An evening with Dan Aykroyd and Crystal Head Vodka

dan aykroyd social the magazine raleigh 1There wasn’t  an actual red carpet, but it felt like a Hollywood kind of evening as we rolled up to our first stop in the Social limo at downtown Raleigh’s The Ugly Monkey bar to kick off the Crystal Head Vodka tour and welcome legendary entertainer Dan Aykroyd to our city.

The crowds had gathered, the bar was packed, the “Ghostbusters” and “Blues Brothers” tracks blared through the open doors, cameras flashed, and the air of fun, excitement and giddy anticipation was palpable. “Oh yea,” I thought, “tonight’s going to be a good night!” We had just left a superb dinner hosted for us by the fine folks at 8311 North Italian Chophouse, which is the place where publisher Chris London had first discovered Crystal Head Vodka, inquired, and made the phone call that led us all to this, our own “Tuesday Night Live” evening with Dan Aykroyd in downtown Raleigh.

dan aykroyd social the magazine raleigh 2That Tuesday night on September 15th 2009 had the aura of a Saturday night for all of us who came out with Social The Magazine to get some hang time with one of the most well-liked entertainers of our lifetime. Dan Aykroyd is an Emmy Award winning star with a career in comedy, acting, screenwriting and music that spans 30 years – from the original cast of Saturday Night Live where he and his fellow ‘Not Ready For Prime Time Players’ created timeless characters such as The Coneheads, to the iconic Blues Brothers he and his friend John Belushi brought to life and launched into eternal fame.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s Dan starred in countless hit movies including Trading Places, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghost Busters, Dragnet, Driving Miss Daisy, and My Girl. If that weren’t enough, Dan is also co-founder of the House of Blues (one of my all time favorite live music venues), part owner of Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits Ltd (which distributes Patron in Canada), and has own his winery, Dan Aykroyd Wines.

The list of Dan Aykroyd’s successes is far too long for me to write here, but as I waited for his arrival along with the group gathered by the back door of the club, I smiled as I remembered sneaking downstairs in 1977 when I was 13 to watch him and his cohorts on SNL, laughing at the eccentric style of offbeat humor and not-so-subtle satire that set the bar for every season of SNL to air ever since.
And here I was now, about to meet a living legend and help him promote his latest passion, Crystal Head Vodka. Quite a heady feeling, if you’ll pardon the pun. Yet, at the same time, it still felt a lot like I was waiting on my favorite uncle to arrive at the family reunion.  Dan is an engaging, fun, genuine, down to earth, and truly nice man to talk to.

dan aykroyd social the magazine raleigh 3I’d already logged a lot of one-on-one phone time with Dan the week prior – and he’d hung in there for our interview through changes of phones, bad connections, dropped calls, returned calls, and even a potentially dangerous pit stop. After awhile, my giddiness had tempered (somewhat, at least I stopped squealing out loud when the phone rang) after repeatedly hearing his voice booming over my phone with an enthusiastic “Hey Ria!” – and on we’d go, picking up right where he’d left off, his unique rapid-fire delivery a combination of his SNL characterization of the passionate pitchman of the Bass-O-Matic and a proud papa. “Are you there?” he’d say every few moments, as I listened and took my notes. “Still here!” I’d reply.  He was traveling through the Adirondacks in NY at the time, and coverage was spotty.

By the time we wrapped that interview, I was intrigued by this mysterious brew he spoke so tirelessly of. Now mind you, I am so not a vodka drinker, but I am a sucker for the mystical and the metaphysical. And I love a good story, especially if it’s a great mystery. Who doesn’t? In a stroke of marketing genius, Dan Aykroyd had parlayed his own fascination with the invisible world, combined it with his flair for the dramatic, and wrapped it all up in a brilliant clear crystal skull designed by John Alexander and made by Bruni Glass in Milano Italy, to present the world with fine premium vodka unlike any other.

Crystal Head Vodka ties in with one of archaeology’s most compelling mysteries, the story of the 13 Crystal Heads that have been unearthed at various times all over the world from the Yucatan to Tibet. Several “perfect” crystal Skulls have been found in parts of Mexico, Central and South America.  Together, they form a mystery as enigmatic as the Nazca Lines, the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge. The heads are believed to emit positive energy, good will and prosperity. The distinctive clear skull bottle of Crystal Head Vodka is hard to miss behind the bar. It’s truly a work of art and destined to become a sought-after collector’s item on its own.

Dan describes Crystal Head Vodka as “a pure spirit”; quadruple-distilled, peaches-and-cream corn mash premium vodka that is free of additives, made with pure Newfoundland glacial pool water and triple filtered through Herkimer diamonds.
The consensus from everyone among the enthusiastic crowds that gathered at Ugly Monkey, Cashmere, Solas and The Bassment  who had swilled Crystal Head shots and cocktails: “It’s damn good vodka!” No mystery in that. Be sure to ask for it the next time you’re out on the town. We promise you won’t be disappointed.

Dan greeted me with a boisterous shout and big bear hug that Tuesday night as I stood waiting to greet him alongside Chris London and the rest of the Social Magazine staff, and a few fans (including one girl with a sealed vinyl copy of Dr. Detroit for him to sign) outside The Ugly Monkey. For me, it really was just like seeing that favorite uncle at the family reunion. He seemed happy, and genuinely pleased to see all of us there to welcome him to a fun night out in “Rallywood”. We posed for photos and he signed a few autographs with a huge grin and a gracious attitude. Then he disappeared inside, cheers went up from the crowd, and he was behind the bar, working that legendary star power much to the thrill and enjoyment of everyone inside.

Dan is nothing if not a crowd pleaser, and despite the heat and humidity that drove him from the rooftop of Solas later that night to seek relief in the air conditioned Crystal Head RV bus parked out front, he was determined to finish the tour. After cooling off, he stepped off the bus and casually strolled up the street to The Bassment, smiling and waving, stopping to sign whatever he was asked along the way – including Tony Miller’s Harley, which was just classic! I waited for Dan outside, and after a few minutes he walked up the driveway from the back of the building alone. All smiles, he raised his hand to me for a high five “We did it Ria!”
Yes, we sure did.

I know I speak for all of us at Social The Magazine when I say that it was truly an honor for us to spend an evening in the company of this humble man of formidable talent.  And, the vodka ain’t bad, either! In fact, it’s fantastic – and that’s straight from a rum gal.
Special thanks to Dan’s team, who were accommodating and patient. The night would not have been possible without you!

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