By Andrew Daly
While it's been over 56 years since The Beatles' last official concert performance, true to form, the Fab Four still know how to make a splash.
Dialing back the clock, prior to The Beatle's final show at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, the foursome was dining at the Inner Richmond restaurant nearby, probably plotting their next move or perhaps relishing all the free time they thought they might have in the very near future.
As the final stop of the group's summer tour, The Beatles were understandably weary after hours, days, and weeks on the road. Years of shows bookended by hordes of fans adoringly yelling their names at such deafening levels that they couldn't hear themselves play had left the band at an impasse. And so, as legend states, The Beatles had shockingly decided to cease touring operations.
As the story goes, McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr were joined by friend and singer-songwriter Joan Baez, who "remembers the evening fondly." And as Baez and The Beatles chowed down on a meal consisting of Yorkshire beef pudding, baked potatoes and relish for a tidy garnish, inspiration struck in the form of crude yet whimsical doodles.
One of the Inner Richmond's owners, John Vilardi, recounted the event by saying, "Sprinkled among the gravy stains and pudding dropping were doodles of almost psychedelic persuasion, drawn by The Beatles in a moment of contemplation before their concert in the infield."
Of course, the drawings are in keeping with history. Fans will recall that 1965 saw the release of Rubber Soul and semi-psych affair, alluding to what was to come. And in 1966, Revolver would be unleashed, shedding the full light on the inner workings of The Beatles' collective mindset.
When asked, the restaurant's co-owner continued his recollection of the scribbles, saying, "There was an interesting sort of Japanese sunset on the cloth," with Vilardi then recalling that McCartney has scrawled "faces in the abstract." Perhaps these drawings can be seen as a harbinger of what was to come. Perhaps, but it's hard to be sure, as the tablecloth containing the offhand art was stolen sometime after the band and their guest exited the eatery.
This is somewhat scandalous, to be sure, but that's not the end of the story, far from it. As recollected by the owners of the restaurant, members of the staff went as far as to ask the members of The Beatles to sign the tablecloth, immediately cementing its value, as well as its one-of-a-kind nature. And in the ensuing days after the concert, the restaurant was said to be proudly displaying The Beatles' handy artwork in its front window. In retrospect, this decision might have been just a touch misguided.
It didn't take long for devious spectators to hatch a plan to pilfer the tablecloth, and after about a week on display, the tablecloth was stolen in early September of 1966. To say the Vilardi was devasted would be an understatement. The grand folly of leaving such a treasure unattended was said to haunt the restauranter for the remainder of his days. And with each passing year, the cut grew deeper and stung with malicious ferocity as the relic was never recovered.
They say that time has a way of healing all wounds; in this instance, at least, that has proven to be the case. For 56 long years, the legend of The Beatle's foray into folk art was just that — a legend. And then, one day in 2022, the priceless unintentional work of art was recovered. Apparently, the man who shattered the window of the Inner Richmond on that fateful September evening had relinquished his hold over the cloth to a man who shall remain nameless to pay off a debt in the early '70s.
According to that man's sister, he held onto the tablecloth for over 50 years, keeping it safely tucked away in his closet, never knowing it was stolen. All that changed, however, when that man's sister learned of the tale through the musical grapevine. Realizing what her brother had left behind, she dutifully moved to return the tablecloth to its rightful owners and contacted Vilardi's grandson in short order.
"Apparently, he just kept it in his closet and showed it to select family members," Vilardi's grandson said. "He never hung it up or displayed it, so it never got soiled, or faded, or anything. It was in good condition."
Once in possession of what his grandfather had long lamented, news traveled fast, and greedy collectors began to swoop in, with one being so bold as to offer Vilardi $300 for the invaluable piece of Beatles lore. It was then that Vilardi knew he needed assistance, turning to the esteemed Bonhams auction house for direction in finding a proper home for this once-in-a-lifetime piece of music history.
Bonham's Director of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, Helen Hall, is spearheading the sale on behalf of the Vilardi family. If anyone understands the magnitude and historical significance of this wonderous piece of the Beatles puzzle, it's Bonhams.
"Bonhams is so excited to offer this incredible piece of Beatles history," beamed Hunt. "Not only is the tablecloth an important relic from the Beatles' last ever live concert at Candlestick Park in 1966, but it is made doubly interesting because it was thought to be lost for more than half a century. There are so many anecdotes about that night in the locker room from people who were there with them, all recalling the Beatles and Joan Baez doodling on this tablecloth. The tablecloth bore witness to an important night in Beatles history and has survived in amazing condition."
For curious onlookers and would-be buyers, the cloth contains images such as a sketch by John Lennon in yellow pen depicting a hairy creature on a bike next to a series of wheels. It also reflects a series of head and shoulder portraits in various inks by Joan Baez, with minor contributions from Paul McCartney. Next to the drawings is an inscription, "I did not lay a hand on this table," in bubble letting, then signed by Paul McCartney. Of course, who could forget the black-pen autographs of George Harrison and Ringo Starr?
While Joe Vilardi may have rued the day he chose to display the famed tablecloth in the window of the Inner Richmond, as it stands today, history has righted itself. Who's to say what this priceless heirloom's fate might have been had it stayed in that window or Vilardi's possession? As the old saying goes, "Things happen as they're meant to," and perhaps this piece of folk art was meant to be whisked away in the night and eventually stored for safe-keeping for some fifty years.
In the here and now, one more puzzle piece in the scheme of music's greatest band has fallen into place. And soon, with the help of Bonhams, the tablecloth will finally be proudly displayed in its new home for generations to come.
For more info, go to Bonhams Auctions HERE
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