Promoter Sid Bernstein will long be known as the man who brought the Beatles to America for their 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. But Bernstein, who died last Wednesday at age 95, also presented British Invasion groups like the Kinks and the Moody Blues at the Academy of Music, an aging East Village movie theater on East 14th Street at Third Avenue.
In the early 1960s Bernstein produced shows at Carnegie Hall for mainstream acts like Tony Bennett and Nina Simone, but when the Rolling Stones appeared there in June 1964, their fans went wild, jumping up and down on the plush seats and armrests; the damage got Bernstein and the Stones banned from Carnegie. Searching for a new venue for the Stones’ return to New York in 1965, Bernstein moved downtown to the Academy of Music. The promoter recalled the Stones’ performance in his autobiography, “It’s Sid Bernstein Calling…”
On the day of the Stones concerts, I arrived at the theater early and visited with the band… Before leaving the guys prior to showtime, I said, “Listen, take it easy out there. We don’t want to get thrown out of here, too!” Take it easy? Not for a minute.
The Academy of Music was an old vaudeville house with an orchestra pit separating the audience from the stage, and the kids got so excited they began to rush the stage, trying to leap over the chasm of the pit. There were so many bodies pushing in the same direction that they overwhelmed the security men, and [co-promoter Billy Fields] and I found ourselves flat on our fannies. Bodies were flying all over the place, and some kids landed right in the pit, one on top of another. Tiny, our six-foot six-inch lead security man, jumped right in there and started throwing the kids back out. It had to be an act of God that no one got hurt. Fortunately for the Stones, they had their own security men, who blocked off stage right and left.
It was something to behold – that day in May 1965 when the Rolling Stones rocked the Academy of Music.
“The Academy of Music was very good for me,” Bernstein told Bedford + Bowery in April, when we spoke to him for an oral history of the venue. “More seats, less expense. I made a lot of bucks there.” Compared to the Beatles, Bernstein said, “The Rolling Stones were a pain in the ass. They brought a different kind of crowd.”