The most significant entertainment event ever held in San Diego? It’s easily the Beatles appearance at Balboa Stadium on August 28, 1965. Even in a city that hosted Elvis on the U.S.S. Midway and Abba at the San Diego Zoo, amongst many other cool happenings, the 30 minutes or so that the Fab Four stood on a San Diego stage is an event that stands out, still discussed amongst music fans and now studied by generations of folks who weren’t even born when the concert took place.
On September 1 a free event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles performance in San Diego, will be held in the Saville Theatre at San Diego City College, beginning at 12:50pm.
The just over an hour-long program will consist of historian and co-organizer Steve Thorn, providing a brief lecture on the non-music history of Balboa Stadium, followed by author Chuck Gunderson, who will give a lecture on the Beatles concert itself. Gunderson is an expert on the Beatles U.S. Tours and is the author of the essential book set, Some Fun Tonight, which covers every date the Beatles played in the U.S. in extreme detail. Making this a full multi-media event, closing the show will be top Beatles cover band, the Baja Bugs, featuring front man and bassist Hector Penalosa (The Zeros), lead guitarist David Fleminger (Manual Scan / True Stories), rhythm guitarist Ron Silva (The Crawdaddys), and drummer Nico Peters, performing the exact set list as heard at the original concert: “Twist and Shout,” “She’s a Woman,” “I Feel Fine,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Baby’s in Black,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!,” and “I’m Down.”
“Chuck and I had been thinking about this important anniversary for some time,” commented Thorn. “We are grateful for the World Cultures program at City College, who are sponsoring the event.” Why wasn’t this held on the actual anniversary date? “We couldn’t do it on the actual date [August 28] because it falls on the first week of the new semester at City College. It’s a busy time for the administration, faculty, and students,” he explained.
According to Gunderson very little survives in the way of evidence of the show, which drew 18,000, though the search continues. “So far there are only a brief clips available online. There wasn’t much promotion for the show at the time.
All the promoters really did was newspaper ads and radio ads, (on official promoting station), KGB. They didn’t do any handbills or posters. The only thing sold at the show itself was the general generic tour program that was sold in every city in 1965.”
The infamous KCBQ button was not official, but issued by the station along with a now rare poster, to boost ratings, despite the show being sponsored by a rival. It’s a testament to just how big the Beatles’ influence was that KCBQ even had DJ Lord Tim tape quick messages to Beatles fans for airing on their station in advance of the concert. “The AM radio wars of the mid sixties were huge. If you were able to sponsor the Beatles your ratings went through the roof,” he said.
Gunderson actually has all the paperwork involved in the San Diego show, direct from the promoter. “Luckily, he was a pack rat. We have everything down to the receipt for the food: $33.96 for a couple of tubs of Kentucky Fried Chicken, some sandwiches and sodas,” he laughed.
Thorn notes that the story behind San Diego’s original downtown stadium has been largely forgotten. “I hope in my short talk that I will provide the audience with some of the magic that was Balboa Stadium. It was an important venue for live music and civic events.” He points out that Balboa Stadium was constructed in 1914 for the Pan-Pacific Expedition. “The Stadium increased its seating capacity after the arrival of the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League in the ’60s,” he remarked. A plaque at the site is long overdue according to Thorn, “The Beatles only appearance in San Diego? A California State Historical Landmark project would be appropriate,” he said.
So why does the interest remain in something that took place so long ago? It comes down to the songs they sang. “The Beatles created music that transcends the test of time,” said Penalosa. “It is extremely positive, it is the “Happy Place” to go for millions of music lovers, young and old.” He’s confident it’s a situation that will continue. “The past 51 years have proven the power of their music.” Thorn concurs. “Their catalog has had an incredible shelf life. For the 20th Century, they were – and remain – a multi-generational force of nature. At Beatle conventions around the world, the whole family marches in: grandparents, sons and daughters, and grandkids. All for a band that officially checked out in 1970! Amazing.”
San Diego Balboa Bowl Beatles Concert 50th Anniversary, Tuesday, September 1, 12:50 – 2:10 pm, Saville Theater, San Diego City College. Free.