Sandy Gennaro’s hotel key collection spans 42 years and represents tour stops around the world.
The Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden opened “Island Sounds: a 500 Year Music Mash-Up” May 12 featuring items from acts including former Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, “Hair” composer Galt MacDermot, David Johansen, Bobby Darin, Ingrid Michaelson, Wu-Tang Clan and Gennaro, to name a few. The exhibit, running through December 2013, was featured in a New York Times “Arts Beat” article May 1.
Gennaro basically started the key collection – 2,160 keys so far, according to a Snug Harbor reps’ count – on a whim.
“I’ve always kept souvenirs like that – real souvenirs as opposed to the ones you buy. I’ve got part of the Coliseum in Rome, the foundation of Notre Dame, seashells from the Mediterranean,” Gennaro told Pollstar. “I remember the first gig that I did, we stayed at a hotel. I think it was called the Rocking Horse Ranch. It was somewhere in upstate New York.
“We were all in the same room and I was in charge of the key. It was one of those green, plastic keys that have ‘If found return to,’ a post office box, the room number and the name and address of the hotel on it. To me it was the perfect souvenir to have.”
The collection, from the plain to the ornate in all sizes, grew to fill four large potato chip cans as Gennaro toured with Travers, Cyndi Lauper, Bo Diddley, Joan Jett, the Monkees, Johnny Winter, Michael Bolton, Robin Gibb and others. But he never expected the mass of keys to “see the light of day” outside of his home.
Things changed earlier this year when Snug Harbor reps contacted him about contributing to the exhibit.
“They called me in the winter time … and asked if I’d be interested in doing an interview and submitting some memorabilia,” he said. “They had a choice of anything they wanted and took several items.
“On their way out, I showed them the keys and they freaked out and said, ‘Could we have those?’ I said, ‘Sure, but how are you going to display them?’ They said, ‘We’ll figure out a way.’ They found this museum showcase that’s glass on all sides. It’s like a fish tank [and] they dumped all the keys in there.”
Pollstar then asked Gennaro the question inquiring minds want to know: Was he ever asked to return a key?
“I was asked to return one key when I was with a band called Craaft in 1986. We played in Hanover, Germany, and we opened for Queen. In Europe, the keys are very ornate,” Gennaro explained. “So my management gets a call from the hotel saying whoever stayed in room such-in-such on such-in-such a date, we need the key back or we’ll charge your account another thirty bucks or something.
“Management got in touch with me and said ‘Either send us the key so we can send it to the hotel or send us the 30 bucks.’ I sent the key back.”
Now Gennaro couldn’t be more pleased that his hotel key collection will be center-stage for more than a year.
“I never in a million years thought that a museum would want to feature [the collection]. It blows my mind because now a lot of people are going to be seeing it and appreciating it,” he said.
“I have a bunch of keys saved to add since they took the collection. Those cans are empty now, so I’m filling them up again.”