It began, like many of Breckenridge’s quirky cultural traditions, in Craig Perrinjaquet’s living room. Fifteen years ago, Perrinjaquet, a local physician known from Summit County to eastern Africa as “Doc PJ,” began hosting meditation potlucks at his small house downtown. Visitors would show up for a 20-minute meditation session, then share a vegetarian meal. After dinner, a group including PJ would jam on acoustic instruments into the night.
The sessions continued after the potlucks died off, and eventually the players winnowed to a regular quartet that included ski patroller Matt Krane on guitar, clinical psychologist Mark Gidney on banjo, realtor Ben Brewer on another guitar, and PJ on the stand-up bass. In August 2007, the longtime locals played their first official gig at a friend’s birthday party—then their second later that night at a fundraiser.
Bearded harmonica player Daniel “Moose” Bednarski joined the group in 2008, which is also when they decided they needed a name. Sitting in PJ’s hot tub after a gig in Alma, the men combined their affinity for the Beatles (they cover two songs: “Blackbird” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face”) with the local pine beetle epidemic. From then on, they were the Pine Beatles.
“Everybody would ask us, why would you name your band that? I hate the pine beetle, they’re killing our trees,” chuckles Brewer, who grew up in Breckenridge and is a former town councilman. “But when you name your band something that people revile, they remember it. It kind of worked for us.”
The band has since become one of the most popular and long-standing acts in Summit County, playing about two dozen gigs a year. You can see them on Keystone’s Winter Bluegrass Festival stage, at the Dillon Amphitheater, riling up the rowdies at Breckenridge’s Oktoberfest, as well as in living rooms and fire stations for a range of charity appearances. Last summer the Pine Beatles streamed a live set from the renowned eTown studio in Boulder to raise funds for PJ’s medical missions to South Sudan.
Their music ranges from a trio of original songs to the Grateful Dead to traditional bluegrass—and, as it’s said, everything in between. The group has grown to include classically trained fiddler Angie Janzen, 39, as well as Brewer’s son, Jacob, a gifted and versatile 17-year-old picker who plays the ukulele. A handful of others sit in when needed.
Interesting happenings seem to follow the Pine Beatles, or vice versa. Six years ago, they played a gig at a 20,000-acre ranch in Kremmling that Krane, who works as a fly-fishing guide in the summer, arranged. It was a charity poker event for the rich, and many of Colorado’s political elite were in attendance. The house had Frederic Remington sculptures and Italian marble in the bathrooms. The Pine Beatles set up in a 15,000-square-foot great room and proceeded to jam for hours. Halfway through the night, a white-haired man pulled out a set of spoons and joined them for “Cumberland Blues,” a fast-paced Grateful Dead riff that is one of their standards. The spoons player held his own. “You’re good,” Krane said afterward, prompting the man to introduce himself. “Pete Coors. Thanks for letting me sit in.” John Hickenlooper chimed in on harmony vocals for a few songs, too.
Another time in Granby, while playing a wedding, the bride climbed up to the rafters, hung upside down from her knees, and started pouring wine into her friends’ mouths below. She lost the upper half of her wedding dress in the process, prompting a raucous reaction from the crowd. “As consummate professionals, we just kept playing,” Krane quips.
The band’s members hail from coast to coast: Moose, their principal songwriter, grew up in New York’s Finger Lakes region, while Krane, who books most of their gigs, is from Southern California. Their musical backgrounds cover a similar range: Janzen, a Kansas native, started studying classical music at age 6 and has a master’s in viola performance; Gidney, a bluegrass fan from western North Carolina, picked up the five-string in 2004. Their ages span five decades, with four in their 60s (Gidney tops the list at 66), but they bring a youthful energy to every appearance.
To a person, they claim there is no lead Pine Beatle. Everyone has a mic and they take turns singing. Each gets something similar yet unique out of playing in the band. “It’s an essential component in my life,” Brewer says. “It keeps me connected with my friends in such a unique, cool way—and also to the community.” Gidney calls it “an escape.” PJ, whom Moose refers to as “the world’s healthiest man, who lives on a diet of kale and nuts,” says he simply likes listening to live music. “And there’s no better way to listen to live music than standing in the middle of it.”
“For a long time,” adds PJ, an Iowa native, “we’d hear people say, ‘Gee, you’re not as bad as you used to be!’ And now it’s like, ‘You’re actually good! And that was really fun.’ And people are going out of their way to come back and hear us again.”
The Pine Beatles still feel most comfortable playing in PJ’s living room, Brewer says. They don’t stay up late enough to play at bars anyway. “It’s been very organically embryonic,” says Moose. “You start as a little fertilized egg and just watch it grow. I think our best days are in front of us.”