This one goes to 11
“Is that a real poncho or is that a Sears poncho?” asks Frank Zappa in his masterpiece, Camarillo Brillo.
It’s a great lyric and it got me thinking about authenticity, which I believe is at the heart of hospitality.
One of the most incredible hospitality experiences of my life wasn’t at a restaurant or a hotel, but a Zappa Plays Zappa concert.
The Zappa Plays Zappa series was a tribute to legendary musician, Frank Zappa, created by his eldest son, Dweezil Zappa. Frank had passed away in 1993 and Dweezil was relentlessly devoted to bringing his father’s music back to life. It was an extremely difficult mission.
It’s been said that Dweezil studied Frank’s body of work in depth, for years, in order to be capable of respectfully executing his father’s music. Frank’s tunes are highly technical, complex and often obscure, so it wasn’t just a matter of learning some new chords.
Dweezil set out to be qualified and entrusted to do justice to his father’s legacy -- talk about authenticity. No wonder the Zappa fans (almost all men over 50) were so excited that night!
It was 2008 and the venue was the Morse Theater, a small Chicago theater that had recently been renovated. With maybe 250 people there tops, it was an intimate setting but not too crowded.
It was obvious the entire place was designed for the guests’ benefit. There was an actual full service bar with a solid variety of beers, wines and cocktails. The seats were clean and comfortable. The floor wasn’t sticky. And there didn’t really seem to be a bad seat in the house.
Dweezil took the stage, introduced the band and played for hours, all the while interacting with the crowd. The more he engaged, the more jazzed everyone got. The energy and connection between the crowd and Dweezil was palpable.
Then things got really crazy. Dweezil announced a drawing for the winning ticket to be invited to jam with the band on guitar! Everyone look at your tickets -- it could be you or the person standing next to you! The crowd went wild!
I remember being simultaneously excited and terrified that I might get called, which would have resulted in me making a fool of myself onstage. Instead, some guy that could actually play guitar proceed to rock out the house. It was incredible.
I went on to see Zappa Plays Zappa three more times over the years and was never disappointed.
That concert experience was remarkable because of the high hospitality quotient that came from a place that I honestly didn’t expect. Dweezil and the band captured perfectly the idea of having something done for you, not to you.
I mean, he’d just played for hours and hours but hung around after the show to autograph every last ticket stub. That’s as real as it gets.