My mom is a lovely woman. She’s been an elementary school teacher, bookkeeper, property-owner, landlord, and business manager over the years, and I know I get my math skills from her. Six minutes to Wopner. But seriously, some say she’s a spitting image of Joan Baez. And I have always agreed. Luckily, as a concert promoter I have had the opportunity to introduce them on several occasions and yeah, it’s pretty striking seeing them side by side. Maybe that’s why I have always had such a soft spot for Joan and the shows I have produced with her are among my most memorable. And through Joan I have made some amazing friends and have unbelievable stories.
My first introduction to Joan was through Woodstock, the music festival. I grew up eight miles from where those “Three Days of Peace, Love and Music” happened although I was born a year after it occurred. The shadow of that event hung all over the area and visiting the monument and seeing the field was always a mind-blowing experience to me. And many believe Joan was the star of the show. Her set was deep, and her songs rang so true when the world needed them most. Clearly, we still need them today, but in 1969 in Bethel, New York, Joan was the true queen of the scene. And I am sure she was as humble then as she is now and carried herself with the same grace that is her trademark.
And why wouldn’t a woman with that much class and grace surround herself with fine handlers? People like Joan’s tour manager, Blair, who takes care of her when on the road. Being based in western New York helped, as did our mutual love for riding bikes, but we’ve become close friends over the past decade and early in our friendship he shared an Ithaca story from years ago that was too good to be true. Growing up, both Blair and his then girlfriend lived in Arkansas. They both came to Ithaca College and after freshman year decided it wasn’t right for them and decided not to return for year two. When that second year started, however, they found that they missed the place and still had friends there and quickly decided to come back. By driving. And doing so in her father’s car without asking or telling him what their plans were. So, back they came, and no one thought NOT telling dad could be a problem. And of course, dad was sure his car was stolen when he found it missing. When the “stolen” car was discovered on the campus of Ithaca College, they tracked Blair and his lady down to the friend’s dorm and didn’t just ask them to leave campus and return the father’s car but threatened criminal charges and had Blair sign a letter that banned him from campus forever. Seriously. This actually happened.
Many moons later, Joan returned to the State Theatre in Ithaca and as usual sold out well in advance. At the same time, there was a brand-new president at Ithaca College whom I was introduced to a few times and of course, this new “friend” needed a pair of tickets to the sold-out show. I was happy to oblige and right there I knew exactly what I needed to do. So, the show day came, and everything went as planned and normal. After the show, I found said President and brought him backstage and introduced him to Blair. He knew the basics but asked Blair to tell the story in his own words… which he did. And then el presidente as if he was Officer Obie in Alice’s restaurant simply asked him… Blair, have you rehabilitated yourself? And then he officially pardoned Blair for his misdeeds and welcomed him back to campus anytime. It was quite hilarious. And I made it official by getting a signed letter from the president and had it framed and delivered to Blair.
It seems every Joan show in Ithaca had a story that resonated. Dancing after shows is nothing new for Joan. She gets pretty amped up performing and in order to relax and get ready to sleep on a tour bus, well, I understand why she wants to shake it. There’s an amazing dive bar next to the State Theatre in Ithaca called The Chanticleer. We’d often end up there after a Joan show at the State. That last show before she “retired” from touring was extra special. The band hadn’t played live since being in France a few months earlier. When they left that run of shows, the French promoter gave them a lovely bottle of Armagnac that in haste to pack up the gear got stuffed into a road case. Upon unloading into the State to kick off this leg of the tour, Joan found that bottle and stashed it on the bus for a post-show surprise celebration. And that’s how it all started.
A while after the show broke, and ninety-eight percent of the sold-out crowd was long down the road, I walked Joan to the bus, and we found that some local musicians were having a jam session on and around the cement flower planter in front of the tour bus. And of course, Joan’s full-time accompanist Dirk Powell was involved. So, Joan danced her way through the crowd and sauntered on the bus pulling me close behind and broke out the bottle of Armagnac. Her manager, Mark, tour manager, Blair and my business partner were already chatting on the bus. Everyone poured a small cup and soon enough Joan dragged me off the bus behind her while the rest continued their conversation.
She danced with me and her son Gabe, who was playing with her on this tour, and even joined in singing when they played her staple, Long Black Veil to the crowd of fifteen or so people. As the party broke up, Joan and Gabe and I headed into the Chanti to dance. Joan picked the songs on the jukebox, mostly 60’s RnB, and the dance party began in earnest. And Joan and Gabe wound up dancing ON THE BAR while people cheered. I shared an amazing video of this moment… And the whole world thought it was me dancing there with Joan! For days I was getting comments and emails and texts. Pretty funny because it was Gabe. Here’s the thing, Gabe does look an awful lot like me. Probably because Joan and my mom look so much alike. I got tired of explaining and simply started saying YEAH, WHAT A NIGHT! Too bad my mom was tired after the show because I wish she came along. Just imagine that picture- the four of us on the bar!
While these dance parties were always amazing, there’s one night way back after the first show I did with Joan in Ithaca that took the cake. Sometime just before the show is about to begin, I was downstairs in the dressing rooms as Dirk entered with a look of excitement on his face. It was March and cold outside and he looked like he just got back from being out in the weather, perhaps at dinner with any of his many local musical acquaintances. Little did we know but Joan was in the hallway right behind him patiently waiting her turn to ask Blair a question. Dirk was excited because his pals had a rare gig that night where they played pop songs and bluegrass standards in their own traditional fiddle and banjo and back-country way out at a roadhouse near Trumansburg, NY. Dirk REALLY wanted to go play with them. Coincidentally, the tour bus and band were headed toward Buffalo that evening and would pass right by this roadhouse. And as Dirk explained his desires and the fun and coolness of the gig a woman’s voice piped through from the hallway, “I wanna go too. That sounds like fun!” And it was Joan. We suddenly had a very unique afterparty on our hands.
So, the show comes down and I took Blair and Joan in my car and off we went to follow Dirk and his pals to the fabled ‘Barangus’ in Trumansburg. As we arrived the name was abundantly fitting because of the massive Angus Bull on the roof. It was at least eight feet high and illuminated with a cheap spotlight. When I say roadhouse, I mean traditional roadhouse. The building itself was rectangular and narrow and painted a shade of bright blue. As we entered the door, thankfully not a screen or swinging saloon door, I couldn’t tell if there was a real floor, or if it was simply dirt. The beers of choice were Buds and Miller High Life’s and cans before cans were cool again. And the band sounded spectacular. I think we walked in to them playing a waltzy version of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean which still kinda swung and Joan instantly had me on the floor. Surreal to say the least. And dance we did. The band was a mixture of folks I knew and others who only seem to come out of the woods to play these special extremely rare gigs by the band that called themselves, The All-American Hell Drivers. They sounded just right for this room. And we had a blast. And the place was somehow packed and yet accepted Joanie as one of their own. They didn’t make it weird or ask for too many pictures. She even joined the band on stage for yes, another iteration of Long Black Veil. And the place went bananas.
I don’t know how long we were there. But I do recall the legend it has grown into for the forty or fifty or so folks who were present that night in that tiny little bar in the middle of nowhere. And then the bus pulled in and Blair rounded up Joan and Dirk and off they went towards Buffalo. And I went home with a glow and a buzz that didn’t go away for days.
What more can I say about this legendary lady? She is an enigma and a true classic. And I think of her often and what she stands for and the effort she has put into social justice and equality and human rights and simple fairness worldwide. Thank you, Joan Baez, we need more of you on this planet. I’m lucky to have another woman in my life I look up to just like you. And luckily you look like sisters. My mom may not have written songs that transcend generations, nor has she played in front of millions of people, but the grace with which she has carries herself, the traits she has instilled in me, and that same ‘give more than you get’ mentality that Joan exhibits make me proud to call her mom. She was at Woodstock in 1969 also. Not on stage but came and went with my dad as relative newlyweds cruising in and out on my dad’s motorcycle! And I’m quite sure Joan was her favorite act.
It was sometime in the fall of 1982, I think, memories are fuzzy from that period of my life. I know for a fact it was sometime before the bike accident but after I started getting those strange tingly feelings around cute girls. I was about twelve or so then. Our basement growing up was late seventies cozy with deep shag carpet in some shade reminiscent of Crayola Burnt Sienna mixed with some weird blooming dandelion yellow. The couch was a sectional of brown leather and super soft and almost comfy except where the frame for the pullout bed was. If you sat there your ass took a beating.
There was a wet bar to one side of the room mostly made of giant barnwood beams. The bathroom down there was super 80’s chic. My dad set the crimson red sink in the top of an old wooden barrel; he was a plumber after all. Unique for sure. In the center of the room was a counter, also barnwood encased, under which sat an inset television and a cabinet to the right side. Clearly that’s where the Atari was housed as well as the parents’ record collection. The walls themselves were also covered in recycled barnwood painted a dark shit brindle brown just like the rest of the room’s wood. Who knew the Smalls’ were so ahead of their time, right? Eco from day one. But these outside walls were false walls meaning there was a walkway behind that framed barnwood exterior, between it and the concrete foundation. You had to know where the door was to find it. My sister and I always called it “behind the wall.” It was a great place to hide.
The highlight of the basement to me was a small stereo system and turntable for LPs (and no we didn’t call it vinyl back then) that was mounted on a shelf under the stairs. My prized 45s were on repeat in this period of life and like most twelve-year-old’s, my choices were dictated by what was on the radio at the time. And what was crushing then was Hall and Oates. Private Eyes (clap clap) had come out the year before and I had the single on 45. I will never forget that one because it was playing when I first kissed a girl behind the wall.
As this pandemic wears on into 2021, I find myself walking outside nearly every day – mostly because its winter in Ithaca, New York and walks are easier than any other form of outdoor exercise when it’s straight cold and snowy. Plus, it’s pretty beautiful here what with the lake and gorges. Today, as a song popped into the Spotify “curated for Dan” playlist, I realized that Hall and Oates have been a bizarrely unifying and recurring thread through various portions of my life.
I am a concert promoter based in Ithaca, New York and my company does shows around the northeast in varying genres in capacities from two hundred to nearly ten thousand. Before COVID, in 2019, we produced over 800 shows and about 300 of them played a small club in Pawling, New York, a small bedroom community on the Connecticut border about 30 miles northeast on New York City, called Daryl’s House. This is the spot where Daryl Hall records his television show Live From Daryl’s House. And he is a partner in the club.
How this came to be is a story in and of itself. An industry acquaintance called and asked if I would be interested in talking to a relatively new club that needed a talent buyer (that’s someone to book the acts who would play there). When he told Daryl about us, Daryl thought we’d be perfect and wanted to talk directly to me. He rang me minutes later to try and convince me to take on the gig. I was shocked to hear his voice and thought someone was fucking with me. It’s not out of the question for us crazy concert promoters to harass each other. In my mind I wanna say I made him sing for me to prove it was him, but I don’t really believe that happened. After that call with Daryl and his LA based manager I agreed to go visit the club and see how I felt about it after seeing the space. And yes, Daryl was going to meet me there.
This site visit was a good excuse to visit my mom and spend the night in the Dirty Dancing Catskills and then make the drive to Pawling the next morning which was only about an hour or so away. Route 17 east to 84 east and some back roads and voila there was the wooden exterior of Daryl’s House Club. As I parked, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to meet this legend of my youth. I never get starstruck, really, but this one felt kind of big to me. This was a potential partnership with someone who had massive global success and was currently enjoying a renaissance. Can I admit I was pretty nervous? Sure. *My nerves calmed instantly, though, when I approached the front door to find the six-foot plus wooden carving of Daryl that graced the entranceway. It had the leather jacket and sunglasses and even the hair. What ridiculously nice hair that statue had! When I heard those words in my head, I knew I’d be OK for the meeting. Long story short, we made a deal in principle that day and the rest is history as the venue has become a top 100 club in the world over the last several years. And to answer the question I know you all are thinking about, yes, I DID tell him about the make out party and Private Eyes but I’ll get back to that in a minute.
A few years later when Hall and Oates toured the summer amphitheaters, I was able to get some pretty cool access and great seats. What I did not expect was the love that my 9 year old son developed for them mainly because I think singing a certain song became the first curse words he was allowed to say. If you’re a fan of the band then you know this has everything to do with Rich Girl. (It’s a bitch girl...) Seeing them at Bethel Woods and again in Syracuse were super fun moments for us. And because life is best remembered as a collection of moments, these were big ones. Daryl even made time for us backstage after the show in Bethel. It was a great family picture before the ex cropped me out. But she and Daryl and the boy look happy anyways lol. Yes, I brought the ex-wife along to the show… we get along like that.
But it was not just booking his club or seeing their shows where the band made appearances in my life. I cited Daryl repeatedly in my TED talk back in 2017. I talked about our partnership and how my business mentality in relation to the music industry norms is basically I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) and that if you thought and acted the ways other did than you are clearly Out of Touch because you are not going to innovate if you do exactly what others are already doing. The talk as a whole was about bucking the system and doing things your own way and building a business beneath the radar of the big boys and in small cities who support grandiose ideas. I’ve been lucky for sure, but this talk told my story and shared deep insights. And Daryl was a part of that in his own way.
The overlap doesn’t end there. I grew up a struggling New York Rangers fan and like many 1994 was massive for me when they FINALLY won a Stanley Cup after 54 years, but since being in central New York I have also found a love for the Maple Leafs of Toronto. Sorry, Buffalo. Yes, the Leafs, another much maligned Original Six hockey team that hasn’t won a championship in fifty plus years and are loved or hated just like the Rangers. Where’s the Hall and Oates reference there? For the last several years the Leaf’s “goal song” is You Make My Dreams Come True. It’s hilarious when you consider the imagery at first but having been in the Scotiabank Arena during the Stanley Cup Playoffs with my son and cheering after a goal with 18,000 other Canadians while it played was simply magical. Sure, it’s not loud, aggressive, bone shaking rock and roll like maybe you would expect in a hockey arena, and maybe it’s sorta cheesy but somehow it works. And it fits a team trying to find its way; young and fragile and with a legion of die-hard fans and maybe a whole country behind them. And also, some serious haters… because we all have those. Kind of like Hall and Oates. You either love em or well, you know.
As I dig through the memory banks, I remember so many other songs… like when Maneater came out and we watched the video on MTV at home on repeat after school. And the same for the textbook 80’s and way ahead of its time camera work on the Say it Isn’t So video. Their next album included the postmodern styles of Method of Modern Love – which again was all over the MTV – the crazy clouds and cocktails with smoke, the dancing and well frankly the HAIR in that video. We all wanted to be that cool. The eighties were a very different time. Daryl even almost busts a rhyme in the bridge section near the end between the South Philly falsetto of course. Let’s be straight honest… Dude can sing. Regardless of how you feel about their music, these songs dotted the soundtrack of our lives in the MTV era – the musical era before The Real World came along and made music secondary and eventually nonexistent on that breakthrough channel. I couldn’t discuss H&O without mentioning the hits Kiss on My List and One on One which were Middle School Dance highlights right up there with those massive ass grabber slow dances from Journey Escape. Which brings me back to the basement and behind the wall.
We all have a first love. Usually those come from our cadre of closest friends, at least that’s what happened for me and my homies. The good news here? For me and my first real girlfriend… and skip ahead to us both turning fifty in 2020… 8 days apart… we’re still friends to this day! We went to the Senior Prom (as friends) but I’m sure we fooled around that night. Who doesn’t at 17, I guess? And we stayed close, and it didn’t affect our friendship. We both went to Cornell and supported each other as we got to know life away from home. And we zoom every few weeks or months through this pandemic.
I may struggle to remember many things before my bike crash, but that first party in my basement is indelibly etched on my memory. When she and I went behind the wall and learned what French kissing is we were doing that to the tune of Private Eyes (clap clap). Hopefully no one was watching us, but we laughed and loved and felt happy and sad and pain and release and all those crazy busting hormone feelings that came with becoming a teenager and learning about big person feelings. Slowly and respectfully. She and I had our ups and downs over the years, but we will always share some wonderful memories and moments and firsts.
And who could have known on that fateful night behind the wall that Daryl Hall would become a client of mine and dare I say someone whose number is programmed into my cell phone. And who might just answer if I call. Crazy how life unfolds. And when I walk and pass the time while I wait for my real life to return, I realize that my real life is right here. And the inability to do my chosen work may suck right now, but we will soon produce shows again, and I have learned to slow down and appreciate these connections and threads of my life that without this break I may never have had the time to notice. What I’ve learned is to keep my eyes open wide. My Private Eyes open wide. They’re always watching and that’s a very good thing.
I see you, you see me
Watch you blowin' the lines
When you're making a scene
Oh girl, you've got to know
What my head overlooks
The senses will show to my heart
When it's watching for lies
You can't escape my eyes.
They're watching you
They see your every move
They're watching you
They're watching you watching
You watching you watching you…
Private Eyes- Hall and Oates