Written by Roy Hall

“Would you like to see the car?”

Leland and I looked at each other in bewilderment.

“Sure” we said.

Parties at hi fi shows are fun.

They are a way of letting off steam after a day dealing with annoying customers. (If only we didn’t have to deal with customers at all, life would be good.) They are also a great way to network. I have met many manufacturers at parties and have developed quite a few new products over a glass or two of wine or beer.

Scene one.
I am often invited to parties but, surprisingly, sometimes I’m not. I was definitely not invited to the Monster Cable party a few years ago at CES in Las Vegas. I have little interest in Monster Cable. But that year Ray Charles was performing and I really wanted to see him. I had met him a few years prior in a soul food restaurant in NewYork called Chez Josephine. He was sitting at the table next to my wife and me. Although New Yorkers make a point of studiously ignoring celebrities, we couldn’t resist. He was very gracious and not at all bothered by our intrusion.

So how to get invited to the party? We asked everyone we knew. No one had a spare ticket. We even approached people who worked for Monster but with no luck. This was the hottest ticket in town. We decided to go to the event and try to get in. There was tight security and people were lining up to enter. We asked everyone. Nothing. We even approached the VIP line to see if our names were on the list. The guy in charge was not amused.

We gave up. Before leaving, I went to the men’s room. When I emerged, I saw people coming out of a side door of the auditorium to go into the toilet. I couldn’t believe it. Could it be this easy? I did reconnaissance. There was a guard but he seemed disinterested in the comings and goings. I got hold of Leland and we approached the door. The guard ignored us as we confidently walked in.

The place was mobbed. People were starting to sit down at tables when we saw some friends sitting at a table in the front and they invited us to join them. We were fed a pretty good meal and then had to suffer as Noel Lee (President of Monster) gave presentations to the salespeople who had sold the most cable. He droned on, but that’s the price you pay for gatecrashing.

Finally Ray Charles came on stage, and he was wonderful. He played most of his hits and his singing of “Georgia on My Mind” brought me to tears. It was a great evening.

Scene two.
Stereophile magazine used to give the best parties. This is when Larry Archibald was the publisher. He was very generous and made a big point of choosing the wine. Everyone in the industry would attend as the vibe and wine was great. It really was the high point of the show, and I sorely miss these events because they engendered a strong sense of camaraderie in the industry.

One party was in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and was particularly good. On leaving, I passed another party down the hall. There was a band playing Dixieland, and that caught my attention. I entered and walked around. I thought Stereophile parties were lavish, but this one was insane.There were piles of food everywhere, 3 bars, beautiful cocktail waitresses and a very high-tone crowd.

I ordered a drink and sat down to eat. At some point I started conversing with a man sitting nearby. He was very chatty, and told me that the party was celebrating the launch of a new magazine. We had a few drinks together and I told him about my business and why I was in Vegas. I then told him that I had gatecrashed the party because the music was so good. We were getting rather drunk and started talking about the meaning of life etc. when I asked him what he did for the magazine.

“I’m the publisher, and it’s my party.”

Scene three.
A few years ago, my wife, Rita and me visited Heinz and Jozefina Lichtenegger in Vienna. Heinz is an old friend and his company makes turntables for Music Hall. They live in a converted farmhouse about 30 minutes north of Vienna. Jozefina has amazing taste and the house looks like it came out of an Italian design magazine.

They are very generous hosts and one evening they gave us tickets to hear theVienna Philharmonic perform in the Wiener Konzerthaus in the center of the city. Sitting in front of us was Fran Drescher, of The Nanny fame. We didn’t want to impose on her but at some point her husband started chatting to us and she joined in the conversation. She was in town at the behest of former president Bill Clinton and had spoken at the Life Ball, an event that raised awareness and money for AIDS research.

Rita asked Drescher, “What is Bill Clinton like?”

“He is wonderful,” she replied.

“And what do you think of (recently inaugurated) Barack Obama?”

“Oh I really love him”.

Rita (in agreement, referring to the new president) followed with, “I’m such a fan.”

Drescher, in her distinctive nasal Queens, New York twang gratefully came back with, “Thank you so much; I love meeting my fans.”

At the intermission, we decided to go find a bar. We were sitting in the center of the hall and exited through a middle door. The hallway was crowded and we went along with the flow. The crowd led us into a large room where waiters hovered serving champagne and hors d’oeuvres. We were mystified by this but had a few drinks and snacks and waited to see what was going on.

A hush settled on the room and a man started to address the crowd. We discovered that we had stumbled into a party for high-rolling underwriters of the orchestra and according to my wife (who speaks fluent German) the speaker couldn’t thank us enough for our continuing support. No one asked us to leave and so we had a few more drinks and returned to the concert hall.

The Vienna Philharmonic is the best orchestra I have ever heard.

Scene four.
Some years ago, Leland Leard and I exhibited at a Stereophile-sponsored show in the New York Hilton. One evening we went out to dinner with a few clients and on our return, we passed the Hilton Ballroom. There was a long line of people waiting to go in. Everyone was dressed up; black tie and gowns. Although we were very casually dressed, curiosity drove us to the entrance.

I was about to ask the security guard about the event when a beautiful woman in an evening gown beckoned us inside.There was a band playing, and mountains of food everywhere. A waiter offered us glasses of champagne. We were shown around and introduced to all sorts of people.More champagne arrived. As we had been drinking for most of the day, we were quite happy to continue.

At one point our hostess asked us if we would like to meet the cast. “Absolutely”, I said as the mystery deepened. Leland started dancing with a cast member who seemed to be all over him and I sat down with another hostess who appeared to be most interested in my every word. More champagne arrived and at one point our beautiful hostess asked if we would like to see the car.

“Sure”, we said. We were led onstage and had our photos taken in front of a very long, silver vintage car. Above the car was a sign, ‘Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang’. We had gatecrashed the opening night party for the Broadway musical.

We have often wondered about the enthusiastic welcome. Did our casual dress imply that we were big shots in the theater world? We never figured out why they let us in.

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