In September of 1963, the Beatles -- needing a break from European tours and screaming girls -- agreed to take a few weeks off to recuperate. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr fled to Greece, John Lennon hid in Paris, and George Harrison visited his sister Louise in Southern Illinois, where he would make the first-ever stateside performance by a Beatle.
"Gabe McCarty, a young fellow who used to pick up my dry-cleaning, was in a band called the Four Vests," recalls Louise Harrison. "He heard me playing 'Please, Please Me,' the first Beatles record, and he said, 'Oh, that's a different kind of music. What is that?' When George came to visit, Gabe took him around a bit."
The two musicians formed a friendship, and George went to see the Four Vests play at the local VFW hall. About halfway through the show, the Vests' lead guitarist asked George's brother Peter if the Beatle would be interested in joining the band for a few songs. "Peter said, 'No, he's trying to get away from all that -- but if you tried to stick a guitar in his hand he probably wouldn't be able to resist,'" Louise remembers. "So the guitarist said he had to run to the bathroom, and asked George to take over for a minute."
The musicians had a quick conference to discuss which songs to play, and since they didn't know any Beatles' numbers, they settled on "Green Onions," "Teddy Bear" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby."
"The minute George got up and started to play, it was as though a bolt of electricity had gone through the room," recalls Louise. "The whole room was transformed. People were stomping their feet, banging their fists on the table, whistling, and when he stopped a song they would applaud like crazy. After he finished, this old veteran comes over with his walker and puts his arm around George and he says, 'Y'know son, with the right kind of backing you could really go places.'"
To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the performance, and to give something back to the community, Louise Harrison is organizing a benefit concert for September 28th in Benton, Illinois. She's signed up "George" and "John" from American English, one of the country's top Beatles tribute bands, and she's even getting the Four Vests back together. "We'll have 'George' from American English sing all those songs that George had sung with the Four Vests," she says. "We're trying to recreate that performance a little bit."
Charging $25 a ticket, Harrison hopes to raise enough to provide the town's Civic Center, where the concert will be held, with a new sound and lighting system. "The town is very financially depressed," she says. "It would be a really fitting legacy of George's if we can provide a good system so the town can bring in entertainment, and then maybe the kids in the high school, if they want to do plays, or practice their bands, have somewhere nice to do it."
Meanwhile, the state of Illinois has plans to erect a plaque to commemorate the historic performance. "I thought that was nice," Louise says, "because he brought nothing but good to the world."