40 years ago: The Beach Boys’ Fourth of July concert on the National Mall was canceled

It was 40 years ago Tuesday that the Beach Boys were supposed to have their Fourth of July concert on the National Mall.

President Ronald Reagan’s interior secretary at the time, James Watt, had announced the Beach Boys were banned from performing at the 1983 Independence Day celebration on the Mall, because they attracted the “wrong element.”

The Beach Boys had played on the Mall in 1980 and 1981, playing hits including “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Surfin’ USA,” and “Good Vibrations.” In 1982, the Grass Roots performed a concert on the Mall.

As the head of the Interior Department, which has jurisdiction over the National Park Service, which issues permits for events on the Mall, Watt’s decision drew a flurry of activity, and scorn.

On April 7, 1983, The Washington Post reported that Watt made the decision to ban “rock bands,” like the Beach Boys and Grass Roots, to prevent drinking, drug-taking youths from attending the concert.

Instead, Watt arranged for “patriotic, family-based entertainment” to be provided for the July 4, 1983 show by the U.S. Army Blues Band and Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton.

Within hours of banning the Beach Boys, both President Reagan and Vice President George Bush had issued statements supporting the band.

Reagan’s deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver told a TV reporter, “I think for a lot of people the Beach Boys are an American institution. Anyone who thinks they are hard rock would think Mantovani plays jazz.”

Soon after, Watt retreated.

“The President is a friend of the Beach Boys, he likes them, and I’m sure when I get to meet them, I’ll like them, too,” said Watt, after a White House meeting with the president and Mrs. Reagan, who had provided Watt with a plaster foot with a hole drilled in it. “This is shooting yourself in your foot,” he gamely told reporters.

Watt said the Beach Boys would perform after all, but they had already booked another show during the hubbub.

The following year, July 4, 1984, the Beach Boys returned for a triumphant concert on the Mall, which included a guest appearance by former Beatle Ringo Starr.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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