Over the course of her history, Jacksonville has hosted a number of landmark concert tours and shows: some more infamous than famous. One show drew the attention of LIFE Magazine, another only happened because of the city’s love for football, and one occurred in the middle of a hurricane making landfall in St. Augustine.
One concert that garnered national attention was the performance of Elvis Presley at the Florida Theater on Aug. 10 and 11, 1956. It was the King’s first indoor concert as a headliner. The concert and the city made headlines in LIFE Magazine when city officials took a stand against Elvis and his swiveling hips. A judge attempted to prevent the show due to concerns that Elvis was “impairing the morals of minors.” At one previous show, a group of girls had rushed the stage and attempted to rip the teen idol’s clothing off. In order to prevent a recurrence of this degradation, Judge Marion Gooding ordered Elvis to refrain from his suggestive body movements. Although mystified by the city official’s ruling, Elvis performed flat-footed for the Jacksonville shows, only wiggling his little finger at the audience, which included the judge and a number of city officials.
The Beatles chose Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl as the only stop in Florida on their first American tour. This was 1964, in the midst of the civil rights movement in the South. The concert was set to be segregated, but the band refused to do the show unless it was integrated. Concert organizers complied. The band also reportedly changed their hotel reservations due to civil rights concerns. Their visit coincided with the first and only hurricane to made landfall in the Jacksonville area: Hurricane Dora. The Category 2 storm hit less than 48 hours before the concert, and Ringo Starr’s drums had to be nailed to the stage because of the high winds. Out of the 32,000 people who purchased tickets, around 24,000 fans showed up in spite of the weather. After playing for only 30 minutes, the band announced they were taking a break, but instead, left the stadium and headed for the airport.
Jacksonville was one of only 15 cities included in Michael Jackson’s 1984 Victory Tour, and it was all because of football. Former Mayor Jake Godbold attributes the concert to a connection he made while attempting to lure the Baltimore Colts to Jacksonville. In 1979, Robert Irsay, owner of the Baltimore Colts, was openly shopping around for a new city for the team. Godbold engineered a large rally at Gator Bowl, which was packed with 50,000 people showing their support for bringing the team to Jacksonville. Although the bid was unsuccessful, it did get national attention for the Bold City, and it got Godbold an invitation to meet with the NFL team owners in Washington, D.C.
At that meeting, the owner of the New England Patriots, Billy Sullivan, pulled Godbold aside. His brother, Chuck Sullivan, was the promoter for the Jackson’s Victory Tour in America, and he offered to include Jacksonville on the tour after seeing that enthusiastic football rally on TV. The Jacksonville leg of the Victory Tour took place from July 21 to July 23, 1984. Michael Jackson performed many of the songs from his recently released album Thriller, as well as hits from his earlier solo release, Off the Wall. The Victory Tour ended with rancor among the Jacksons, and they never toured together again.
With the remodeling of EverBank Field in 1995, and and opening of Veterans Memorial Arena in 2003, Jacksonville’s ability to host monumental concerts was vastly improved. Now, world-famous musicians visit this once humble river city on a regular basis.