On October 20, the lobby at the Grand Traverse Resort became my favorite hotel lobby in the world.
An iconic, award-winning Traverse City hotel, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa towers above the Grand Traverse Bay. Rotating doors open to a massive expanse, mahogany wood accenting the neutral, alabaster interior. Natural sunlight streams through the atrium and skylights. Lounge chairs and a piano gather in the center of the lobby, beneath dangling flags. An indoor water feature trickles adjacent to the lobby bar toward the back.
Guests check in to reception to the left. A line of eager eyed brides queue up to attend a bridal expo in the ballroom. Straight ahead, a hallway leads to restaurants and a spa. It’s bustling.
There’s an energy in this lobby, but nothing compared to the energy when the hotel lobby came alive that night.
Midnight. The bar at Aerie Restaurant on the top floor of the Grand Traverse Resort just closed. But my social spirit was still open.
Music. I thought. Live music! Recalling the fact that every weekend the hotel entertains guests with a live band in the lobby.
The Grand Traverse Resort is no stranger to music. While live bands fill the lobby with music on the weekends, during the summer, performers play at The Grille and The Beach Club, both restaurants on the resort property.
In the 1980s, outdoor jazz concerts were hosted at the resort’s “Jazz Live Field” where jazz legends like B.B. King and Mercer Ellington (son of Duke Ellington) played. You’ll see portraits of these famous jazz musicians along the staircase to the resort’s lower level.
Oh, and Grand Traverse Resort’s sister property, the Leelanau Sands Casino, hosts musical performers and entertainment. In fact, there was a particular musical sensation that played there that evening, little did I know.
The quest for live music began.
When the elevator doors to the lobby opened, a shallow echo of of too many simultaneous conversations greeted my ears, chaotic and noisy. I made made my way toward the crowd. The lobby bar swarmed with guests. A bride and groom with their family and friends grabbing a night cap. Men in business suits making late night deals. There was standing room only
Hovering around the lobby bar amid of mosh pit of guests, I tried to catch the bartender’s attention. Music. Music!
The gentleman to my right saw my short girl struggle to raise my chin high enough to catch the bartender’s line of vision. “Trying to get a drink?” He had dark curls and eyes lined charcoal.
“No,” I responded, slightly defeated. “I’m trying to see if there’s any more live music.”
“I’m in a band,” he stated.
Nice line, was my first thought. I’d learned long ago not to trust strange men while alone at a bar. I was on a single-handed mission. Music.
Plus, midnight at a lobby bar? Nothing good happens after midnight.
Or perhaps it does.
Continuing to stretch my neck, I pulled the old wave to draw the bartender near me. “What’re you drinking?” she asked while robotically snagging a napkin in preparation. “Nothing… I’m looking for live music. Is the band on break?”
“Sorry,” she replied; I’d just missed the music by ten minutes.
That piqued the attention of my new friend, who encouraged me to convince the bartender to unlock the piano. They’d play music if only they could get access. He introduced himself. Angel.
“So what’s the name of this band you’re in?” I finally caved, figuring I’d engage in small talk before retreating upstairs to my room.
“Have you heard of The Village People?”
“The Macho-Man-YMCA Village People?” I asked, brow raised.
“Yeah, that’s the band.”
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is.”
“You’re a Village People cover band?”
“No, THE Village People.”
If not for the cocktails I’d already consumed, I could have concealed the incredulous expression on my face. Raised eyebrow, turned lips… everything about my face proclaimed, “Yeah… right.”
Truthfully, I didn’t believe my new friend, Angel. Sometimes I wonder if I carry an invisible sign that says I’m Gullible. And those who are very observant in human behavior read this invisible sign and use it to their advantage to say ridiculous things, like “I’m in The Village People” and try to see how far they can carry their little story. So I can’t be blamed for treading carefully when asked to trust a stranger’s off the wall statements. “The Village People.” Who says that?
And that lack or trust or belief or whatever you’d like to call it fueled Angel’s need to introduce me to “the band.”
I decided to play along, shaking hands and exchanging names.
These were normal men in everyday clothes. I know what you may have been expecting…
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But no, this was not an evening of trick-or-treaters donned in Halloween costumes. Or The Village People in their stage clothes. These were everyday people gathered around a lobby bar. People who, ten minutes prior, didn’t have names or stories.
Victor, the “cop” in the band The Village People could have just as well been John Doe, a cop in real life. I’d known no difference.
The piano unlocked and sweet notes resonated from its core rising up into the tall vestibule and vibrating the hotel lobby with music. Music! My quest for music.
And like moths to a flame, the guests starved for sound gathered around the piano to feed their ears.
Alright, grab me a pinot grigio. I flagged the bartender. I had a feeling I’d be loitering in the lobby for a while…
Three a.m. arrived quickly.
By that time, yes, I definitely believed him. By that time, my voice box was raw and scratchy.
That’s what happens when you sing your heart out until 3 o’clock in the morning, around a piano in the hotel lobby with The Village People.
Many songs and hours and glasses of wine later, I had the most unexpected, fun, and musical night ever. People danced. Strangers became friends. Laughter and piano notes and singing voices and freestyle rapping reverberated in the vestibule.
Oh, and I think I recall them inviting me to join their band.
The cell phone photos are blurry. The video recordings are too embarrassing to listen to my strained voice. But it’s my evidence of fun. Of the night the hotel lobby came alive.
So the next time you’re traveling, visit the hotel lobby bar. Say hi to strangers. Unlock the piano. Follow your ears to live music. Sing until your voice cracks.
Perhaps you can see me on tour with The Village People next year if they (I mean, we) head back to the Leelanau Sands. I’ll meet you at the Grand Traverse Resort’s hotel lobby. But only after midnight. With a glass of local pinot grigio. As long as you’re on a quest for live music.
I was hosted by the Grand Traverse Resort during this trip. The Village People encounter was completely serendipitous. Even with the flowing pinot grigio, comfy beds, and late night lobby singing, all opinions are genuinely and authentically mine. Thanks for supporting my travel partners who help me bring you new travel stories and inspiration!