I was thrilled to learn that they were coming back this year for a repeat performance of their Creole Christmas concert, and was able to get two tickets from the band's creative director and tuba player Ben Jaffe, for my wife and I to go this year.
To my disappointment, Marianne had plans she could not break, which she told me about on the Sunday before the Friday concert. Kindly, and with some disappointment of her own, she encouraged me to ask a friend to go along. Obviously I was not looking for a date, and I figured Randy went last year, so I decided to spread the love and ask another of my guy friends. This is the story of that extra ticket.
That evening I was headed to a local church, where a jazz vespers was being held, so I decided to ask my piano playing friend Jim if he'd like to go along. "Preservation Hall!," he enthused. "I'd love to see them. But I just booked a gig at a restaurant. Thanks so much for asking me. I really appreciate it."
And I think he did really appreciate it from the look on his face. Strike one, and I would have to continue to search for a partner on this adventure into downtown Philadelphia.
Next, I headed off to the small college where I teach. On Monday morning I headed to the library where we have a collection of books, videos, and music of New Orleans that we began collecting after Hurricane Katrina, in 2005. The head librarian, Dan, has been most helpful, so I figured it was time I offered him something to thank him for his hard work. "Oh no, Preservation Hall at the Annenberg Center!," he exclaimed. "I would love to, but I have plans to visit family in upstate New York this weekend, but thanks so much for asking me. Maybe we can do something else sometime."
Strike two, but no worries. I have a lot more friends. On my way to class, I ran into one of our history professors, Mike. Mike's a fun guy and I thought it was time we spent some off campus time together, so he seemed like the perfect candidate for this. "I think I can do this," he said." And I've always wanted to see Preservation Hall. I have to check with my wife. Can I let you know tomorrow?"
"Sure, no problem," I replied.
I would see Mike at about noon on Tuesday, and in an effort to play it safe, I bumped into Robert, a philosophy professor with a young child. Surely he would need a night out, so I offered him the chance to take the ticket if Mike is not able to do so. Another enthusiastic response: " Wow! Preservation Hall! That sounds great. I think I'm off duty this weekend. I'd be happy to go if Mike cannot. Of course, I'll have to check with my wife."
As luck would have it, I ran into Mike, Robert, and Robert's wife at noon in the faculty lounge.
"Mike, what's the word?," I asked.
"Oh, man, I can't," he replied. "We have plans."
A quick look at Robert brought a big smile on his face when he thought he would now possesse the ticket. He turned to his wife, saying" "Eliza, Wade has a ticket to a concert this Friday. I'm available, right?"
"No," she replied, "we have dinner plans with our friends."
"Really? No way to change that?," he asked.
"I don't think so," she answered. "We've had the plans for a while."
I watched as a look of great disappointment came over Robert's face.
"Maybe next time, man," he said.
I do not blame the wives for the changing plans. They were not out to spoil anyone's fun. It's just that we men are not so good at knowing the family schedule. As I've heard many men say, "I just go where I am told." What interests me the most about this story of the ticket is the joy that the thought of going to this concert was bringing to these friends when each thought they were going to hear Preservation Hall. And who could blame them. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be 50 years old in 2011 and is one of the oldest jazz bands in the world. Playing over 150 concerts a year on the road, they have been an international jazz favorite. The band was at the end of a three-week tour that took them to South America, up to Alaska, and Ontario, Canada prior, to landing in Philadelphia for a sold out concert at the 950 seat concert venue at The University of Pennsylvania. It was going to be a glorious night of jazz by some of the finest traditional jazz musicians in the world. I understood their joy, and I felt their disappointment..
Now I began my search outside the college. My friend Don was always a good companion and quite spontaneous. We have often called him and his wife, Bonnie, moments before we were off to do something and they were often able to join us. But tonight, I did not even get past Bonnie.
"He's at the grocery store," she said, "and I know he has a job interview in New York tomorrow afternoon. I don't think he will be back. He would have loved to have joined you."
So now it was Dave's turn. Dave was a local business owner and he and I served on a board for a local non-profit. He and I met every month or so for breakfast at a local diner and we always enjoyed each other company. So I sent him an e-mail. "Hey Dave," I wrote, "do you have plans for tomorrow night? I might have a ticket for Preservation Hall at the Annenberg Center. I'm waiting to hear from someone and can let you know tomorrow morning."
An hour later, I received his reply: "Oh no!!! I would LLLLOOOOVVVEEE to go, BUT, I have a date (with Gail)! We're going to see/hear the Jersey Boys. Can't you get them to postpone to Sat.nite?? Thanks for the invite. I would have jumped at it. Let's try to do it if/when they come again."
Another letdown; but what became clear to me is that I now possessed the ticket to happiness. People lit up when I asked them to go, and for a moment, we were best friends. And I still had more opportunities to spread that joy. My wife suggested I call her brother Michael who lived in New Orleans for eight years. Once again, I could hear his surprise and joy through the phone. "That would be great!," he said. "I have not seen them in years. Thanks so much for thinking of me. I can probably just stay in town after work and meet you there. Let me call my wife and I'll call you back in a few minutes."
And, of course, five minutes later a call from a disappointed Michael: "Sorry. Plans. Maybe you should try Ron."
Ron is my wife's cousin. A great guy who works downtown and has been known to get me tickets to ball games. It's time I pay him back. We had a quick conversation mid-morning on Thursday. "Absolutely," he said, "that would be great. How about I meet you at 5:30 and we have dinner. I've always wanted to see Preservation Hall, so this is great. Call me later and we'll finalize plans."
Great, I found a pal to go with me. And now we'll have a nice downtown dinner to boot. I called Ron when I got home and he was still excited about the evening. "I'll take the subway and you can pick me up at 5:30 at 36th and Chestnut and we'll figure out where to eat," he enthused. "This will be great!"
"Solid," I replied.
Finally, I had found someone. The ticket found a home.
Or so I thought. Five minutes after I hung up, my wife approached me with the phone she had just answered. With a sad look on her face, she said, "It's Ron." He, too , had forgotten about long-made plans.
Now it is 9 pm on Thursday night. The concert was less than 24 hours away, and I still did not have anyone to go along with me. Marianne, sensing my desperation, gave me the names of a few females she would feel comfortable with me taking along. Betsy was the former owner of the café we used to frequent, and we have attended many jazz events with her. I sent her a message on Facebook at 9 pm, and an hour later I received the following:
"Hi Wadethanks for thinking of meI'd have LOVED to have gone but it's not my normal boring Friday tomorrow nitewell if things go as planned I should be in NYC tomorrow day and eveningand if they don't , it'll be because I'll be babysitting my friend's little guy cause his mom would be in the hospital having baby number 2!! Either way I couldn't be counted onand darned cause I'd have loved to have seen them and met them toocoolhave funhope that you get some great company to go along! sure you will!"
OK, so I'm running out of friends here. I had two more I could ask, but wanted to have my ace in the hole. So I called old reliable Randy, who went with me last year. Randy was very understanding that I wanted others to go along, and he assured me that he could go if I could not find someone. I told him I would let him know by 10:30 in the morning.
An early morning call to family friend Kathy found her busy, so I thought, "Who do I know that does not have family obligations?" Of course! The college priest. Father John is a great guy, and it just so happens we had a meeting together at 9:30 am.
"How fun would that have been," he asked. "But I have dinner plans. I don't think I would be done until 8 pm."
So I picked up Randy at 6 pm and we headed downtown, just as we did last year. Once again, we had a glorious time. This is a band that speaks with its music. There is very little talk from this group who does not even introduce its members until intermission. It is pure talent and stage personality that has made the Preservation Hall Jazz Band tops in its genre. The group makes people happy.
Actually, as I learned, just the thought of this band makes people happy. So Marianne, Jim, Dan, Mike, Robert, Don, Dave, Michael, Betsy, Ron, Kathy, and John: I wish you all could have gone with me. It was a great night. And I am glad I could provide you with that moment of joy. The thought of going with each of you made me happy too. And if we are lucky, maybe next year.