City Desk

Today in D.C. History: Beatles Perform 1st Live U.S. Concert in Washington Coliseum

On Feb. 11, 1964, at approximately 3:04 p.m., the Beatles entered D.C. to later play before a sold-out crowd at the Washington Coliseum. Only a few months earlier, the group had been largely unknown in the United States. But on this cold February day, D.C. fans braved 8 inches of snow to hear the band play the first live concert in the United States.

For those not as bold, CBS filmed the set and released it later as a closed-circuit concert in theaters. Much later, this would be re-released as “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964,” lauded by fans one of the highest quality recordings of their concerts.

Before the concert, the group gave a light and jubilant press interview in the cavernous Washington Coliseum, located adjacent to the Union Station rail yards. When asked what they thought of then-President Lyndon Johnson, Ringo Starr quipped: "We don't know. We've never met the man... (pause) Does he buy our records?"

Later, as it came time to play, the concert was over capacity by about 1,000 people according to some estimates. But even with a small stage about the size of a boxing ring, both the audience and the performers were delighted to be there. Every few songs, in fact, the band oriented their setup to face a new part of the crowd. In return, audience members squealed, screamed, and threw jelly beans onto the stage. (Earlier in the week, the Beatles mentioned their fondness for the candy in a New York interview.)

Now known as Uline Arena, the Washington Coliseum has seen better days. At one point, it was a waste management site and today it is used for parking. Renovation plans for this historic site have languished for quite a while. But 47 years ago today, it hosted one of world's best musical acts ever.

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  • J. McCool

    Great piece, WCP! For anyone who's interest in one of DC's more unsung historical buildings has now been piqued, I'm part of a thrilling performance event called SWAMPOODLE, which will actually take place INSIDE the Washington Coliseum during the last week of May. It's a collaboration between DC's Solas Nua and The Performance Corporation, known throughout Ireland for staging site-specific, daring work. Seven DC-based actors traveled to Ireland in January to spend a week developing this original piece, learning about the characters who initially inhabited the Irish (amongst others) Swampoodle neighborhood where the Coliseum was built, and many of our creative exercises dealt specifically with the fascinating, quirky history of this building, which is now used as a parking lot! Did you know, for instance, that a former leader of the KKK once attended a Nation of Islam rally inside? Only in DC, right?

    Here's more info:

    or here:

    We can't wait to bring some joy back the old barn; we might not be the Beatles, but Swampoodle is still going to be FAB!