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The View From the Side of the Stage: The Beatles Marathon - by Ricki C.

Sgt. Peppercorn's 2018 Beatles Marathon will be held at the Bluestone this Saturday, Dec. 15th. Click here for ticket info.

I remember it like it was yesterday: in 2011, at the conclusion of the Hitless Wonder/Brick & Mortar tour (the one and – as it turned out – only tour that Whiles leader Joe Peppercorn served as a member of Watershed) Joe turned to me as we were grabbing our tour bags out of the van and said, “Hey, I’m doin’ a show at Kobo in December playing all the Beatles’ songs in a row, you wanna roadie for it? I’ll pay you a hundred dollars.” “A hundred dollars?!?” I said incredulously, “Are you crazy? That’s like three nights pay with Watershed.”

“Ummmm, I think it’s gonna be a lot of work,” Joe said, in his usual overly-serious way, “it’s a LOT of songs.” “How much work can it be?” I replied flippantly, “I’ll roadie the show, we’ll work out the money later.” (Truthfully – and I fully acknowledge HOW naive I was being – at that point I firmly believed you could play the entire Beatles catalog in maybe 3 or 4 hours, tops.)

As it turned out, that first Beatles Marathon show at Kobo started at 2:30 in the afternoon (because the band had never played the songs all the way through at the same time, and nobody knew how long it would take) and ended AT 4 O’CLOCK THE NEXT MORNING! I EARNED that hundred bucks, ladies & gentlemen.

Actually, I made a lot more money than I expected that night. Joe bumped my pay to $125 after counting up all the door-money that night. There was a line around the block at Kobo for most of the day & night that December 29th, 2011, the date of the second Marathon. (The first one was 2010 at Andyman’s Treehouse, with Joe playing solo and being helped out by various friends, our own Colin Gawel among them.) Plus, I made an extra hundred bucks because 4 or 5 fifty-something guys gave me 10-20 bucks apiece in the hours between midnight and 4 am, because, “I was workin’ so hard,” and, “they knew I wasn’t gettin’ paid enough.” I told them I was being adequately compensated, so they didn’t have to feel sorry for me, but they insisted I keep the cash, so I did.

The five-piece band that first year at Kobo – Joe on guitar & keyboards, Brandon Barnett from Ghost Shirt on lead guitar, Whiles stalwart Chris Bolognese on bass and Dan Murphy & Jessie Cooper alternating every two albums on drums – was a scrappy bunch for sure, but at times the presentation was almost like The Modern Lovers or late-70’s Talking Heads playing The Beatles catalog. There were some harmonies from Brandon & Chris, but there was hardly the pinpoint/right on the money/dazzling precision of the latter-day Marathon shows. (By the way, the next year at Kobo, Brandon Barnett was forced to drop out of the show by family commitments and Matt Peppercorn - Joe’s younger brother and lead guitarist of The Whiles - had THREE WEEKS to learn the entire Beatles catalog and play the show. It was a musical achievement I would not have thought possible and still marvel at to this day. That guy is a mathematical guitar genius.)

Okay, I could go on like this all night, but I’m already WAY over my allotted 500 words and the Marathon hasn’t even been moved to The Bluestone yet. There’s a GREAT article by professional writer Joel Oliphint about the run-up to the 2016 show linked here – The Beatles Marathon / Columbus Alive, 2016 – that does more justice to the Marathon than I ever could. Check that out and let me just say this: I’ve stage-managed The Beatles Marathon for eight years now and every year there’s a new musical memory I’ll never forget - Matt’s MASTERFUL recreation of the Eric Clapton guitar solo from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 2015; Joe SEARING through “Tomorrow Never Knows” like the bastard son of Iggy Pop & James Brown in any given year; Carrie Ayers BLASTING Paul McCartney vocals to shreds on her guest-spot star-turns, to name just three off the top of my head.

To sum up, three things: 1) At 13 hours, The Beatles Marathon is at least TWELVE hours longer than any Beatles live show was once they graduated from The Cavern in Liverpool and The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany back in 1963; 2) The Beatles never toured ANY of their albums from Rubber Soul onward, so the large majority of these songs were NEVER played live by them; 3) In my view – from the side of the stage – the boys & girls and the ladies & gentlemen in the audience dearly LOVE to sing along to The Beatles’ songs, all 200 & some of them. – Ricki C. / December 11th, 2018.

(editor’s note: Oddly, Ricki C. has never made any secret of the fact that he never even particularly LIKED The Beatles, only bought a couple of their singles back in the 1960’s, and NEVER bought any of their albums. We here at Pencilstorm are occasionally bewildered why he ever even TOOK this roadie gig, and how he’s managed to hold onto it for all these years.)

For more from Ricki C. on this topic, click this link from his 2012 blog, Growing Old With Rock & Roll:

Mrs. Children, The Whiles & the Beatles Marathon

(editor’s note: That’s blog author Ricki C. handing off the Gibson SG at the beginning of this 2011 video.)

Joe Peppercorn's Nine Least Favorite Beatles Songs to Play (of the 215)

On Saturday, December 15th at The Bluestone, Joe Peppercorn and his army of talented comrades will once again be performing EVERY Beatles song ever recorded. That's right, all 215 songs in a row. In case you were wondering, here are his 9 least favorite Beatles songs to play.  Click here for ticket info.

(This story originally ran in 2015.)

Take it Joe:

9. Revolution 9: I actually love this song, it is sequenced really well, there is a continuity about it, and John definitely had a few magical moments putting it together. The piano bits are alluring. That said, year one was the only year I felt like we captured the spirit of this composition, and I always feel like I've come up short in performing this song.

8. You Like Me Too Much: Help is such a great record, and this song does the almost impossible task of derailing the album. It would be OK on another record, but sandwiched between classic after classic, it flops.

7. Hold Me Tight: We actually have this song worked up pretty well this year, but damn, it's not a great song: it's hard to sing "making love to only you" and not cringe.

6. Mr Moonlight: Beatles for Sale is a near masterpiece that loses its momentum with this poorly placed cover. After singing I'm a Loser, Baby's in Black, No Reply, and tearing through Rock and Roll Music, this song is a huge letdown.

5. For You Blue: We thought about ending the show with Let It Be this year, but this song would then be the penultimate song of the show. Inoffensive, but at the same time, when was the last time you heard someone say For You Blue was a favorite? Love the slide guitar, though. It's not a bad song, it would be a nice find as an unreleased outtake, as a second-to-last tune on the swan-song album though, it feels a little underwhelming.

4. I've Got A Feeling: This song is just so hard to sing in any way that sounds good. Love the guitar licks, and I apologize in advance for any vocal disservice I give this song.

3. Savoy Truffle: I've never come around to this song, maybe this is the year that we play it and I have the "aha" moment with it.

2. Taste of Honey: This song is so out of place, even on the first album. The lyrics themselves are alright, the first year I treated this song as if it were a Tom Waits song and it might have been my favorite version we've done of the song. The acoustics of the Bluestone might very well elevate the song this year, and it may become a favorite. It's part of the fun: every year I find new songs and details and chords and melodies to love.

1. Only a Northern Song: I hate this song, if I could find a way to circumvent it, some technicality that I could claim makes it not a Beatles song, I would do it, a meandering song if there ever was one. That said, its sister song on Yellow Submarine - It's All Too Much - crushes.

Come see these 9 songs and 206 more! December 10th at the Bluestone.

(poster from the 2015 Marathon reproduced below)

Beatles-Tribute.jpg

The Beatles Marathon is Columbus' Greatest Cultural Event - by James Baumann

 

Sgt. Peppercorn's  2018 Beatles Marathon will be held at the Bluestone this Saturday, Dec. 15th. Click here for ticket info. This story originally ran in 2014. Or sometime.

The Beatles Marathon is Columbus’ Greatest Cultural Event.

Those of us of a certain age recall Columbus’ various efforts over the years to leave its footprint on the cultural landscape. Spurred by an unhealthy inferiority complex that comes from living halfway between Cleveland and Cincinnati, city leaders made their play for the big leagues time after time. Perhaps the most infamous of these were the Son of Heaven Chinese art collection that came to Columbus in 1989 (which, while providing a handful of cool exhibits, failed to live up to the hype or the expense) and, three years later, the AmeriFlora exposition (or, as I dubbed it, Grandson of Heaven).  Both of these ploys bet on waves of visitors coming to see floral displays and lost badly. In fact, one could argue that the best things to come out of those efforts were what emerged from the rubble and the bailout checks: the updated COSI building and the refreshed Franklin Park Conservatory.

Which is why it's all the more worth noting that Columbus’ greatest cultural event – the annual Beatles Marathon - grew out of little more than a barroom dare.

Regular readers of Pencilstorm likely don’t need the details of the Beatles Marathon rehashed. Born in the mind & soul of Joe Peppercorn staggering through just one Beatles album - Abbey Road - alongside CD102.5's Andy(man) Davis at a holiday party, it completed its fifth annual performance last weekend. For the uninitiated, the show is now a 12-hour celebration of the entire Beatles catalog performed in chronological order, all spearheaded by Peppercorn and his ever-growing band of merry men & women.

That I am making such broad proclamations about the artistic and cultural merits of Peppercorn’s undertaking – which I suspect he would classify as simply a fun tribute to great music and a great friend – will probably earn me a eye-roll and a drawled “aww, man” the next time I see him. And, before I start dropping some think-piece truth on the subject, let me also say that, above everything else, the performance is unequivocally one of the most joy-filled days of the year. Need proof? <Click here >

Still, having attended four of the five performances - including my stint this year that ran from “Michelle” on Rubber Soul until, literally, "The End” (plus “Her Majesty”) - a theory has been gestating in my brain that the Marathon embodies all the qualities that the greatest art and culture should possess. 

The first quality is accessibility. Look, I’m not one who thinks that art should be judged by box office receipts and download totals, nor do I think popularity erases any artistic validity. But it’s undeniable that the music of the Beatles lured a full house that pulled in audience members born in at least seven different decades, coming from untold ZIP codes, and representing who knows how many tax brackets. The songs go beyond public domain; they are virtually ingrained in our cultural DNA. 

This broad acceptance, rather than watering things down to the lowest common denominator, however, allows space for each individual to affix some individual memory, opinion, or thought to the songs. It’s not just that the players and fans present at the Bluestone all loved Beatles songs. They all loved them for their own reasons beyond the melody and rhythm. For example, did anyone else in the room love hearing “She Said, She Said” as much as I did? Maybe. Or perhaps that was a highlight reserved for me and others reveled more in “Hello, Goodbye” “Help!” or “A Hard Day’s Night.” 

Meanwhile, some in attendance could have found the portion of the night dedicated to the Magical Mystery Tour album as a good chance to get a bite to eat. For me, however, it brought back memories of checking the vinyl album out of the old Columbus library Whetstone branch week after week after week, renewing it as often as the librarian would let me. There were more than 200 memory-spurring songs to choose from, ensuring that the room would be filled with memories of past lovers, current lovers, new mates, lost friends, high jinx, low points, bar rooms, bedrooms, road trips, head trips, and so much more.

A second quality is transparency. Virtually all art arrives to its audience fully formed. Even most other concerts, plays, or performances have been polished and prepped so that the audience views the presentation of - rather than the creation of - the art. And it’s not that Peppercorn’s show hasn’t been planned or practiced (more on that later) but the tribute that these musicians give to the Beatles’ music isn’t just about how good it is, but also how difficult it is to make. As the old saying goes, it’s hard work making it look this easy.

There’s a reason the Beatles quit performing live. Sure, a song like “Hey Bulldog,” “Lady Madonna,” or “Paperback Writer” sounds effortless when it comes out of your speakers, but watch Chris Bolognese’s fingers move around his bass as he plays them and it becomes a different experience. Want to deride Ringo’s contributions to the band? Watch Jesse Cooper’s nuanced playing on “Rain” or the work of Paul Headley on other tracks. Let your eyes scan across the stage to see how many voices it takes to replicate the harmonies you hear on the records (not to mention the additional guitarists needed). And even if Matt Peppercorn (aka “The Quiet Peppercorn”) did nothing other than just knock the George Harrison lead solos out of the park on tunes like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Revolution,” and “Let It Be” (which he did), it would have been accomplishment enough. 

Near the completion of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band when Peppercorn shouted “we’re almost done with this album, which is great because these songs are a bitch to play,” it wasn’t a call for sympathy. It was an acknowledgement of what had been accomplished back in 1967. Not only does the audience get to enjoy the finished piece, we get to see the brush strokes used to fill the canvas.

The third characteristic is the transformative nature of the art. To me, art is transforming one thing (or, in the case of a literal or figurative blank canvas, nothing) into something else. And while the Beatles’ music had already been created, the act of playing all the songs -including the German and posthumous singles - in their chronological order serves the same purpose as Monet’s series of haystack paintings. 

Just as I’m sure Peppercorn has been asked, “Do you really need to play all the songs?” I’m sure Monet’s friends were like, “Claude, love what you’re doing. But does anyone really need that many paintings of the same freaking field?” I think the answer is that, just as those paintings show how the same items (i.e. haystacks) changed based on the time of day or season, this marathon performance shows how the same items (i.e. Beatles’ songs) changed over the life of the band. 

Think about the fact that the same four guys covering “Please Mr. Postman” would in two years' time be writing “Norwegian Wood”;  two years later they would be penning “I Am the Walrus”;  and finally, two years after that, calling it a day with songs like “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Compare that to the lack of output or evolution of some of the largest rock & roll acts on the planet over the last decade. (I’m looking at you, U2.) It is amazing enough that this growth happened in one band’s career. To see it time-lapsed into just 12 hours makes it all the more intense. Again, the performance serves as testament.

It’s also worth noting that the musicians and their performance undergo a transformation of their own as the night progresses. At the start, the stage is a well-organized collection of guitar racks, power cords, laptops, keyboards, and microphone stands set up to handle the choreography of sharp-dressed musicians. But with each song as the players switch, shirttails are untucked, hair is frazzled, eyes get wild, shoulders slump, and voices turn to gravel. Instruments rest at odd angles. The stage floor is littered with the detritus of their effort in the form of empty bottles, cans, and plastic squeeze tubes of honey. This is the way it should be. Nobody wants to see the runner cross a marathon’s finish line looking the same as when he or she started. This is supposed to be difficult and that effort should be evident.

Finally, there is the performance itself. One of the most amazing aspects of the Marathon is the balance the group has found between replicating the songs while also making the performance decidedly unique. This isn’t a bar band armed with a Beatles fakebook banging out the chords. At the same time, if the group was to come out and deliver a rote, Beatlemania-esque performance it would be impressive, but in the end would be little more than a parlor trick; like those people that can recite pi out to dozens of decimal places. 

They have captured the thin line between imitation and inspiration. The collective rehearses for about three months a year so they can capture the songs' intricacies as well as put their own stamp on them. I think the biggest step was taken the year Samantha Kim was asked to contribute her violin playing in the obvious spots ("Eleanor Rigby") as well as others, where it subs for horn parts and adds a welcomed texture. 

This year the group admittedly challenged themselves even further. There was more interplay between Matt Peppercorn and Jake Remley’s guitars and they did an amazing job of replicating the different tones, down to the sitars. More voices took their turn front and center, which gave Peppercorn’s vocal chords a rest, but also added additional dimensions. Phil Cogley belted the songs that needed belting. Tommy Young led the crowd through sing-along's of the Ringo tunes. Nate Rothaker got to “sing the pretty ones.” Carrie Ayers was a force of nature, blasting out McCartney ravers like "Long Tall Sally." And her incendiary vocal face-off with Joe on "Birthday" was more akin to a battle than to a duet.   

Throughout the night Peppercorn repeatedly noted that he couldn’t find notice of another event like this anywhere in the world, and praised Columbus for its ability to host such a unique occurrence. And it may be true that no place other than Columbus holds such a confluence of talent, spirit, and support. But let’s remember that it was the collection of people involved (and I’m counting players AND audience) that generated the enthusiasm, skill, tenacity, joy, love, and community necessary to create this art. The Beatles Marathon is art and culture that celebrates art and culture. It is not the attempt of city leaders looking to boost their egos or coffers. 

I’ll resist the urge to close by saying that all you need is love, or a little help from your friends. But let’s work to make sure that great art of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth. Long live art. Long live music. Long live the Beatles. Long live Joe Peppercorn. Long live the Beatles Marathon.

Ten Albums That Changed My Life - by Jim Hutter

(The response to the Ten Albums That Changed my Life series launched by our VA. correspondent JCE last month has been brisk to say the least. So much so that the Pencilstorm Editorial Board has decided to make it our regular “Sunday New York Times” prestige feature. This is the fourth installment, following Ricki C’s picks, Anne Marie’s entry, and JCE’s kick-off to the series before that. Future entries will feature Wal Ozello, Pete Vogel, and Jon Peterson, among others Stay tuned.)

1. Meet The Beatles: During the winter of 1973, I was an eight-year-old kid in second grade. I barely gave pop music a thought. My older brother had just landed his first job out of high school. With a weekly paycheck, he decided to replace his battered monaural Beatles albums with clean stereo copies. Not having the heart to throw them away, he gave them to me. My very first was “Meet The Beatles.” I absolutely loved the twangy guitar intro to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and was captivated by the tight harmonies and sheer enthusiasm. After about a half-dozen spins, I loved all 12 songs and hungered for more by this recently defunct band.

2. Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy – The Who: After receiving those worn but beloved Beatles albums, I started to see my older brother as some kind of “King Cool.” I began paying attention to his record collection and was drawn to this strange group called The Who. My first exposure was a greatest hits collection called “Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy.” The songs were as catchy and exuberant as The Beatles, but much more aggressive. Their lyrics were quite quirky, with songs about spiders, magical buses, pinball wizards, and racy French postcards. Even though I was still a young schoolboy, The Who laid the foundation for my adolescence. More about that later.

3. The Beatles Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962: How could a badly-recorded and sloppily-played live album be life-changing? Call it an “attractive irritant,” but I could not stop listening to the raw recordings of The Beatles in Hamburg. Not only did the performance have all the exuberance of The Fabs’ early singles, but there was also a menacing and dirty quality. There was something undeniably powerful and honest about two guitars, a bass, drums, and three voices putting it on the line before a roughneck German audience. This raw and primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll band touched me much more deeply than their later and more complex compositions. John Lennon’s rhythm guitar ground like a chainsaw. Just who were these Punks? Looking at a distant past, I could see the future.

4. 12 x 5 - The Rolling Stones: By the time I was 14, I had learned “The Birds and the Bees” and was starting to take an interest in the opposite sex. Beforehand, I had tried to listen to my older brother’s Rolling Stones albums, but they struck me cold. Now, feeling stirrings of adolescent lust, Mick Jagger’s leering voice reflected my own libido. I finally felt the sensual rhythms of The Blues, and The Rolling Stones’ second American album effectively broke my “blues cherry.” Could this be another gateway to a new world? I would soon find out.

5. Historic Performances Recorded at The Monterey International Pop Festival - Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding: The most regrettable part of my childhood was being raised in a racist household. My father was a real-life Archie Bunker, constantly spewing jaundiced views of minorities. Whenever an African-American musician was on radio or television, the bigoted comments flew unabated. Subconsciously, this made me think that Soul Music was “not for me,” so I tended to ignore it. That all changed when I heard the sides of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding at The Monterey Pop Festival. Between the two, I was most profoundly affected by Otis Redding. The impassioned vocals and crack band made me feel the energy and excitement. Those complex Memphis bass lines cast magical spells upon my feet and fingertips. I finally understood where The Rolling Stones drew inspiration. I have considered myself an “old school” Soul fan ever since.

6. All Mod Cons - The Jam: By now, you have probably noticed that my life-changing albums were recorded prior to 1968. By the time I was in eighth grade, I realized that old music was not “cool” with my peers. I hungered for something new, but with the same simplicity of pre-1967. My wishes were granted when I finally heard The Jam’s “All Mod Cons” in early 1979. I could not believe how much The Jam echoed the stripped-down aggression of the early Who and Kinks yet sounded completely modern. Although I did not fully realize it at the time, The Jam were my gateway drug into Punk (enter The Clash and Sex Pistols). This was the beginning of the end of the squeaky-clean honor student and my gradual rebirth as a Post-Punk rebel. Thank God!

7. Parallel Lines - Blondie: Even though I was fairly “girl crazy” at 15, it wasn’t reflected in my male-dominated musical tastes. The sad reality was lack of exposure. Listening to Top 40 Pop, I was only aware of orchestrated middle-of-the-road divas or twee folkies. The only female singer that I genuinely liked was Linda Ronstadt, thanks mainly to her mid-seventies covers of early Rock ‘n’ Roll hits. That all changed when I saw Blondie on “Midnight Special.” Not only did I find Debbie Harry unbelievably sexy, but she rocked! Their breakthrough album, “Parallel Lines” cemented the idea of women rocking as hard as men and doing it on their own terms. Years later, I would very enthusiastically play alongside the likes of Liz Hecker, Cathy Lopienski, and Carolyn O’Leary, thanking Blondie for opening my heart to women who rock.

8. The Specials: Shortly after discovering The Jam and Blondie, I became obsessed with this whole concept of “New Wave.” It really did seem like Rock was returning to the simplicity of pre-1967. Amid more standard rockers, The Specials came from left-field and took me completely by surprise. I had never heard Ska before but became absolutely smitten after seeing the multi-racial band’s amphetamine-inspired performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Hearing their debut album, I loved the high-energy Caribbean sounds preaching racial harmony. For about a year, much to the consternation of my Hard Rock-loving classmates, I became a “Rude Boy,” decked out in sharkskin suits, skinny ties, suedehead haircut, and an attitude. The straight-A goody two-shoes was gone, and I was much happier for it.

9. Scary Monsters - David Bowie: I had been aware of David Bowie since I was about nine years old, but found him frightening. His androgynous Ziggy Stardust guise came across as creepy and alien. I thought there was no way I could relate to the music of a man who wore makeup and sequins. Turning 16 and discovering Punk and early Synth-Pop, Bowie’s persona no longer frightened but intrigued. Hearing “Scary Monsters” for the very first time, songs like “Ashes to Ashes” made me realize exactly who inspired Punk and Synth-Pop in the first place. Exploring Bowie’s earlier music, not only did I come to love it, but many of his Glam Rock peers as well. I could not imagine myself playing in Punk-inspired bands without an appreciation of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, T-Rex, New York Dolls, and of course, David Bowie.

10. Road to Ruin - Ramones: I had seen The Ramones on “Sha Na Na” in 1979 but was underwhelmed. Compared to the corny Doo-Wop of Bowzer and company, the younger group sounded like a very conventional Hard Rock band. Gradually, positive word-of-mouth got around, so I decided to gamble. I spent my hard-earned $2.98 for a cut-out cassette of “Road to Ruin,” and never looked back. There was something mesmerizing about Johnny Ramone’s grinding guitar and Joey’s catchy sloganeering. The dark humor - mocking cretins, teenaged glue-sniffers, and Nazis - tickled my funny bone without ever sounding like crass novelty tunes. The Ramones rapidly became one of my “Top Two” bands. Their music helped me cope with an incredibly unhappy college life. While at college, I met former members of The Jetboys, and we bonded over our mutual love of The Ramones. Their friendship helped me understand how to form a band and draw up my blueprint for the future.

New Willie Phoenix Fanpage and He is Playing Saturday, December 8th After CBJ

Pencilstorm Hall of Fame member and rock n roll legend Willie Phoenix will be playing at the A&R Music Bar (391 Neil Ave) following the Columbus Blue Jackets game Saturday, December 8th. Tickets are $8 at the door, or free with CBJ ticket stub.

Also - please check out Shadowlords - the Willie Phoenix Fanpages on Facebook. It’s the gathering place for Willie fans to share all their Willie pictures, stories and music. If you have trouble finding it we have the link on the front page of Pencilstorm.

Please Add "Still Love Christmas" to Your Holiday Playlist - by Colin Gawel

Next time your are on Spotify or Youtube or wherever you stream music, it would be a big help if you could add my song “Still Love Christmas” to your holiday mix tape. That way all those fancy computers can start suggesting it to other folks streaming holiday music. Of course, you can still request it on the radio or watch the video over & over, but adding it to your Spotify mix is a great way to help the song find fresh ears.

And if you want to hear it live we will be playing it Sunday, December 23rd at our annual Christmas Eve Eve show at Woodland’s Tavern in Columbus, OH.

Thanks in advance. - Colin G.