Joe Peppercorn at the Bluestone during the 12-hour Beatles tribute Photo courtesy of Joe Peppercorn
Guess what Joe Peppercorn's 12-hour Beatles tribute at the Bluestone the last Saturday of 2013 took me back to? My Beatles-loving childhood? Well, of course. But that wasn't the biggest--or best--surprise of the night. The music? Again, sure--but the music is always and will always be with us. Timeless, by God, and eternal—hopefully. OK, here's the really amazing thing I felt very deeply that wonderful, extraordinary Saturday night in that amazing old stone church, especially during certain songs from Joe's rendition of “The White Album.” I can't remember exactly which song it was that I first noticed but all of a sudden, looking up at the folks on the balcony, looking behind me (I was close up to the front of the stage), doing a 360 and seeing everyone in the place clued in to the song, the vibe, the band--well, that communal feeling I used to get at Comfests of old when there was just one big-ass stage and we'd all get swept up in the celebration of great music happening right in front of us. That, you know, Woodstock feeling. Corny but...the feeling of gigantic oneness. Of mass warmth. Of connectedness, everyone to everyone to everything. And no drugs involved! Well, OK, a few gulps of raw, sweet Kaluha, a real man's drink, ha ha! I'd gotten there at the beginning of Joe's covering of the “Sgt. Pepper's” album. Nice. The Beatles studio masterpiece, one of rock's acknowledged seven wonders of the world, and very much a creature of producer George Martin's studio mastery plus his orchestral string-dominated flourishes and arrangements. Where would the Beatles have been without George Martin? And to Peppercorn's hardworking credit--plus his spare band of uber-competent players (especially his guitarist who captured the rich and edgy guitar tones so crucial to so many Beatles songs where it's a matter of just the right notes phrased just so to accent the melody), he very, very faithfully reproduced virtually every sound one heard on “Sgt. Pepper.” Five keyboards at his fingertips did the trick. While he sang, too. Jesus! So, yes, “Sgt. Pepper's” flowed nicely. The growing crowd dug it. Heads were nodding with rhythmic approval to “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” “Lovely Rita” and especially “Good Morning, Good Morning.” What can I say? It's the fucking Beatles. Other than a couple of filler-y George Harrison stabs (he didn't write his first great song until “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), to hear and see it played in front of you is a phenomenon. "Magical Mystery Tour" was loaded with revelations, the biggest of which was John Lennon's "I Am the Walrus," a really brooding, emotionally complex and mesmerizingly strange song. Again, as much as I've thought almost exactly that hearing it on a stereo, to experience it live was transcendent. As Joe and company worked their way through its multidimensional arrangement, I was awestruck, dumbstruck, dumbfounded. Fucking John Lennon, what a genius, what an unbelievable, wildly unpredictable “pop” songwriter. And then back to back: “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields.” Stunning. Now that took me back, by God. I'd bought the single when it came out and I defy you to come up with a greater double-A-sided single in music history. Plus I bought the goddam picture sleeve version. Cost me nearly two bucks of hard-earned lawn mowing money. I'd come a long way from my first single, “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” to “Strawberry Fields.” Yeah, Peppercorn doing “Magical Mystery Tour.” Whew. Didn't think the night could get any better than that. Boy, was I in for a surprise. When the first song of an album (that critics have often dissed as four solo albums held together by a sheer white gate-fold cover and stuffed with portraits, a poster and a lyric sheet the size of Yoko Ono's bed sheet) is “Back In the U.S.S.R.,” well, you're in for a helluva ride. “The Dear Prudence,” the guitar parts so crystalline brilliant, I wanted to cry. I suck. The Beatles were fucking gods. “Glass Onion” was good. Then, the first moment of mass communalism: “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which made the crowd deliriously happy, spirits levitating like the Maharishi high on Mia Farrow's sexually charismatic ass, formerly Frank Sinatra's prized possession and obsession. Nice. As was “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” which took spirits of the attending hundreds even higher. I was about to forget my name. How wunnerful, to quote Lawrence Welk. As Joe's marvelous guitarist worked the entire Clapton solo in “Gently Weeps” through to its glorious denouement, wowing us, I think we were beautifully set up for John's “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Something about that song got everybody in a different place. Don't ask me why or how. Call it the beautiful black magic of a white album. What the hell do I really know? But those moments really started coming: “Blackbird,” “Piggies,” “Don't Pass Me By,” “Why Don't We Do It In the Road?” And then the album's second side. Sweet Jesus. "Birthday"--which destroyed the place; "Yer Blues”--heavier than hell; “Mother Nature's Son”--too beautiful; "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” was, I don't know, uh, one of the greatest moments of my adult, non-sober life? “Helter Skelter”--we were all Manson's children. Gawdamn, what a heavy, heavy song. That guitar part. Ridiculous. The next song of which brings me to an interesting happenstance of the night. “Long, Long, Long" is a very ethereal, other-worldly, quiet, strange and wonderfully weird song--very, very the opposite of Helter. I was sitting at Joe's feet on the stage steps--the best seat in the house. And I was so knocked out by “Long.” Except...well, except two females standing right behind me were yakking their heads off like a couple of penguins at a bus stop, oblivious to the art happening eight-and-a-half feet away from them. So, after a couple moments internal debate, I gently got their attention and begged with a little admonishment for, you know, a little respectful, you know, silence. So I could hear Joe do a song that was gripping me like King Kong holding Fay Ray in the palm of his hairy hand. They complied. I was happy. And then a lady I know bent down and whispered into my ear, "You just told Joe Peppercorn's wife to shut up!", and laughed. Well, I guess I did? Hey, if the shoe fits... Whatever. All the more reason, I'd say. But it was “Revolution 1” that clinched the Comfest-of-old feeling and notion, it being the acoustic version of John's ultra-powerful but utterly enlightened take on radical politics. As the crowd grooved on its feel-good, well-thought brilliance, I was completely stoned on my fellow human beings--for once. The feeling was real, the best was being brought out of each and every one of us and I got so emotional I almost thought I was a liberal again. And thus it was, Joe Peppercorn's fourth annual 12-hour tribute to the Beatles. An unbelievable experience, guaranteed to blow your mind. And I only lasted three full albums. But I'm good for another year.

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