I'm not sure if I found Petra's or if Petra's found me. That sounds cliche as hell but that's just the kind of place Petra's was. It was (and is) a place you walk into any night of the week, alone or with friends, and feel completely at home. It's a place that would become a home for me in many ways.
"Are you Jerry Brown," I asked the tall stranger at the bar during one of my first visits.
I think those were my first words to Jerry. I remember shaking his hand and telling him my name. "Holy shit, I held you when you were a baby," he said. "You've grown up." That was all it took to become friends with Jerry - a smile and a handshake. Of course, those handshakes quickly evolved into one of his famous bear hugs. It didn't matter how busy the bar was or what band was playing; Jerry always had time for a hug.
Jerry was one of the first club owners to book me in Charlotte. I'm not sure if he ever realized what a big deal that was for me. It was a space where I could perform in front of an audience and, on a few occasions, fuck up. Every performer has an off night. Jerry and the wonderful Petra's family gave me place that allowed me to fuck up, but also to grow up.
Many nights after the bar had closed down, a few of us would be left inside. I'd find my way over to the piano playing to the stragglers. My dear friend Curtis would want to hear "New York State of Mind" while Jerry, who enjoyed a good hymn, opted for "The Old Rugged Cross."
Jerry created a place in the neighborhood that allowed artists and patrons of all kinds to gather and be themselves. A rock show one night, a cabaret the next, a yoga class the morning after that. Jerry made Petra's something special and unique and, in the process, became as much of a fixture as the bar itself.
The last time I played Petra's it was my album release show. It was a packed house and the energy was through the roof. Jerry was there in the crowd. I even flubbed a lyric that night but it didn't matter. I was home with my family and singing my songs.
The next time I walk through those doors it will be different. There won't be a Jerry to hug and cut up with. But there will still be the piano in the corner, there will still be Curtis' laugh, and there will still be many more good times to be had. We have Jerry to thank for that.