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September 16, 2014

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From Las Vegas Convention Center to ‘Love,’ it’s a Beatles life

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John Katsilometes

Stuart Pitz places his thumb over his head in this shot from The Beatles’ Aug. 20, 1964, appearance at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Pitz attended the show with his sister and also was on hand at at the 50th anniversary celebration of The Beatles’ visit to Las Vegas at the Convention Center on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014.

LVCVA Unveils Beatles Plaque

Rossi Ralenkotter, center, president/CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), is joined by guests and Cirque du Soleil performers from Love, as he unveils a commemorative plaque during a news conference in the lobby of the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles concert in Las Vegas on August 20, 1964. Launch slideshow »
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Stuart Pitz, assistant head of lighting at Cirque du Soleil's "Love" in the Mirage, stands with cast members at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Pitz was invited to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' two performances at the Convention Center on Aug. 20, 1964, as he saw the band that night when he was just 9 years old.

Bedlam, beans of the jelly variety and even some booing marked The Beatles’ appearances at the Las Vegas Convention Center 50 years ago.

“Unbelievable,” says Stuart Pitz, who was in the audience at the Convention Center on Aug. 20, 1964. “Deafening. Crazy. And what I remember at the start of that show was poor Jackie DeShannon, who was basically booed off the stage as she was trying to sing her hit songs.”

There was the requisite shower of jellybeans, too, a commonplace occurrence throughout Beatlemania. George Harrison once said he liked jellybeans and was summarily pelted, along with his bandmates, during live performances.

“Thank God he didn’t say he liked baseball bats,” Pitz says. “They threatened to stop the concert if kids didn’t stop throwing jellybeans.”

Today, Pitz is still watching The Beatles, or at least the spiritual, virtual-reality version of the band that plays out nightly in Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” at the Mirage. Pitz was among those on hand Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center as Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority officials joined several fans who were in attendance for those two landmark shows 50 years ago.

Pitz is the assistant head of lighting for the popular Cirque show. He’s 59 today, but his youthful disposition and exuberance seems as timeless as the music of his favorite band. Quick math will tell you that he was just 9 years old the day he saw The Beatles play the Convention Center, toted along by his 12-year-old sister, Valerie.

“Yep, we were 9 and 12, and my mom dropped us off and said, ‘Bye, kids! Have fun,’ ” Pitz says, laughing. “What a different time. We had spent all night before tickets went on sale at the Convention Center so we would be the first to buy tickets, and that day The Beach Boys played the Convention Center.”

True. Overshadowed by The Beatles appearance Aug. 20 was a show by The Beach Boys weeks earlier. As it was, as Pitz says, “The Beatles were the first concert I’d ever been to. I’d seen them on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and had seen “A Hard Day’s Night” at the Huntridge Theater, so we were really excited.”

The legend surrounding the show continues to grow, even 50 years later. The band had slot machines delivered to their hotel rooms, a move that author Chuck Gunderson (author of a pair of books about The Beatles’ tours in 1964 and ’65) reminded would have been frowned upon by Nevada gaming regulators today.

The original idea for The Beatles to play the Conga Room at the Sahara was swiftly brushed aside for the larger Convention Center venue, and the band was delivered through the rear entrance of the hall to the stage.

The site of the news conference was on the very spot of where the band played, but on Tuesday the only person sporting a Beatles’ hairstyle was County Commissioner Tom Collins, who pulled a wig over his head. He seemed to be speaking in something of a British accent, too.

And displayed along the first floor of the North Hall are photos from the show and also the ticket held by LVCVA chief Rossi Ralenkotter, who saw the later show. Also in the Convention Center, shrieking at the band, was Ralenkotter’s future wife, Mary Jo, though the couple were not on a date that night. I’d long thought they were out together but instead were simply in the same venue and many rows apart.

Nonetheless, Rossi and Mary Jo have known each other for 50 years and have been married for 25 of those years.

Attending a Beatles’ show was certainly a life-changing experience. Anyone who saw the band live says it was more than a concert. It was a happening.

“It matured me way beyond my years,” says Pitz, who plays keyboards, sax and guitar. “I’ve had four bands. I had a musical arts scholarship in school that I went on to UNLV. I’ve worked as a stage technician, and music is my thing, all because of that show.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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