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“Bigger Than Jesus” Beatles Play D.C. Stadium in ’66

Beatles became embroiled in a massive controversy with John Lennon's incendiary comments.
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Christianity will go … It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first-rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them testing in that ruins it for me.

And with those incendiary comments, John Lennon, and the Beatles became embroiled in a massive controversy. The quote was originally from March 1966, but not published widely in the U.S. until August 1966. Immediately, Lennon and the band were a lightning rod for controversy, especially in the Bible Belt of the U.S.

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The Beatles in 1966
The Beatles in 1966

The group played their first U.S. concert here in Washington on February 11th, 1964. On August 15th, 1966, four days into their controversy-filled U.S. tour, they arrived in our city from Cleveland, Ohio.

Beatles concert ticket - August 15th, 1966
Beatles concert ticket – August 15th, 1966

That Monday evening, they were to play at D.C. Stadium (i.e., RFK Stadium). Over 30,000 fans were prepping for the excitement of Beatlemania hitting their town, seeing the foursome in person. Washingtonians, mostly teenage girls, were able to get tickets, even the day of the concert, for $3 or $5 for good seats.

D.C. police were getting ready for the crowds and potential protests outside the stadium, placing 400 cops at the venue, including their special group of policewomen.

pre-concert press conference
pre-concert press conference

Just prior to the show, the Beatles sat down with reporters in the Washington Senators’ locker room to answer a few questions. The Baltimore Sun’s Muriel Dobbin reported the following in the paper on Tuesday morning.

Washington, Aug. 15–There were Beatles in the lock room of the Washington Senators tonight.

Beatles in polka dots and velvet, long-haired and straight faced, were giving solemn answers to silly questions.

The Beatles press conference at the D.C. Stadium sounded like an attempt on the part of the mop-haired rock ‘n’ rollers to soften the American impact of remarks made by one of the quartet suggesting that their popularity exceeded that of Jesus Christ.

The offending Beatle, an apparently inoffensive man called John Lennon, was subdued tonight before a group of alleged reporters who behaved like a Beatles fan club. Lennon was even conservatively clad in a brown sports coat compared with the purple polka dots of Ringo and the canary yellow of Paul.

Sitting in the lock room, with the temperature of both their surroundings and the screaming faithful outside rising, the Beatles conducted themselves with more sobriety that the occasion demanded.

The first question involved reincarnation.

In what form would the Beatles like to return to this world? “A tree,” said velvet-coated Ringo.

After 18 minutes the press conference was over and the Beatles went to face what was estimated to be 30,000 quivering fans, including 4 girls who had baked them a cake.

A man selling Beatles pennants and buttons was pessimistic about the future of the group with whom he has been traveling on their current visit. “We’re dying,” he said.

It was reported that around 400 police were assigned to maintain order at the Beatles’ performance. But one large policeman took time out to find a taxi cab into which he thrust a sullen teenager.

“Take my daughter home,’ he told the driver.

The Washington Post covered the Beatles’ arrival in our city as well.

The fabulous Beatles, who include two reluctant theologians since their last appearance here two years ago, practically stole into town yesterday for a concert at D.C. Stadium.

Their entourage of about 60 whisked from an out-of-the-way corner of National Airport to the service entrance of the Shoreham Hotel in six limousines. most of the party, however, stayed at the Willard Hotel.

A dozen young teenage girls, some of whom had been waiting since 7 a.m., mobbed the Beatles’ car at the entrance. But after a brief struggle with two Metropolitan policemen and several Beatle security guards, the screaming, crying teenagers were dispersed.

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Another 150 District police were patroling the outside area and neighboring residential blocks for signs of troublemakers. Members of the Maryland Ku Klux Klan had threatened to picket the group over the remarks on religion.

In addition, a 600-foot long snow fences was placed across the stadium itself from foul line pole to foul line pole to prevent youngsters from getting close to their idols.

On Saturday, Lennon told Washington Post reporter Leroy Aarons in an exclusive interview:

“I can’t express myself very well … I’m more of a Christion [sic] now than I ever was. I don’t go along with organized religion and the way it has come about. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us … it’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

The same day Beatle Paul McCartney told a Chicago press conference: “We all deplore the fact” that Christianity “seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”

The 1966 tour was the last of the Beatles’ career. The last concert of the tour was held at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29th.

The Beatles at D.C. Stadium in 1966
The Beatles at D.C. Stadium in 1966

Three years later, the biggest band in history performed live for the last time ever on January 30th, 1969 on the rooftop of Apple Records.

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