It’s always been an unspoken commitment that Chef Phoebe and I share to offer music to our dinner guests. For me, the urge to have our restaurant filled with warm melodies and the inevitable applause have always been a strong one for me.
I love music. I love live acoustical music in particular. Always have, since my early childhood listening to my parents and their friends singing folk songs on Sunday afternoons. Rural New Jersey, if you recall.
But, my real first “aha” moment came about in a little town in the mountains of Colorado called Fairplay.
Let me digress just a bit. It was just before I started junior high that my folks moved our family to Longmont, Colo. My dad was just named the editor-in-chief of the local daily in the town and this was supposed to be a Wild West experience for us. For me, I couldn’t wait to make the move — I have always had an affinity for the cowboy era (my favorite birthday present was my six-shooter pistols with leather ties to go around my thighs, a present I received when I turned 10.I even slept many nights with them buckled to my waist.)
It was during our first summer in the Rocky Mountain State, that we took our first family weekend trip to Fairplay, a small town 65 miles southwest of Denver, as the crow flies. Located in South Park, with an elevation of 9,953 feet, the vistas of the mountain ranges and plains surrounding this idyllic village were both gorgeous and haunting, taking my breath away. I felt like I was “home.” Tumbleweed flowing across the grassland and handsome hawks flying above us in a dance of their own, I recall feeling a sense of peace.
Could it get any better? Well, it did for this young teenager. That night, we went to the Fairplay Hotel for its spectacular “Dinner in the Round.” It was here that college thespians from all over the country would come to hone their skills, putting on plays throughout the summer months for the dinner guests.
It was on that special evening that I experienced my first live musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” while enjoying some of the best beef I have ever had in my life. All I can say is I was on cloud nine, truly blissfully happy, sharing wonderful food with my family while being treated to a talented assemble of characters singing their hearts out. Truthfully, that night had a profound impact on my life. To this day, I always have sung Snoopy’s “Suppertime” to my dogs at each and every meal I’ve served them, without fail, day in and day out:
Doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
It’s suppertime. Yeah, it’s suppertime.
Oh, it’s sup-sup suppertime very best time of day.
It’s suppertime. Yeah, it’s sup-per time.
And when suppertime comes can supper be far away?
So, it should come at no surprise that I have always attempted to recreate that fun, that energy with my food ventures over the years with always the support of my business partner, Chef Phoebe.
Now we offer live music on a regular basis, Thursday evenings during the winter months and on both Sundays and Tuesdays during the warm ones outside, Haymeadow Music Nights. And, yes, just like up in Fairplay, we serve our full dinner and beverage menus so our friends can break bread together while listening to some of the best musicians from northern Vermont.
Once in a while, we even have the pleasure of hiring someone for our Paddle Crew who is musically-gifted. Such was the case for a young bus gal named Rose Trudeau who started working for us in our early Paddle years. She was totally awesome — worked hard, pleasant to have around (our guests loved her) and just a lot of fun. She was deeply involved in the Vermont Miss Teen Pageant. To raise money for her pageant expenses, she would often sing on the spur of the moment. Everyone loved her performances and both Phoebe and I couldn’t have been more proud of “our Rose.”
Now, we have a new singer among us, the talented Abbey Hybl, waitress extraordinaire. I don’t remember how it came up but when I learned she could sing, I asked our friends if they wanted to hear the National Anthem. To a great applause, she stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and belted out that terribly difficult song. The downstairs dining room broke out in applause and Abbey was a hundred dollars richer, although she didn’t expect to be.
Having tested the waters, I asked Abbey if she would consider singing during one of our Haymeadow Music eves and she agreed. That was two weeks ago. Imagine her surprise, then, when I texted her this past Sunday morning: “Here’s Jon Sochin’s number. Please call him to see if you both know a song for tonight.”
She did, and not knowing any, Jon took it upon himself to learn a song that Abbey requested. A few short hours later, they met one another for the first time on the Paddle stage behind the restaurant and had about 20 minutes to rehearse. Sounding great to me, I thanked Jon for his extra effort and patted my new star performer on her back. “Tell me when you have a moment between tables and you’ll be on,” I warned her.
With a half smile, and a wink of her eye, she said: “I’ll be ready.”
And she was. And the show went on.
Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.