Sir Paul McCartney says, “Yes.”
It was the answer we had dared to dream: Sir Paul McCartney had agreed to sign the painted Beatles-themed piano, an auction item benefiting East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity. We set out for Louisville, Kentucky, with the top-secret mission of making the dream a reality.
As we pulled into the loading dock area of the KFC Yum Center, the stadium was bustling with activity as crews worked to get everything in place for the evening’s event: the Oct. 28 performance of Sir Paul McCartney’s “Out There” tour.
So there we stood, a trio of women from Slidell, Louisiana: East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity President/CEO Debbie Crouch, artist Lori Gomez, and me, a marketing and public relations professional whose mission was to secure the legendary musician’s coveted autograph. This coup would mark the second of the two surviving Beatles’ signatures on the artwork, with Ringo Starr having granted the same request prior to his Oct. 17 performance at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Though we should have been weary from the trouble-plagued 30 hour journey which had preceded our arrival, the struggles were soon forgotten as we watched crews transport the piano through a doorway leading to the backstage area of the venue.
At that point, we were not concerned that we had not had an opportunity to change our clothes or freshen up prior to our late arrival. All that mattered was this piano was about to be signed by the legendary musician, providing an opportunity for us to celebrate the autograph quest that had begun nearly two months prior.
“It’s wonderful to be here. It’s certainly a thrill.”
And so we would wait eagerly for its return, at which time it would bear the second of the two prized autographs on its front panel. Collectively, those four words – Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—would provide the opportunity to provide affordable housing for one or more veterans who would benefit from the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build.
Shortly thereafter, we were joined by one of Sir Paul’s representatives, who introduced herself and asked that we follow her. We were unsure as to what to expect, as we had been told from the very beginning that none of us would meet Sir Paul, and that was really okay—in the end, the objective remained obtaining the signature for the cause.
Before we even realized what was happening, we were escorted to the seating area within the venue, on the floor toward the back, as the sound check was taking place. Sir Paul was not yet on the stage, but several of his band members were.
We were advised that Sir Paul would be signing the piano, either prior to or following the sound check, and invited to enjoy the sound check until we received further instructions.
“Is it okay if we take photographs?” I asked.
“You may do so for your own personal enjoyment, but please don’t post them online,” was the reply.
“Of course,” I replied, ensuring that we wished to remain respectful of the wishes of Sir Paul and his staff.
As she walked away, Debbie, Lori and I sat there, in awe of the moment. For a while, the three of us were the only people in the room other than the band and crew. We were soon joined by a small crowd of about 100 people, all of whom had purchased the VIP Sound Check packages that included attendance at this pre-concert event. The lady who had escorted them to the floor encouraged all of us to cheer, dance and sing along.
Then Sir Paul took the stage, and the small crowd, the three of us included, roared.
“Well, shake it up, baby! Twist and shout.”
For the next 45 minutes, we enjoyed watching Sir Paul perform and his personable interactions with his band members. I remember being amazed at his youthful energy and spirit as he shared his passion for music and his love of performing with us. What a privilege it was to be sitting in that room, at that moment.
Before the sound check had wrapped up, the representative who had seated us returned, and asked us to follow her. We obliged, leaving the seating area and entering the wings of the facility. The piano had been placed against a nearby wall, with three beautiful tapestries hung behind it to serve as a backdrop. As was the case with the loading dock, the area was bustling with activity of various crew members, and among them were Sir Paul’s official photographer and videographer.
We stood beside the piano and were advised that Sir Paul would be joining us shortly, with a reminder yet again that no photographs would be allowed.
And there it was. The statement we never expected to hear.
Sir Paul would be joining us shortly.
Though we had been told all along that no one would be meeting Sir Paul, somehow that had changed. We were about to be face to face with the second of two Beatles in an 11 day period.
All of a sudden, it felt as if my heart was beating within my throat.
I glanced at Debbie, with a look of disbelief, and saw the same awe mirrored in her expression. I then told the representative that we had brought two photo books, one about our city and the other about the cause, and asked if it was okay to give these to Sir Paul. She requested that I hang on to them and present them to him myself. Lori mentioned that in all the excitement of the late arrival, she had forgotten her gift, a Mardi Gras Indian fashioned from a bowling pin, in the car. She was assured that she could hand it off to the stage hands upon our departure, and it would be passed along to Sir Paul.
As the sound check wrapped up, it seemed like suddenly we could hear our own hearts beating even more loudly.
Before we knew it, Sir Paul rounded the corner. And in that moment, we collectively gasped and held our breaths. In an instant, we transformed into three giddy school girls, trying our best to maintain our composure, but on the inside, gleefully jumping up and down with excitement.
This was Paul McCartney. Sir Paul McCartney. And we were meeting him.
He was introduced to each of us, nodding and smiling all the while. Then I presented him with my books, the first of which featured Slidell after Hurricane Katrina, and the second about how the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity had helped my daughter and her children following the storm and several other personal tragedies.
“So this is personal for you,” he said, compassionately.
“Absolutely,” I replied.
He flipped through the pages of the book.
“Beautiful family,” he said. “What’s your daughter’s name?”
I responded, and he motioned his videographer to come over.
He began speaking directly to the camera, addressing my daughter by name. To be quite honest, I don’t remember much of what he said after he introduced himself to her via the camera. I just remember thinking, “Sir Paul is making a video for my daughter and her family. Is this real?”
He then stepped over to the piano and smiled, asking where the artist wished him to sign it, then gestured to the spot that he recommended. She nodded in approval.
A photographer snapped quite a few photos of the signing, and then Sir Paul asked the three of us to pose with him alongside the piano for more photos. He joked with his photographer about his preferred angles for the shots, and the photographer laughed and joked right back. He then graciously wrapped up his time with us.
I can’t say for sure how long the entire interaction lasted. Because in those precious moments, time seemed to stand still. It was as if we were drifting in euphoria, almost like an out-of-body experience. Only it was real. Very real. And it was the experience of a lifetime.
Sir Paul’s representative told us that we would receive copies of the photos and video, most likely in about four weeks, allowing time for processing and approval by Sir Paul’s administration. When I asked to what extent we were permitted to publicize that our mission had been successful, she stated that Sir Paul prefers to keep his philanthropic efforts very private, and I should discuss further with the contact who had approved this encounter.
Prior to the authorization, that representative had been provided links to the blog and local coverage, but was ensured that coverage had not yet extended past such. So I acknowledged that we would secure the necessary additional approvals prior to proceeding with public relations efforts on a national level. (It’s worth noting that approval was received November 24, and now the story will be shared on a broader basis.)
The entire experience of that day was quite surreal and left the three of us in awe. As the piano was wheeled back to the loading dock, we called the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity ReStore Manager and Road Trip Warrior, Eric Jones, and Slidell Magazine Publisher Kendra Maness, both of whom were in a nearby restaurant awaiting notification that it was time to come pick up the newly-signed piano and head home.
However, before we departed, there was one more surprise in store for us. Upon our arrival, Sir Paul’s representative had asked if we would be staying for the concert, but we shared that we had just learned about the autograph request approval just a few days prior, after the concert was already sold out. While preparing to depart, we were gifted with concert tickets – on the floor, row 10. Unbelievable.
Meanwhile, back home in Slidell, our friends remained unaware of our top secret mission, still thinking that the efforts for the latter of the two sigs had been unsuccessful.
So it was with great joy that the news was announced via my celebratory Facebook post:
“Ringo Starr autograph, check.
SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY autograph, check!!!
Invitation to sit in on 45 minute private sound check with Sir Paul and band. Check!
Coolest piano on the planet via Lori Gomez Art, check.
Best East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity art auction item EVER, check.
Surprise bonus of a gift of concert tickets, floor, row 10.
Peace, love and hope for the future.
More details to come, but….Holy you-know-what!”
With the piano loaded into the truck, Kendra and Lori made the difficult decision to head back to Slidell. An overly exhausted Eric opted to drive the truck to a nearby lot in hopes of catching a much needed nap, and Debbie and I headed back into the venue for one amazing concert, a magical ending to an incredible journey.
And as we stood there on the floor of the arena, dazzled by the fabulous concert and the thoughts of what had preceded it, I couldn’t help but recall the question posed in the very first blog post which began this surreal adventure.
Do you believe in Destiny? I do.
To be continued.