Usually fifty years seems like a long time ago, but for Beatles fans in Kansas City it seems like…well, it just seems like 'Yesterday'.
Charlie Finley, the owner of the Kansas City Athletics, began a tempestuous relationship with the city almost the second he took control of Kansas City's American League ballclub in 1960. The Finley led Kansas City Athletics teams never produced a single winning season and the man himself fought with both city leaders and the media so much that he eventually moved the club to Oakland following the 1967 season. The move was a bitter blow for locals, leaving Kansas City without a hometown professional baseball team for the first time since 1883. To put it mildly, Charlie Finley is not a local hero.
However, there is one small chapter in the Charlie Finley in Kansas City story that did have a somewhat happy ending. Something he was able to pull off that has gone down in local history. You see, it was Charlie Finley, and Charlie Finley alone, who managed to get Kansas City a Beatles concert during their historic first American tour in 1964. Why he did it is cloudy in some mystery. Finley was a big personality and may have just wanted to impress folks that he could land a show by the hottest band in the world. He said he just wanted to do it in order to make sure Beatles fans in Kansas City had a chance to see the band live and in person. He even gave the effort an ulterior motive motto he often repeated, 'Today's Beatles fans are tomorrow's baseball fans.' However it could be that because Finley himself had young daughters at the time, perhaps it was all in an effort to impress them alone.
The Beatles American tour of 1964 was very full with only a few off days and Kansas City was nowhere to be found on the schedule, which is where Charlie Finley stepped in. The Athletics owner first made contact with Brian Epstein, who was serving as the Beatles manager, to inquire about what it would take to have a show added for Kansas City. Epstein made it quite clear the tour was full and no shows would be added. Finley persisted nonetheless. At the time the Beatles were said to be earning $25,000 for their standard 10-song 30 minute show - Finley thought doubling that would do the trick. How about $50,000? Epstein said "No, thank you - we're full." Undeterred, Finley offered $100,000. Epstein said no again. So Finley tried again, how about $150,000? At the time, it was the largest amount of money ever offered for a single performance to any band. Epstein finally couldn't say no and the scheduled off day between the New Orleans and Dallas concerts instead became the one and only Beatles show ever in Kansas City.
The Beatles flew from New Orleans to Kansas City on September 17, 1964 arriving sometime around two o'clock in the morning before checking into the Terrace Penthouse on the eighteenth floor of the Hotel Muehlebach. There they ate, drank and supposedly played poker into the wee hours before sleeping-in late that morning. Not long before leaving the hotel for the concert at Kansas City venerable Municipal Stadium they held a rollicking press conference at the Hotel Muehlebach where one reporter asked:
"In light of the splendid offer, that was mentioned a few moments ago by Mister Taylor (Derek Taylor, the Beatles PR Agent), of $150,000... Do you plan to perform a little longer than a half-hour?"
To which Paul McCartney quipped to laughter after a brief pause:
"Just extra well…"
And that they did according to those that were there. The opening act featured Bill Black's Combo, The Exciters, Clarence "Frogman" Henry and Jackie DeShannon, but it was the fab four that lit up the night. The Beatles even added a special song to their playlist for this performance only, opening the show with a rocking version the Little Richard medley 'Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!' - said to be a Paul McCartney favorite. Things almost got out of control as many fans began to swarm near the stage which was decked out in the almost iridescent Kansas City Athletic colors of Kelly Green and Fort Knox Gold - another part of the Finley penchant for showmanship. The show was briefly stopped with the Beatles waiting backstage as the crowd was warned by security the band would not return until they sat back in their seats. The fans relented only slightly, but it was enough and the Beatles went on to play a number of their hits including 'Ticket to Ride', 'Can't Buy Me Love', and 'A Hard Day's Night.'
In its cultural impact the concert was a success, Kansas City was part of the Beatles first American tour. However for Finley it was a financial loss. As hard as it is to believe now, the show was far from a sellout with 20,207 tickets sold - capacity at Municipal Stadium for the concert was believed to be about 35,000. The deficit was no reflection on the popularity of the Beatles. They were without question the undisputed kings of the moment. The empty seats and lost revenue were undoubtedly the collateral damage of Finley's on-going feuds with city leaders and the local newspaper which resulted in some backing for a boycott of the event.
Perhaps it worked for all parties involved. Finley got to show he could get the biggest band in the world to answer his call and come to town. City leaders and the media made sure Finley lost money. Kansas City Beatles fans got to see their idols here at home. And although it may not have been fully appreciated at the time, the city got a historic cultural event for the ages. What did the Beatles get? Well, they got the unheard of amount of $5,000 per minute for a show. Early that day a reporter told the group that Finley had said he was very fond of 'you young men', to which Ringo responded, "Oh. We're fond of HIM, now."
Then almost as quickly as they appeared it was over. The band moved on to Dallas for the next gig. But that Kansas City show did leave an impression on the Beatles, or so it seems. Later in that momentous year of 1964 for the band, the Beatles released their fourth studio album entitled 'Beatles for Sale' and their opening song played at Municipal Stadium, the medley 'Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!' made the cut. Today it is that same recording serves as a ballpark tradition played following the final out of every Kansas City Royals win at Kauffman Stadium.
Fifty years is a long time indeed, but that single night at Kansas City's old baseball stadium still reverberates at its current ballpark throughout the spring, summer and into the fall. And maybe half a century later 'The Long and Winding Road' will lead at least one Beatle back to Kansas City to play our ballpark again. Let It Be…Let It Be.
Ah, Kansas City, Gonna get Paul here one more time, a-yeah, yeah
He's goin' to Kansas City, Get Paul here one more time, yeah, yeah
It's just a-one, two, three, four - Five, six, seven, eight, nine!