All Good Things…

25 Feb

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This past December, Spike Hill, a music venue in Williamsburg I helped launch, closed after running for seven years.

I’ve been meaning to write about it’s closing for a while, but for a lot of reasons, it felt too strange to talk about.

The majority of my adult life has been closely tied to ensuring that that venue stayed afloat. Even though I left a year before the club shut down, hearing that it wasn’t around anymore was odd, like hearing that my first girlfriend had been seriously injured, or had become a republican.

If you’d told me when I turned 16 that the first job I’d have after college would be running a music venue in Brooklyn, my head probably would have exploded. There aren’t many jobs I could have imagined that I’d rather have. Astronaut, sure. Journalist, amazing. But to work alongside musicians every day, create a place where people would discover bands, and to do it in New York City, home of CBGB and Bowery Ballroom and Knitting Factory… my God. What kid from upstate New York with healthy eardrums and an unapologetic love for They Might Be Giants wouldn’t be thrilled to do that?

I’m unbelievably lucky to have had that opportunity, and to have worked with incredible musicians. People like Pearl and the Beard, The Woes, Zach Hurd, Norman Vladimir, Darwin Deez, and Reggie Watts. To the hundreds of musicians and bands who made that spot feel like home, thank you so much. To everyone that worked there, who gave me a job, supported me, taught me to be a decent and patient employee and person, you’re amazing. To Trezia Charles, Georgie Caldwell, Rani Mackevich, Annie White, Peter Beach, Fela Davis, Danny Vitchers, Brenner Eugenides, David Fine, Jesse Lauter, Ryan Fleming, Daicy, Katie Robinson and every bartender, waiter and kitchen staff member I worked with, thank you guys. I’m humbled to see the places you are now, and the things you’ll do in the future.

 

 *   *   *

 

There are a bunch of good stories from my time booking Spike Hill, and there’s one that kept jumping to mind when I heard the spot was closing:

We’d been open for eight months and word was spreading. We’d just started receiving emails from bands asking us if they could play instead of shooting off hundreds to hopeful musicians each week.

The Woes, an extraordinary 30-piece New-Orleans-style roots band agreed to play a two-month residency and Jesse Lauter, their producer, helped book the lineups. Through connections, charm and shear magic, Jesse convinced Norah Jones’ country band to close two nights.

At that point, Norah would be, by far, the biggest name to ever play the venue.

 

The night of, the club was packed stage to doors. To reach the bar, I had to squeeze sideways through a wall of fans three-people deep. My parents were visiting that weekend and were relaxing inthe venue sipping beer and white wine, waiting for the show to start.

I’d been living in Brooklyn for a year, working what I felt was an absolute dream job, and scraping together a living (booking, though fun, doesn’t pay a whole lot, especially when compared to the cost of living in New York). My parents try to support any decision their kids feel passionate about, but I knew they were concerned about how I was earning a paycheck.

You’re booking a venue? I don’t understand. You’re working in a bar. Are you bartending? Is there a 401K?

Tonight they’d be able to really see the place, what I was spending all my time doing, and hopefully understand why I wasn’t interested in searching for another job.

 

The Woes finished a raucous set and a buzz spread as Norah’s band prepared to play. I’d told Jesse I’d love to meet Norah if she had time before her set. I sipped a beer near the bar, chatting with my Dad, and I looked towards the stage, spotting Jesse and Norah. I caught his eye. He whispered to her, pointed at me, she nodded, and then she spun around and started walking towards us. The conversation with my Dad froze.

Norah’s a fairly small person, but she has a big presence. I remember looking down to meet her eyes, but I could have been gazing up at Patrick Ewing by how my nerves were flitting. I opened my mouth to say something like, “Thank you so much for playing. I’m a fan.” But before I could, she thanked me for booking her band, reached out her arm and shook my hand.

A range of thoughts raced through my mind:

  1. That this gesture was a testament to how amazing and gracious a person she was.
  2. That the most talented musicians are always the kindest.
  3. That this was one of the most ridiculous statements I’d ever heard. Of course we will book your band. This is the biggest show we’ve ever done. We will book your band three times a week for a year. Anyone within a square mile can clearly see that I should be thanking you.
  4. That even though I knew all of these things, the gratitude I felt when she said this was like static electricity. I felt it through my whole body.

I flushed and stammered something like, “Anytime. Seriously, you can come back anytime.” The band motioned that it was time to start. She strode to the bar, knocked back a shot, and stepped on stage.

I turned to my dad — who looked like he’d just watched silent fireworks explode indoors — and tried to act like nothing had just happened.

I was 23 years old.

 

 *   *   *

 

I think about that moment a lot. For one thing, in a real way, it made what we were doing at Spike Hill feel legitimate and, when things were tough, worthwhile. And I think it legitimized it in my parent’s eyes too.

What’s your son doing?

I don’t know, but Norah Jones thanked him for doing it, so it must be legit.

More importantly, it showed me how important gratitude is. There’s no reason on earth Norah needed to say those words to me. I couldn’t book her at Madison Square Garden, or give her an album deal. We needed her way more than she needed us. But she took a second to connect with me and let me know that she appreciated the tiny part I played in her show that night.

It’s funny to think how small a moment that must have been for her. But I’ll remember that day fondly for the rest of my life.

Thank you everybody I mentioned and everyone who I haven’t for making that moment possible, and a hundred others. You’re the best.

Till next time,
Zack

 

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