The Beatles wave to fans after disembarking a plane at Kennedy Airport in February 1964. Their Philadelphia show would take place that September. (United Press International/Library of Congress)

If you have a passing knowledge of pop music history, you know the Beatles landed in America in 1964.

Their February appearance on the Ed Sullivan show gets most of the attention, but their first American tour was actually in August and September of that year.

The ninth show of the tour was in Atlantic City, on Aug. 30 at Convention Hall. The tenth show was set for Philadelphia, on Sept. 2 at Philly’s old Convention Hall (also called the Civic Center).

But the days before the concert were tense in the city.

In late August, North Philadelphia erupted in protest after a confrontation between two white police officers and a Black woman. The protests — referred to at the time as the “Columbia Avenue riots” — led to hundreds of injuries and arrests before calming on Sept. 1.

With the city already on edge, concert organizers had to decide how they would get the Beatles up from Atlantic City and onto the stage at West Philadelphia’s Civic Center.

They worried a conspicuous entrance would draw a crowd of fans and overwhelm police.

Among the organizers was famed Philly DJ Hy Lit.

According to Lit, shortly before the concert he got a call from Frank Rizzo, then a newly appointed deputy police commissioner who’d played a key role in shutting down the North Philly protests.

Rizzo had a plan.

The Deputy Commissioner proposed sending a decoy limo up New Jersey’s White Horse Pike from Atlantic City.

Meanwhile, the Beatles would ride in a Hackney’s fish truck traveling on the Black Horse Pike and slip into the Philadelphia Civic Center through a food service entrance.

Lit’s full story is recounted here by XPN.

There’s little other confirmation about Rizzo’s involvement, but contemporaneous newspaper accounts do say the Beatles arrived at the concert in a fish truck.

Once there, the Beatles played to a raucous crowd of about 13,000 people.

Given the backdrop of the Columbia Avenue protests, the Beatles were apparently dismayed to find that their audience in Philadelphia was all white.

The performance (preserved on video), included 12 songs.

Nearly as many audience members (11 total) ended up at Philadelphia General Hospital, according to The Inquirer, with minor injuries.

YouTube video

At the time of the show, it was unclear where the Beatles planned to stay that night.

“Some humble little home, somewhere, would take us in,” George Harrison joked to The Inquirer.

That turned out to be true.

With fans staking out all the major hotels in Philadelphia, the Fab Four ended up crashing at the house of — who else? — famed Philadelphia DJ Hy Lit.

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on Aug 10, 2023.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...