7, 1963 edition of the York Gazette, here’s who the York Fair booked instead:
- Pop singer Anita Bryant and “Bullwinkle”
- Bandleader Guy Lombardo and Dennis Day from “The Jack Benny Program”
- Accordionist Myron Floren and pianist Jo Ann Castle, both from “The Lawrence Welk Show”
- Frank Fontaine from “The Jackie Gleason Show”
“If you look at that list, there’s no one who would approach rock and roll,” Schwartz said. “The people making the decisions (on who would play at the Fair) were much more in tune with the easy listening crowd than a rock and roll act.”
But had the Fair offered them a slot and a reasonable amount of money, Schwartz said he believes the Beatles would have come.
“It would have been an amazing achievement for Pennsylvania to have the Beatles’ first concert of the U.S.,” he said.