Starr Struck. A Beatle, a piano and holy expletives.
Have you ever had one of those moments in which you experience something so profound that your heart skips a beat? You can’t think. You can’t breathe. And words escape you.
That was the reaction I had when opening an email with a brief but poignant message.
“Ringo has agreed to sign this [piano.] Peace and love.”
The email referenced The Beatles-themed piano created by artist Lori Gomez for the Home Is Where the Art Is auction, an annual gala sponsored by the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity in Slidell, Louisiana.
Now, I’m generally a fairly articulate person. But in that moment, I could muster only two words.
I stared at the email and re-read it a few times. Then after regaining my composure, I called the organization’s President/CEO Debbie Crouch.
“Debbie,” I said breathlessly, “He’s going to do it. Ringo Starr is going to sign the piano. We did it!”
After an extended moment of silence, the normally mild mannered and genteel woman responded in disbelief.
I advised her that more details were forthcoming so we could coordinate the logistics, then proceeded to call Lori.
Again, the response was what we would soon come to realize was a universal reaction to the news.
And so it came to pass.
We coordinated logistics with the musician’s people and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi’s people, whose identities are remaining private at their requests. The entire effort from all involved remained extremely professional, logistically flawless and embraced with an overwhelming sense of peace and love.
We arrived with the piano in tow, set it up the designated area and waited. Then as promised, Mr. Starr joined us following his sound check.
He was polite, soft spoken and dressed in comfortable sweats and sneakers, surprisingly small in stature yet larger than life. He greeted us warmly, then strolled around the piano, taking in the full scope of its artwork. And he smiled.
“Nicely done,” he said.
Then he placed his fingers atop the keys and began to play.
We were mesmerized, trying to grasp the magnitude of the moment. This was a private and brief concert by one of The Beatles, and we felt privileged to witness it.
“Sounds great,” he grinned.
He reached for the nearby silver marker and right above his likeness he autographed the piano, adding his mantra: “Peace and Love.”
We thanked him and presented him with a few small tokens of our appreciation representative of our city—a Mardi Gras Indian bowling pin created by Lori, a pictorial book I had penned about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on Slidell, an East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity t-shirt and a handful of large rocks I had adorned with peace signs and the words “Peace Rocks,” literally a nod to the musician’s charitable efforts of the same name.
And then, as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone.
As the piano was loaded back into the Habitat truck, we looked at each other, almost in disbelief of what we had just witnessed.
And in wide-eyed, slow motion unison, we all mouthed the words, “Holy sh*t!”
Debbie and I were fortunate enough to remain for the Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band concert. The All Starr lineup includes guitarist Steve Lukather, singer Richard Page, keyboardist Gregg Rolie, multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren, vocalist, saxophonist and flutist Warren Ham and drummer Gregg Bissonette. The set list featured songs from The Beatles, Ringo Starr’s solo endeavors, and crowd pleasing hits from each of the All Starr Band members’ collections. We took it all in, dancing and singing along, still trying to wrap our heads around what had happened just a few hours earlier.
Meanwhile, my cell phone was buzzing non-stop, so I finally checked it, noting I had missed numerous calls and texts. It was then that I learned that Ringo Starr had actually tweeted a photo of the “Peace Rocks” that I had given him (originally had created as a photo prop.) The post had quickly gone viral, retweeted in numerous languages. Mind blown.
Meanwhile, Ethel was delighted to learn that the autograph had been obtained in the city in which her great, great grandmother originally had purchased the piano: Biloxi, Mississippi. In a sense, it had all come full circle.
What made this experience so extraordinary was that we had been advised early on that Mr. Starr does not provide autographs.
As one would anticipate, the superstar is inundated with such requests on a daily basis. So we knew that it was a big dream, a long shot. But the only way we were guaranteed to fail was if we failed to try. We later learned that of the barrage of autographs that Mr. Starr and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Biloxi had received, ours was the only one that was granted. What an incredible privilege.
What matters most is not the size of one’s city or organization or budget, nor how showy its affairs, but the size of the hearts and the selfless intents of the people who believe in the cause. It’s about living in peace and love and creating the promise of a better tomorrow for one person, one family, one day at a time. Because when you do something without a political agenda or for personal gain, but simply because it’s the right thing to do, magical things can happen.
And in that moment, you know that you have been given a tremendous gift, a fairy tale moment that will help create someone else’s happily ever after.
And your heart is filled with peace and love, and without even realizing it, all you can do is let out a joyful exclamation.
The East St. Tammany Habitat’s Home Is Where the Art Is auction and gala will be held on Friday, November 21, 2014, 7 to 11 p.m. at the Northshore Harbor Center in Slidell, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. The autographed piano will be listed on CharityBuzz, with resulting proceeds dedicated to the EST Habitat Veterans’ Build. For more information or for tickets to the gala, contact Debbie Crouch at (985) 639-0656.