The Party that Changed My Life.
Back in 2008, shortly after moving to Nashville from New York City, I started a party. The year before I had moved down to Tennessee to start a band and our favorite neighborhood venue, The 5 Spot, had decided not to book bands on Monday nights. Why? Bands don’t make bars any money on Mondays. Typically, it’s a dead night, almost impossible to draw a drinking crowd.
So this first Monday a few of us showed up to hang out, no band on stage, and enjoyed the 2–4–1 drinks the bar offered to bring in business. About one in the morning, someone played Huey Lewis & The News “I Want A New Drug” on the house system and we all went nuts. When the rest of the record was requested, no one had it but me, on an i-Pod, in my car parked out front. Naturally, I went out and got it. In a simple twist of fate, as Dylan might say, Todd, one of the owners, handed me the cable across the bar and said “play whatever”. I played the rest of “Sports” and then started just rattling off whatever I wanted while a handful of us sat there drinking into the night. It was a blast.
At the end of the night, I propositioned Todd: “Why don’t you let me come back next week and bring my turntables. I’ll DJ, you throw me a couple drinks.” He seemed fine with that idea. So, between that night and the next Monday I roped in a friend to help and decided I’d spin my favorite era of music: Rock n Roll and soul from the 50s and 60s. Think Motown, Stax, Chess, Sun Records, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Aretha, Jackson 5, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and everything in between.
This happy accident turned out to be one of the biggest moments in what became my professional life.
The first week might have had 20 people and we were just DJing on the bar. Then 30 people. Then 50. We had to start DJing on stage. Three months into this weekly party, me and my long time friend, now business partner of sorts, Reno Bo, were packing in hundreds of people…on a Monday night! That was simply unheard of. We began charging a door cover, honestly hoping to thin out the crowd so people could have the space to dance. It didn’t stop anyone.
The first time I made more money in one night than I could at my normal bartending job, I knew we had something. For me, nothing would ever be the same.
Over the next couple of years we continued to pack the joint every single week. We promoted it around town non-stop. We made it better. It became word-of-mouth notorious all over and soon tourists were coming because their hotel concierge or cab driver had told them about this place on Monday nights where hundreds of people from all walks of life could be found sweating it out to Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye until 2am. I’d look out over the crowd and see college kids, tourists, neighborhood regulars, pro athletes, older people, younger people, all kinds of people. I began to get stopped on the street, sometimes even in other cities and on airplanes, as “Hey, aren’t you that Motown Monday DJ guy?” The day after my wedding in 2012, we stayed at a downtown Nashville hotel and the front desk clerk, unprompted, started suggesting songs that I try out on Mondays. It was bizarre.
Simply put, we struck a nerve: right time, right place, right city, right idea.
I can look back now and see how lucky I got. But I can also see that what I did with that luck is why I continue to do things I love for “work” to this day. The party started it all for me, it was my first taste of doing things my way, making my own money and controlling my own destiny. I still chase that feeling.
Soon, people began asking us to produce events for them or their companies. For me, this led to a full marketing position with a start up some good friends of mine launched in the music industry. That introduced me to the daytime world of entrepreneurship and business and led me down a road I could have never imagined, let alone ever realized I actually wanted to be a part of.
I founded my own full-service creative agency in 2013. I learned a lot the hard way and closed it in 2015. I’ve enjoyed high times and big pay days and I’ve endured times when I didn’t know where the money for my growing family would come from next. That’s part of the deal.
After closing the agency, I’ve been able to take my creative abilities and apply them to storytelling using video and podcasting. I began to share how entrepreneurship had impacted my life and given me a new level of freedom. That led to more work and eventually a role at Stoked, where I’ve served as a sort of Creative Director and media arm for more than two years. Taking that opportunity has allowed me to tell stories in Hong Kong, New Mexico, Tokyo, Singapore, Uganda and many places in between, all while working with incredible people along the way. It’s been a wild, wild ride.
Since that fateful Monday in 2008, Reno and I have built our company, Electric Western, into the kind of creative machine we both wanted. We’ve put out records, we’ve produced events all over the country and now we have a weekly radio show on WMOT where we can more deeply explore the most hidden corners of our favorite music from the mid 20th century.
And Monday nights? Over ten years later, they are still packed out every week and maybe more importantly, I still absolutely love doing it. I love turning people on to that music and I love watching the room explode in jubilation when a hit track comes on. It’s addictive.
I share all this not as a list of accomplishments but as a story that I hope illustrates how you never know where your life, or your ambitions, might take you. I didn’t move to Nashville to be a promotor or a radio host or a filmmaker or a DJ. But I have found an immense amount of satisfaction, pride and fulfillment in all those things. I can trace it all back to a series of seemingly small decisions back in 2008 that I had no idea would shape my future.
As of last year, I even got into real estate. So these days I find myself throwing parties, producing media and running a small real estate business. It’s pretty bizarre but I wouldn’t trade it and I can honestly see how following all the possibilities has led me to this strange cross section of “jobs”. Sometimes the idea of having just one stable job with a long term career path seems less chaotic, but I know I’d wither and die in a situation like that. I love building things and watching them succeed. Or sometimes, fail. I’m sure I’ll experience quite a bit of both in the years to come.
You never know what’s going to happen, but if you’re open to possibility and honest with yourself about what you want, I have found that you can unearth quite a bit of adventure and life will take you on a ride. It isn’t always smooth, but you’ll get there and if you allow yourself, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re willing to show up, put in the work and drive yourself forward even when you can’t see what lies ahead, at the very least you’ll end up with good stories to tell one day and hopefully something to show for it.
Here in the first month of 2019, I set out, as usual, with some goals in mind and a vague idea of accomplishing those goals and where they might take me. If it’s like previous years, I will be wrong. I’ll end up at a different destination, one I cannot yet see. I suppose, for me, that’s half the fun. Here’s hoping you also find what you’re looking for this year, even if you don’t know what that is yet.