A Hard Day's Night: One reviewer's hour-by-hour diary of Sgt. Peppercorn's Marathon

Julia Oller
Joe Peppercorn and Amy James perform at the 2018 Sgt. Peppercorn's Marathon. James sent a letter about the marathon to Paul McCartney, who responded with a video that was played at the beginning of the 2019 show.

For a decade, Joe Peppercorn and a few of his bravest friends have played through the entire Beatles catalog once per year during Sgt. Peppercorn’s Marathon. It takes more than 13 hours and uncountable bottles of water to complete all 240 songs. I joined the committed crowd this year, clocking in 14 hours. My knee joints will never be the same.  Here’s a running diary of my day.

11:24 a.m. I squeeze through the stage door of the Bluestone, carting a water bottle, phone charger, ear plugs, Trader Joe’s bag and boundless enthusiasm. Whether I’ll make it home with the same items remains to be seen.

11:40 a.m. A polka version of “Helter Skelter” breaks out during soundcheck. I watch from my carefully staked-out chair, counting 18 guitars on stage.  

11:50 a.m. Doors open. A woman claims the seat next to me for her friend who has two broken ankles. I’m skeptical, but move my stuff.

12:10 p.m. The choral music humming underneath the hubbub swells as if John Lennon himself just arrived at the Pearly Gates. Fourteen band members take their places. My leg muscles feel great.

12:16 p.m. WAIT. WHAT IS THIS?! Paul McCartney onscreen? Am I already hallucinating? The original Beatle wishes all of us luck in a 40 second video he filmed earlier this year, going on to play the opening bars of “Love Me Do” to kick off the day.

12:18 p.m Only 239 songs to go.

12:44 p.m If you squint, keyboardist Casey Cooper looks a little like John Lennon while leading “A Taste of Honey.”

1:09 p.m With the Beatles begins. I feel a twinge in my hip and sit down. I check the clock. We’ve been here for … one hour.

1:28 p.m Band leader Joe Peppercorn does a roundhouse kick on “Roll Over Beethoven.” According to the marathon FAQ, he’s been running half-marathons. I realize watching a 13.5 hour concert should require similar training.

1:40 p.m The earplugs go in. I can’t hear anything now, but I should be able to tomorrow. 

1:45 p.m I run into my friend, Anna. She’s been going to marathons since the second year, in 2010, when the admission line stretched out the door at Kobo. Peppercorn mainlined water and cough syrup to survive the night back then. She called it her favorite event of the year.

2:18 Are my earplugs deceiving me? Nope, that’s just “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in German.

2:40 p.m A Hard Day’s Night begins. I sit down. My back pops.

3:38 p.m One of the event photographers is wearing a Cheap Trick shirt. Throw him out!

3:41 p.m Beatles for Sale begins.

3:42 p.m I spot my first crying child. Me too kid, me too.

4:05 p.m During “Eight Days a Week,” the sun streams through a stained glass window depicting John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. I wonder if Jesus likes the Beatles. And if I’m losing it.

4:27 p.m I yawn between albums. A long-haired guy in a leather jacket stops me. “We will have none of that,” he says with a laugh.

4:43 p.m  Help! begins. I peruse the merch sale rack.

4:52 p.m I walk home to eat a wilted salad. I consider staying there.

5:52 p.m I return, revived but still hungry. These crowd members, seemingly 50 percent Baby Boomer and 50 percent children of Baby Boomers, are now my closest kin. The world sings with possibility.

6:07 p.m Rubber Soul begins. “Norwegian Wood” is a highlight, appropriately haunting. Peppercorn busts out the Wayfarers.

7 p.m Revolver begins. We’re halfway through.

7:25 p.m I buy meatballs from the food truck outside, eating them during “Good Day Sunshine.”

7:57 p.m Emcee Travis Hoewischer has been playing the McCartney video between albums all night. Each “Love Me Do” is louder and drunker than the last.

8:13 p.m Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band begins. I slump against a pole to support my atrophying leg muscles.

8:19 p.m “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” blows off the roof.

8:33 p.m Everyone is losing it. Singer Tommy Young stalks the stage wearing a rubber cat mask. Peppercorn leans on bassist Chris Bolognese’s shoulder like he might fall over otherwise. Four albums left.

9:03 p.m Magical Mystery Tour begins.

9:34 p.m I slump by a trash can. Leather jacket guy walks by. “I’m starting to feel like you,” he says.

10:11 p.m Peppercorn tells the overly chatty crowd to keep it quiet for “Hey Jude.” They mostly oblige.

10:28 p.m After two more rounds of the McCartney video, the White Album (The Beatles) begins. Everyone looks sharp and sweaty in matching white jackets.

10:34 p.m Carrie Ayers and Peppercorn get me to stand with their “Dear Prudence” duet.

11:15 p.m Peppercorn once again asks for quiet during “Julia.” Selfishly, I couldn’t agree more.

11:15 p.m I have been here for 12 hours. Dear Lord.

12:16 a.m Let It Be begins. One hour left.

12:24 a.m We are all on our feet, swaying like capsizing ships to stay awake.

12:55 a.m Abbey Road begins. Peppercorn’s vocal cords are made of tiny knives grating together.

1:21 a.m We find an adrenaline pocket for “Here Comes the Sun.” Six hours to sunrise, 10 songs left.

1:45 a.m McCartney’s cheerful grin pops up once more. We sing “Love Me Do” and stumble out into the night.