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Thank God for TimeHop. Save for a handful of first-gen smartphone photos taken in a dimly lit Tree House in 2010, we wouldn’t have much proof of the first Beatles Marathon. Now that it’s turned into a spectacle of creative talent and willful planning, set against the reverent backdrop of The Bluestone stage, no one needs [...]
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Thank God for TimeHop. Save for a handful of first-gen smartphone photos taken in a dimly lit Tree House in 2010, we wouldn’t have much proof of the first Beatles Marathon. Now that it’s turned into a spectacle of creative talent and willful planning, set against the reverent backdrop of The Bluestone stage, no one needs any proof of its existence. Still, if you tried to tell someone that one man named Joe (now getting by with the help of 50-some friends) plays every Beatles song in chronological order in one day, they’re likely to be a bit skeptical. It’s a tall tale—of a silly bar challenge turned cathartic endurance test—but not one that’s embellished. The Beatles Marathon is very real—as much as Paul is still very much alive. This month, as Sergeant Peppercorn’s band hits its seventh season, we celebrate a new cultural phenomenon for Columbus—a holiday tradition that has something for the whole family.

And we’re doing so by talking to the man himself about how an event he wasn’t even sure he’d do more than once—one that puts tremendous strain on his family at the most stressful time of the year—has come to define a large part of his life and his worldview.

hen it all started, Peppercorn was at a similar crossroads to his musical heroes. A long-time bartender at iconic bar Andyman’s Treehouse (later The Treehouse and now Tree Bar), Peppercorn was devastated by the death of the bar’s namesake, John “Andyman” Davis, beloved Columbus radio icon. Both Catholics and massive Beatles fans, the late Davis became an important ear for Peppercorn, who was just embarking on life as a father.

“I was originally only supposed to play The White Album. That first year was very emotional because Andy had passed away that summer. I had this very vivid memory of he and I singing through Abbey Road together. He knew all the words, and I would fumble for the right chords.”

So, what started as a tribute to his friend and mentor quickly grew into a personal challenge that Peppercorn hurled himself into, deciding he would play ALL the songs in one night—on less than a month of rehearsal.

“I was terrified that first year … afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it, and that no one would show up. When I started the show… the moment I started The Beatles Marathon, I went into I Saw Her Standing There, and [then Tree House owner] Phil [Palma] and I were the only ones in the bar. Colin Gawel and my friend Vu showed up three songs in, but for the first hour it was the four of us. The whole thing felt so silly and stupid.”

By the halfway point of the show, word had spread around the Columbus music community.  People packed themselves into every corner; where the audience stopped and the performance area began was a constant blur. Those in the crowd (maybe 60-70 people by the end) were not only witness to quite a feat, but participants, too—guest stars on sing-a-longs to help carry a hoarse, harried Peppercorn over the finish line. Flooded with memories of the late Davis, Peppercorn was overwhelmed by the powerful emotion these songs brought out of his friends—and himself.

“I started tearing up when everyone sang together on “Because” … I needed that emotional release. I had no choice but to connect with my life in a very visceral way after having a child, and I needed to do that in the same way with music … this was my way of doing that.”

After pulling off the initial feat, the Marathon’s subsequent years faced the dual challenge of handling a massive song catalog with better results, and accommodating the hordes of people now eager to join the local Beatlemania that they missed out on the first time. A set band was established, featuring members from Peppercorn’s own band The Whiles (Chris Bolognese, Jake Remley, and brother Matt Peppercorn), and a hand-drafted selection of other local all-stars from Treehouse favorites like The Receiver (Jesse Cooper), Ghost Shirt (Branden Barnett, Sam Kim, Dave Murphy), and Low Men (Tommy Young).

In addition to filling out the musician roster, years three and four, held at Kobo (now Spacebar), helped add a support staff to the endeavor—Peppercorn credits then owner, Jacob Wooten with taking administrative and production duties on himself. Lines for the show—now hitting its stride, and not just hurdling through the material—stretched down the block.

“The third year was the first time I realized that we could play the songs really well. The first two years you could play the songs fast and skip parts. When you make everything correct it takes longer. [Jacob] made it so all we had to worry about was playing the music.”

But Kobo couldn’t hold the growing phenomenon, and Wooten, in the spirit of furthering an event now beloved to him and so many others, helped the show move to The Bluestone, the massive former church on Broad Street. There, the audience ballooned to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 people, and the show swelled right along with it. The sheer premise of a 215-song concert wasn’t the only immense challenge now facing Peppercorn’s crew.

And we do mean crew.

Any event of this size would be a massive undertaking, but the logistics of a 12-hour marathon present intricacies and statistics that are truly staggering.

Throughout the course of the show, there are anywhere from 15 to 20 musicians entering and exiting the stage, playing roughly 25 guitars, a single drum set, two bass guitars, and three keyboards that run through 40 different configurations and 60-70 individual sounds; as well as a host of auxiliary instruments, including violins, trumpets, and tambourines. Assuming all of the people and parts are in working order, there’s also the issue of timing. This isn’t a show with rambling monologues, or even much witty banter. A performance of this magnitude must be timed down to the second; with so many songs to get through, the transitions become just as important as the songs themselves. If you suppose that between each song the band takes one minute to reset, that means an additional 3.5 hours. Cut that down to 30 seconds, and you’ve got 1.8 hours. Cut that in half again, and you’re at their target: 15 seconds—a mere 54 minutes of rest throughout the course of the show.

Wooten remains behind the scenes, helping sell merch and doing anything else the band needs to have a suaccessful show; while local music aficionado Rikki C. donates portions of his personal guitar collection, and plays guitar tech throughout the course of the event.

To see this intricate dance play out on stage is both fascinating and astonishing, but it doesn’t begin to tell the full story. Rehearsals begin four months in advance, last as long as seven hours, happen once or twice a week, and can involve 10 or more musicians. By the time they hit the stage, they have invested hundreds of hours.

“You’re on a big stage—you have to put on a show. Last year was the first time it all came together. It feels like it’s pushed to the absolute limit.”

There is no question that Peppercorn—and the rest of the group—live for the satisfaction that comes with pushing it to that theoretical limit, but that satisfaction comes with a very real physical, mental, and emotional toll, and the payoff can be fleeting.

“It was so scary two and half hours in, to realize I already feel worn out and I have 10 more hours” he says “hour four or five your extremities start to feel numb and you enter into another state of being. After six or seven it gets a lot easier. Hours 11 and 12 are very painful. Having this extremely intense joyful experience, and then it’s like I wake up in this desolate winter Midwest wasteland. It’s hard to get to be a rockstar for a day and then go back to being nothing. I’m not complaining—it’s great to have a normal life and then experience what I get to the day of the show, but the transition both into and out of the show is very jarring.”

Peppercorn has spent most of his adult life straddling two worlds: husband, father, and devout Catholic; and fun-loving musician and bartender, working and performing in bars around the city. While the two are not mutually exclusive, having a foot firmly planted on each side can be tough. Joe is quick, both on stage and off, to credit the sacrifice of his wife Juliette in the success of the show.

“I remember the first year telling Juliette: ‘This is going to put you through a lot, but if this works, it really could be something.’ I think it’s a whole lot for her because once or twice a week I’m gone at practice and then my mind is somewhere else for months … part of doing the show is obsessing over it, and I think that takes a toll. She’s always on board, but it’s a strain. Last year, Christmas was not a lot of fun. We melted down as a family. Mostly what I remember was how great the show was, but those days leading up to the show were absolutely brutal.”

There does not exist a more crucial support staff to the Marathon than the families of the musicians involved, the total group now resembling a rambling tent revival in size. Juliette and the wives of many other band members have formed a seasonal social group amongst themselves, only semi-jokingly referred to as the Beatles Widows Club. In 2013, Matt Peppercorn’s wife Ellen held down a dramatic situation when their infant daughter had a brief medical episode during the show; she convinced him to stay on stage and finish out the remaining 100 songs while she sent updates via text to the phone stashed next to his pedalboard.

While the average audience member may be unaware of how much self-sacrifice and sweat goes into delivering 12 hours of retro euphoria, that familial feeling does shine through.

The two worlds that Peppercorn and the members of his band try to balance each year are mirrored in the event itself: the first few hours are filled with children dancing, infants bouncing on the knees of parents, and grandparents singing the words to “Can’t Buy Me Love”—inherently learned like nursery rhymes from a different era. By the time Sgt. Pepper kicks in, the crowd has grown (up); the children have been dropped off at the sitters, and their parents are returning to stick it out until the end. With each passing hour, more and more people crowd onto the floor, singing, dancing, drinking, and cheering—anticipating a cathartic end to a moving evening.

A palpable sense of urgency always appears in the show’s final moments—eager fans huddling closer and closer to the stage. They scream each and every word to the Abbey Road medley, their voices cracking as they hold out the first syllable of the monstrous chorus to “Golden Slumbers”—giving their maestro the same much-needed lift the crowd gave him years before.

Two, sometimes three, generations of people sway back and forth with their arms around each other, celebrating the music they love and the monumental feat they’ve witnessed.

And, in the end…

“I hope this show will be a thing of unity and maybe a small glimpse into the possibility of coming together in optimism and love. I don’t mean to be delusional—it’s a little show in a little city—but for me, it’s going to mean a lot.”

This year, thankfully, the Peppercorns and their extended musical family will get to lick their musical wounds with enough time to have a Christmas like the rest of us, as the seventh annual Beatles Marathon takes place on December 10 at The Bluestone, starting at noon. For more, visit liveatthebluestone.com. 

By Chris Manis and Travis Hoewischer

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Dig. Shuffle. Click.

Dig: Brujas del Sol, II You could certainly make the case that this column makes overuse of the term “psychedelia,” if only because many of the bands that fortify the Columbus underground dabble with elements that, as much as “punk,” deem them psychedelic. But few of those same bands wear it as their tried and [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Dig: Brujas del Sol, II

You could certainly make the case that this column makes overuse of the term “psychedelia,” if only because many of the bands that fortify the Columbus underground dabble with elements that, as much as “punk,” deem them psychedelic. But few of those same bands wear it as their tried and true emblem (EYE is the only other I can imagine)—trying to conjure transcendence in wide swaths of cinematic atmosphere, endlessly entangled guitars, liberal use of reverb and flange, and a sonic propensity to paint deserts, oceans, space, with infinite horizons. Contrary to the ethos that music must be instantly inspired, or captured as lightning in a bottle, the psychedelic warriors of Brujas del Sol have been surgical in the creation of their sophomore album, the five years in the making II. The record is an object of monolithic heft, each song a journey unto itself, even when the quartet has chosen to reel in some of their unyielding tendencies to focus on actual pop songs, wherein “Fringe of Senility” could pass as Boy-era U2 and “White Lights” might confuse a Muse fan or two.

Those highlights, led by guitarist Adrian Zambrano’s faithful charge, actually make the headier, indulgent tracks more enjoyable. It’s a balance that Zambrano and bassist Derrick White—the group’s founders—discovered in their recruitment of drummer Josh Oswald and multi-instrumentalist Phillip Reed. Along with the studio wizardry of Relay’s Jon Fintel, the Sun Witches get both brutally and beautifully epic on the lead “Teenage Hitchhiker” and especially in “Sisterlace,” which switches quite magnificently between Pink Floydian dream-sequences and pure desert rock scrums. Zambrano makes use of most every edge and corner the battery provides, sometimes even bouncing his melodies around as if it were a smooth jazz station in some alternate universe. For those who like their post-rock instrumental albums, embellished with Sabbathy tones and the occasional spectral vocals, II is a engrossing trip few Columbus bands would have the patience to make.

Brujas del Sol will celebrate the release of II with a show 11.9 at Rumba Cafe. Visit brujasdelsol.bandcamp.com for music and more info.

Shuffle: Matt Umland, Blind Portrait

It might be cheating to include Matt Umland’s latest trio of songs in this column, as Umland, a member of our Class of 2017, has since moved to Baltimore to further his career as a one-man soul machine, and Blind Portrait, his finest work to date, was recorded in his new Charm City studio. For one last hurray though, we will claim him as our own, as the uniquely crafted synth workouts and layered harmonies of the once Tin Armor co-frontman, was the product of a void Umland found in Columbus music—namely, honest-to-goodness, R&B pop. Fitting then Glenn Davis, the genius mind of Way Yes, was responsible for mixing the release, and lending all production talents to the standout, “Small Senses.”

For those familiar with the sonic flora and fauna that encapsulates the wildly colorful Way Yes, “Small Senses” is a pop revelation, accented with breezy arpeggios, Muzak-inspired presets, and the Umland’s angelic voice (imagine a space between the twee of Ben Gibbard and the ’70s earnestness of Kenny Loggins). Umland’s appreciation of those yacht rock heroes and the glitchy lushness of intelligent dance music combine for an effect that shuns irony, or even hipness, but does so unashamedly. Instead, he’s making tunes that  “explore the grandeur of love in its simplest forms,” whether that’s caffeinated bedroom jams like “Hold Me,” or the lilting near-Josh Groban balladry of “Time Beyond Me.” For Columbus it’s farewell for now, but for the rest of the world it will be hard not to smile.

Visit mattumland.bandcamp.com to hear the Blind Portrait EP and for more information.

Click: Brat Curse , “Coloured by Paranoia”

I made sure to run it past the CEO of Brat Curse, Brian Baker, before referring to his band as the real-life version of a Hanna Barbera outfit animated for a Scooby Doo episode. Brat Curse’s latest video for “Coloured By Paranoia,” the first single from their long-gestating second album (released early next year on Anyway Records), is entirely inspired by the goofy, non-sequitur, hijinks of the Monkees or Banana Splits. A green-screen smorgasboard, of your above-average,  hard-working, blue-collar (Baker pleasantly reeks of Dayton, Ohio) American band, touring in the van, synchronizing jazz-hands, boofing for the camera, the clip revamps the ideals of ’80s public-access vids. The song itself is definitely an evolution from Brat Curse’s 2015 self-titled debut. The recent addition of Joe Camerlengo, who himself has been called a human Pikachu, rubs some of his own Van Dale musk over the proceedings, and some of the fuzz is removed to make way for a punchier, catchier, romp.

Visit bratcurse.bandcamp.com to hear the new single and a for a link to the outrageous video.

 

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Craft Beer’s New Groove

Why would anyone in their right mind open another neighborhood bar or record joint in a city already brimming with both? Ask Troy Stacy, the owner of Craft & Vinyl, an endeavor that is deliberately neither, nor does it pretend to be. Yet it combines the essential elements of each into an entirely new experience [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Why would anyone in their right mind open another neighborhood bar or record joint in a city already brimming with both?

Ask Troy Stacy, the owner of Craft & Vinyl, an endeavor that is deliberately neither, nor does it pretend to be. Yet it combines the essential elements of each into an entirely new experience fine-tuned for local beer aficionados and audiophiles alike.

It’s not a bar that sells LPs, nor a record store that serves beer. It’s a kindred cultural convergence that combines a craft beer counter, new and used vinyl, and a recording studio conveniently under one roof.

“There wasn’t a place that brought all three of these ideas together,” explained Stacy, whose inspiration was well informed by a career in marketing and the music industry. “We live in a digital universe, but there is still a craving for something tactile.”

Vinyl is visceral. Even as records have emerged as the fastest growing segment of music sales, capturing the charm of a record store without the musty smell and dingy décor that are almost synonymous was no easy feat. But tip too far in the opposite direction and you end up with the vintage vibe of a deservedly defunct Sam Goody.

Stacy had the right idea. He just needed to find the right place and the right space.

“I had four or five target areas, but Grandview was always my first choice,” he recalled. “But I almost leased the space that became Brewdog in the Short North. They got it right out from under me.”

Music folklore is full of happy accidents, and losing that spot for something better could be among them. The former consignment shop that was once home to an old hardware store offered weathered floors, high ceilings, and instant credibility.

“We built it to look and feel more like an art gallery. People who collect vinyl also collect it for the cover art,” Stacy said. “It’s not just a music medium.”

The “Mosaic Wall” stretches 30 feet and five records high with classic and contemporary albums, many 180-gram pressings or “heavy vinyl,” preferred by collectors for durability and fidelity. Here you’ll find seminal releases from The Stones to The Stooges and everything in-between.

Used inventory fills the “Vinyl Salon” in oversized wooden bins complemented by a lounge with a couple of leather sofas at the end and a long, bar-height table in the middle with enough stools and space to make the experience equal parts shopping and social. Flipping through stacks searching for those hidden gems is a two-handed job. That’s why you’ll find cleverly placed cup holders spaced every few feet to park your pint.

“The idea came from a very practical place. I was stocking the bins, holding a beer, and had nowhere to put it,” he confessed. “They’re actually just RV cup holders, but everyone gets a kick out of them.” (Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention would surely approve.)

Despite their resurgence in popularity, selecting the right records to sell has become evermore crucial in the age of eBay and Amazon. Stacy was smart and thankful to enlist veteran vinyl proprietor Mike “Pepe” Depew as a mentor, whose experience at Ace in the Hole Music Exchange and the Record Connection dates back decades.

“I started buying records from Pep when I was 15,” Stacy revealed. “Anytime you start a business there are bumps in the road and painful learning. He took me under his wing and helped me avoid a lot of those mistakes.”

Extending the gallery metaphor are concert posters and handbills designed by prolific local artist Mike Martin, whose limited edition screen printing and illustration style echo an earlier era, and the depth and breadth of Craft & Vinyl’s selection. From folk to funk and soul to swing, add the black and yellow punches of color to the warm wooden accents, and Jack White would feel right at home. Even the pinball machines are on-brand for a place that seems like one giant analog anachronism defiant of all things digital—with one deft exception.

“Lots of musicians go to record stores and hang out. That’s often where collaborations first come together,” he explained. “I wanted to create a place where that inspiration isn’t lost by having a recording studio just steps away. There’s nothing like it in Columbus.”

In addition to hourly studio rental—including a collection of guitars, basses, vocal microphones, and a drum kit—Stacy offers monthly packages for musicians interested in more frequent access, one of several subscription options that distinguish Craft & Vinyl as a place where music is played and made.

“One of the ideas we’re working on is a ‘Flight School’ where once a month you’ll come in to try four to six beers from a specific brewer paired with a classic album listening experience and a new album listening experience,” he noted.

Though the smallest section of the store in square footage, that craft beer counter right as you walk through the door is definitely the social glue that binds the whole operation together, and the most unique draw for foot traffic and local buzz. The novel mix of stacks of wax and craft on draft was enough to intrigue distributors before they even opened.

“The relationship with Great Lakes Brewing was really interesting because they reached out to us,” Stacy recalled. “They approached us and said they wanted to serve their Turntable Pils here. That eventually turned into a conversation about doing a collaborative vinyl album together.”

Also available as event space, new ideas continue to surface now that more folks can take it in and suggest additional opportunities and potential. The concept was always considered an evolving prototype for future locations.

“People tend to tell you what they want,” Stacy explained. “I’m here to listen.•

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InnerVision

Sam Shepherd and Genene Blackwell didn’t come into this world together. But they’ve navigated much of their lives since then as an inseparable pair. Both born prematurely and with significant visual impairments, the duo were in the same NICU at the same time, began preschool together, started piano lessons together, rode the same bus, marched [...]
Aaron Wetli

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Sam Shepherd and Genene Blackwell didn’t come into this world together.

But they’ve navigated much of their lives since then as an inseparable pair.

Both born prematurely and with significant visual impairments, the duo were in the same NICU at the same time, began preschool together, started piano lessons together, rode the same bus, marched together in the world’s only blind marching band, graduated together, and would eventually collaborate with their band InnerVision. They are as intertwined as two individuals can be, and like Adams and Jefferson or Bird and Magic, it is impossible to tell one of their stories without telling the other.

For those unfamiliar, Innervisions (1973) is also the name of arguably the most famous and critically-acclaimed album of Stevie Wonder’s career. Naming their band in the vein of this album makes sense as Sam and Genene share their love of funk, soul, rock, and jazz with Wonder, along with their visual impairments.

Trying to make a living in Columbus as a musician has enough hurdles, but try adding being blind to the mix. It’s not like Sam or Genene can drive, and public transportation in this city —especially pertaining to those with disabilities—is sorely lacking. With the help of grandparents and parents, who double as managers, the duo have been playing the summer festival circuit. They’ve been making appearances in Columbus and beyond at Plum Run Winery (Grove City), Buckeye Lake Winery (Thornville), Tucci’s (Dublin). Mudflats (Galena), and Notes (Downtown).

Their long-term goals are humble. Sam stands firmly in practicality. He wants to build a life upon his craft.

“I want to make enough to pay the bills and make a living,” he said.

Genene’s response is closer to the heart. She wants to “bring joy to people’s hearts through my music,” she said. Those may be the least pretentious statements made by any musician. In the history of the world. Ever.

I was lucky enough to recently watch an InnerVision show at Oliver’s, a hidden gem of a downtown restaurant, where live blues is performed on Friday and Saturday nights. I asked the duo if they get butterflies before live performances. But Sam takes it in stride.

”Sometimes not being able to see the crowd is good for stage fright,” he said.

Well played, sir. Well played.

The dimly lit and intimate venue and motif was perfect for the duo as they seamlessly transitioned between blues, jazz, soul, rock, and pop covers. They touched on all the standards: “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Unchain My Heart,” “Hound Dog,” and “Summertime.” The crowd, along with the waitstaff and bartenders, were bewitched with InnerVision’s musical chops and entertained by Sam’s witty banter with audience members.

To put it bluntly, InnerVision is a well-oiled machine. Genene rocks the keys and Sam, who handles most of the vocals, jumps between guitar, bongos, trombone, and harmonica. InnerVision isn’t a couple of acoustic frat bros fumbling through a local open mic night; they are musical prodigies who take no prisoners and kill the audience with kindness.

And I don’t think the term prodigy is hyperbolic as both musicians can hear a piece of music once or twice and have it mastered (instrument, lyrics, vocals) within 30 minutes. Their only assistance is the occasional YouTube tutorial or bouncing ideas off each other.

When asked to name their favorite artists, Genene is decisive:

“Adele and Alicia Keys. Those two are the best.”

Sam is a little more traditional with favorites such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Sam Cooke, and Aaron Neville. The influence of classics come from his dad; his soul comes from inside.

However, in true InnerVision fashion, the duo put their own touches on contemporary hits. When you catch them live, ask them to perform their stripped-down, bluesy version of the Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” This cover alone is worth the price of admission.

Despite their visual impairments, Sam and Genene are like many other 27 year-olds and enjoy going to the gym, checking social media, listening to music and watching superhero movies. Unlike other 27 year-olds, their lives are significantly impacted by their disabilities, but not so much that they are giving up their dream of playing live music for a living.

What exactly can be attributed to InnerVision’s seamless on stage chemistry? Maybe it is their cosmic connection and the fact that they have known each other for the entirety of their 27 years? Maybe it’s the fact that they are brother and sister in every way except biologically? Maybe they share a bond that only persons with disabilities can share?

What I do know is that you should go see them live. Sam and Genene don’t need your pity or charity. They, like all Columbus musicians, need your attention, social media likes and cover charges. Actually, just go ahead and book them for the next event you are hosting. You will get three hours of world class musicianship from two people who are making their way by letting their inner lights shine. •

You can catch multiple InnerVision shows this month, from Worthington to Gahanna to Lewis Center. For more, visit innervisionmusic.com.

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