The Velvet Note at 5 Years Old: Things That Really Happened Along The Way
Saturday, June 3rd is The Velvet Note’s Fifth Anniversary. You can attend our celebration by making a reservation at http://thevelvetnote.com/fifth-anniversary.
At the Velvet Note, our #1 priority is to provide each guest with an unparalleled, up-close live music experience. This includes the quality of musician/music, sound and acoustics ambiance, food and beverage, customer service and and up-close access to the artist. There’s alot to do and we don’t spend much time talking about ourselves or our own company—many people don’t know that we’ve been around for five years. But over the next two weeks as we approach five years, I want to share with you some of the stories that have stayed with me across this journey. They say that the first five things of anything—a profession, a business, a marriage—are the hardest. Some of these tales illustrate how tough it is to make a true jazz club work, others illustrate the enormous rewards. As we continue to grow, the people we meet along the way mean so much to us and we’re always learning how to be the best we can.
THE 3AM ANGEL
It was a steamy, hot evening in July, about a month after we had opened for business. I was up late at night at The Velvet Note, sitting in a bucket chair, worrying about how we were going to make this thing work. The crowds had been thin in our first month of business, and we didn’t yet have a liquor license so the people who were coming in loved the music, but weren’t too happy about the overall picture of what we had to offer. We didn’t even have an outdoor sign yet—just a banner that hung off the awning in front of our door. A couple of more months of this and we would surely hit a wall and go out of business. Needless to say, I was feeling sorry for myself.
The harshly cool air of our A/C system was starting to get to me, so I decided to step outside. I unlocked and opened door at 3am.
There was a man directly in front of me.
I quickly closed the door, locked it again and took a moment to catch my breath. His presence had scared the crap out of me. What the heck would someone be doing outside our door at 3am? My heart was pounding in my chest, my adrenaline was coursing through my body. Should I call the police? What did he want? Would he be pounding on the door? I heard nothing. I crept back to the door and looked outside the tinted glass that allowed me to see him but not the other way around. Now, he was sitting on our sub-shop neighbor’s patio table. What did he want?
I opened the door again and walked outside, phone in hand and approached him. He stayed in the chair, and looked up into my face. He had worn and weathered skin, turned tan and leathery from exposure to the sun and age, I would guess. His eyes were blue. His hair was long and unkempt, down to his shoulders, and his scraggly, dishwater-colored beard was spotted with grey and overgrown and taking over his entire face. Beneath his bushy eyebrows, his eyes were kind and alert.
“What are you doing here?” I asked in my most authoritative, don’t-mess-with-me voice.
“I’m waiting for a friend to pick me up.” His voice had a gentle tone and his eyes conveyed no fear. He clutched a bag on the ground sitting next to him. I looked down and saw a crumpled brown bag—a grocery bag—that looked like it had some clothes in it.
“Where are you going?”
“He’s taking me to Pennsylvania,” he said, matter-of-factly. Yeah, right, I thought. You’re going to Pennsylvania via route of Alpharetta, Georgia? Seriously, dude? It sounded like implausible to me.
“Would you like something to eat?” I asked.
“Yes, please, he replied. And some ice water, if you have it.”
I went back inside and looked into the refrigerator. We barely had enough money for a full week of groceries. All I had were some slices of NY-style cheesecake. I put one on a plastic plate and brought it out to him. As I leaned down to serve him, my thought was that I should not feel sorry for myself. I still have something to offer, even if it’s just a slice of cheesecake and some cold water on a hot night.
I turned around and went back into the club and locked the door. Inviting him into the cool air would be hospitable, but it didn’t seem like a good idea from a safety perspective. I sat back down in the chair and this time, I could close my eyes and drift off.
It was 6am. My eyes opened at the first light of day and I could hear birds chirping. I wondered if the traveling man would still be there. Would he want something more from me that I could not provide, such as a job? A handout? It occurred to me that he had spoken perfect, grammatically-correct, unbroken, English without a dialect or accent, which was very unusual. It was bizarre, actually, and I pay attention to that sort of thing. Who was this man and was he still there?
I stepped out the door in to the early morning light. He was gone. His worn, brown crumpled suitcase-grocery-bag was gone too. The only thing that remained was the plate and fork and knife, and about a quarter of the slice of cheesecake and about a third of the cup of water. The remains of his snack were proof to my groggy mind that I hadn’t imagined it, it had really happened. Clearly, he hadn’t been all that hungry or thirsty, or perhaps his ride to Pennsylvania arrived before he had expected. Or maybe he was there for some reason that I will never know.
I typically don’t spend much time thinking about things I can’t logically or rationally explain, but since that July evening, I have often thought of the traveling man with gratitude for the gift he had inadvertently given me. For a moment, when my fear had gone, I had stopped feeling sorry for myself and could get on with the business of The Velvet Note.
The Lesson: Life can be Hard. Business can be Hard. Feeling sorry for yourself is debilitating and unproductive, and it keeps you from seeing the beauty in this moment. Do what you came here to do.
Thank you, Traveling Man. Thank you.