This is sort of a Throwback Thursday post, since it happened last month but I was so amped up and busy that I just kind of blew past it, but because I want to preserve the memories, and I want you to know, and THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW, here it is, in full: My Night at Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever.
Sometime early in the semester, I was looking up something online and I saw that Ronnie Spector was playing a concert in Milwaukee sometime in November. I thought about going, but was like…I’ll probably buy the ticket and then something will come up and I will have wasted my money. But a few weeks ago, when I was feeling pretty down and out about my prelims and totally bummed by the election, I looked it up again, and realized that it would be on November 29, which would be after Thanksgiving but two days before prelims were due, and a) I would be in Madison, and b) I had nothing scheduled, so I did something I don’t normally do…bought tickets to the show, no regrets! It was only $52, and I’d need to drive to Milwaukee, but I got a floor seat and OMG I DON’T CARE I’M GOING TO RONNIE SPECTOR. I sat on my hands about it for a while, not telling anyone, and was hoping to finish my prelims over Thanksgiving and then have that be my reward. I ended up not finishing but getting pretty close, but I decided to reward myself anyway.
So, come November 29th, I go to teach, and then, I’m off to Milwaukee, to the Northern Lights Theatre at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino. I was kind of nervous at first…I mean, this is a big deal, would I get to meet her? What would I do? What would I say? Also, would this place be weird? (I mean, it’s a casino I’d never been to before…) But anyway, I ended up getting there plenty early, and there was plentiful parking, and I headed inside, passing all the machines and bright flashy lights – those places really are mazes. But I was determined to get to that theatre.
Though the casino was full of smokers, the theatre itself was quite lovely. I was guided to my seat in Row F, given a $10 voucher which I didn’t use, and paid $3 for a Coke. The seating was around little tables, and I guess I got lucky, because my table mates were so much fun; like me, they were also teachers, and also like me, they weren’t drinking because they had to teach in the morning (well, two out of three, one of them had just retired). We quickly got acquainted and chatted up a storm while we waited for the concert to start. I was seated next to Harry, the school principal; next to him was the school guidance counselor, whose name was either Marilyn or Marlene; and their retired Spanish teacher, Evie. We didn’t get too much of a chance to talk because the lights came down…
And when they came up, three backup singers dressed as the Ronettes were onstage, as was the band, and they broke out into “Baby, I Love You.” At first, I thought it was just an opening act, but then, Ronnie Spector emerged in all of her black leather glory, and I actually did start crying a little. I mean…Ronnie Spector, the original bad girl of rock and roll, a living LEGEND, was on a stage just yards away from me. Marilyn and Evie giggled as Harry and I passed tissues back and forth through the first song, but then I composed myself. Interspersed with the songs was some lovely Ronnie banter and projections of interviews and TV appearances by the Ronettes in their heyday. She made a lot of funny jokes, and sang all the classics, with several tributes: one to her late sister Estelle (“How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?”), to the late Amy Winehouse (“Back to Black”), and something in honor of the Beatles, which I can’t remember at the moment.
Right when the show was really getting hot…it happened.
Bum, ba bum TSS…bum, ba bum, tss…
Yep, “Be My Baby.”
I was instantly up out of my seat, dancing like a fool, and singing along with the chorus, and thinking to myself, “holy cannoli, Jacob, you are actually listening to Ronnie Spector, singing ‘Be My Baby’ RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW LIVE. It will not get any better than this.”
Minimal crying occurred.
Then she had a costume change and launched into some Christmas tunes (after all, it was a Christmas party) and now a lot of audience members were up and dancing, not just me. And in the middle of her last song, she knelt down and shook hands with the people in the front row, and I was like…”now is your chance, Jacob, just do it…” so I impulsively ran down front, hoping not to be hauled off by security or anything, and squeezed in next to the stage, and I got to be the very last one to shake hands with Ronnie Spector. She even pointed to me and mouthed something like “I saw you dancing” as we shook hands (I think I might have blubbered something like “thank you, I love you”) and she gave me a thumbs-up before finishing the song and heading offstage. I will never forget that handshake…her hand was sort of soft, sort of leathery, but it was still warm from holding a mic and OH MY GOSH I WAS JUST LOST IN THAT MOMENT. The only thing that would’ve been better would have been to get a picture with her, or a hug, but her acknowledgement of my presence was a present in and of itself.
She might be 73 years old, but she’s still got that rock n’ roll. Two thumbs up; I would go see her again if I could.
When the lights came back up, I walked back over to our table, and walked to the exit with Harry, Marilyn and Evie, my new teacher-friends. We somehow managed to get some pictures with the backup singers, who bore incredible resemblances to the young Ronettes. There were a lot of people, so I didn’t manage to get a picture with just me and them, but I have one with all three of them, Harry in between the two who looked most like Estelle and Ronnie, and me standing next to the one who looked most like Nedra. I was hoping that Ronnie would come on out, but it was pretty clear that it was time to go as they whisked us out and closed the door behind us. I stood outside the theater and chatted with some of the other concertgoers about our experiences – I thought that I was pretty crazy for driving in from Madison, but there was a group who had driven in all the way from Indiana, just for this, which is dedication.
Anyways, since there didn’t seem to be any swag on sale, and it was getting late, I decided to exit the casino before I died of smoke inhalation, and headed to Rock Bottom Brewery for a quick snack before heading back to Madison, calling Hanna and my dad on the way, freaking out. Hanna was actually at a party or a gig or something, so I apologized for interrupting, and at first she didn’t register why I was freaking out, but when I told her it was the “Be My Baby” singer, she was like “ooooohhhh wow!”
And that is my story of seeing the original bad girl of rock ‘n roll.
And if you’re reading this, Ronnie…thank you for all the music, I had the time of my life. Next time, let’s dance together or at least get a picture, please.
Baby, I love you.