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Fab Four touchdown
With Beatlemania in full effect, and movies, TV, records and tours, it was a busy time for the rockers. The Beatles had tried marijuana for the first time just a few weeks before, on Aug. 28, with Bob Dylan. The same week, the band was on the cover of Life magazine.
On the tour was Reed Pigman, who owned a dude ranch near Alton, Mo., just a few miles from the Arkansas state line and convinced the band to take a break there between the Dallas Memorial Auditorium show and a benefit for cerebral palsy research in Times Square. Walnut Ridge, with its former Air Force training base, was the nearest airstrip that could handle the plane. The plane’s lights were spotted by Jack Allison, owner of the local teen hangout, the Polar Freeze Drive-In; he dispatched some of his clientele to check it out.
Jonesboro director Michael Bowman and producer Kim Inboden explore the story in their documentary “When I Was Younger: A Weekend with the Beatles.”
Walnut Ridge’s Carrie Mae Snapp, 14 years old in 1964, gets the most face time in the short film: “I was playing all the Beatles songs on my little record player,” she says of the night she found out the Beatles had been in town. “Working myself into a frenzy. The people who sing on this piece of vinyl have been ... in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas!”
About 3 a.m., the Beatles arrived at Pigman’s ranch, west of the Eleven Points River, apparently geared for fun. Their entourage of 10 included manager Brian Epstein and Bill Black. They spent Saturday drinking, playing poker, driving go-carts, fishing, swimming and riding horses. George Harrison even knocked the door off a ranch pickup while driving a rented 1960 Ford Fairlane.
In Lawrence County, word had spread, and many had gathered at the airport Sunday morning, Sept. 20, to Beatle-watch. Snapp convinced her parents to skip church so she could be there. A crowd encircled a small plane that landed around 10 a.m., but it turned out to be a cropduster. An hour later, the actual plane arrived — and it soon became apparent Harrison and Paul McCartney had been parked in a car across the field watching the whole scene before they boarded.
The documentary includes a few frames of footage of the musicians traversing the tarmac onto the plane. The crowd kept a respectful distance, and wasn’t acknowledged by the band. The Beatles flew from Walnut Ridge to New York.
From there, they played the benefit, and flew on to London for a longer break from their remarkable 1964 world tour.
The Beatles’ stop may have been a memorable holiday for the group, but the visit seems to have made an even greater impression on those who lived there.
“To a 14-year-old,” Snapp says, “you were suddenly validated. It made you just as important as ... if they had come to your house for Sunday dinner. You’d be glad to give them the best piece of chicken.”
• “Leave My Kitten Alone”
• “A Hard Day’s Night”
• “One After 909”