Thursday, September 14, 2017

Honoring the legendary Beatles/Arkansas connection

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 3:12 PM

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In September of 1964, the Beatles were busy conquering America. We were busy welcoming our new overlords. It was a manic, unforgiving time for the Fabs, who were encountering an unheard-of level of teen mania and police protection. Having just played Dallas less than a year after Kennedy's assassination, on the 18th, they were a bit overwhelmed. That's when the owner of their charter plane, Reed Pigman, Sr., suggested that they take some time off, far from the madding crowd, before resuming their tour in New York on the 20th.  And thus did Arkansas earn its place on the map of Beatles' legend.

In a little-known chapter of the Beatles' touring history, they made a two day detour to Pigman's dude ranch in Walnut Ridge, relaxing by the pool and presumably working on their Arkansasian accents. Two teenage boys discovered the ranch's location, jumped the fence, and ended up sitting with their idols for a spell. While it may have merely been a bit of downtime to the Fabs, they made an indelible impression on the little burg that hosted them. And it's commemorated to this day, with the annual “Beatles at the Ridge” celebration.

Walnut Ridge now plays host to much the same scene as the “Fest for Beatles Fans,” with merchandise vendors, bands, impersonators, and panel discussions by Beatle-ologists. Say what you will about the original visit's importance to Beatles history, this is a decidedly oddball event, sure to draw a diverse mix of folks to this small Arkansas town, only ninety minutes from Memphis.

The full schedule is listed here; highlights include a panel discussion with Bettie and Eva, stewardesses on the charter plane for the entire tour, who probably saw a thing or two, and a presentation by Bruce Spizer, author of the new book The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans' Perspective.
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With the movement to save the Mid-South Coliseum hitting its stride, the history of the Beatles in the region is bubbling up in all sorts of ways. Exhibit A: the brand new decals designed by Mike McCarthy, including one honoring the Mop Tops' appearance here in 1966. That brings to mind images of numskull Klansmen, record burning, and assassination threats. (Imagine hosting a Beatles gathering there, where they actually played).  But to go back even further in time, when the 1960s seemed more an extension of the 1950s, consider a little road trip this weekend up to Walnut Ridge.

The 5th annual Beatles At The Ridge celebration, Friday, September 15 and Saturday, September 16, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, free admission to all events. Most events are held in or near The Studio, 123 Main Street, downtown Walnut Ridge.

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