Sara Routh and Bruno Mars have a secret handshake. I have no idea when they first worked it out, but it's a simple little thing involving laying palms flat against one another, fingers pointed to the sky, then wrapping one's thumb gently around the back of the other person's hand, in a little hugging motion.
Throughout the past week, stories like that have been brought to my attention. She kissed Ron Jeremy one, though "not," she says, "in a sexual way." Which is immensely reassuring. Then there was the time that she tried to convince Larry David to swap cars with her for a day. He didn't take the bait.
A number of these stories, I am sure, come simply from having lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, and having a brother in the business. Those two things will often conspire to put you in close contact with a large variety of media and entertainment types. But not everyone who lives in LA or has a hard working actor family member has a story about special handshakes. Which speaks to the biggest truth about Sara Routh's personality. She's a fucking ENORMOUS name dropper.
No. In reality, the truth that it speaks to is her inherent, effortless likability. She has a way of being able to walk into a room and command everyone's love. It is something that goes beyond just knowing how to schmooze and make people feel welcome: on the way from our dinner to the club tonight, our Uber driver is an older Asian man. Routh asks him where he's from.
"Here!" he says. "I've lived here for 28 years."
"But where were you born?" she presses.
Suddenly, Routh, who lived in Shanghai for a time while she was married, is speaking fluent Mandarin Chinese to a very surprised Uber driver. Maybe it wasn't fluent. Maybe it was only what some people would call "conversational." But how much Mandarin do you know? Probably as much as I do.
By the time we arrive, she's shared a hug and given him a CD to listen to in the car. He tells her the names of some Chinese action flicks she needs to check out, and cautions her to be safe tonight.
This ability to connect with people on their own, very personal level would be an immensely valuable skill if you were a lawyer or realtor or politician. But it is absolutely gold when you are an indie artist.
I have seen it play out over and over again now: Routh will walk into a room for a gig. A room where she knows nobody, and nobody there has ever heard of her. And she walks out leaving a room full of people who think she's the greatest person on the planet.
Now granted, when Routh set up to play El Rio this evening as an opening act, it's not like she was Daniel stepping into the lion's den. This was by no means a hostile crowd. But when you are starting from a point of complete zero in terms of expectations and reputation, winning fans can be a difficult thing. First impressions are huge, and one sour note somewhere can turn them off of you for the rest of the night. This is a situation that Routh excels at.
She's so effervescent, so happy to be literally everywhere, and so adept at being "on" when she needs to, that getting people to love her for her is an easy thing, whether it's Bruno Mars or the girl in the white cats eye glasses standing in front of the stage.
Of course, it also helps to be really god damned good at what you do. This, in my estimation, is one of the first litmus tests for separating acts with genuine potential from the simple hobbyists and non-contenders: can you walk into a room cold, play your music, and win a crowd? Not one or two people who are picking up on what you're laying down, but a room of people.
When the set was done, a couple of Routh's friends who had made it down for the set, began calling for an encore. It was a silly lark of a thing. A half-joking way to say "your friends are here." But other people joined in the call.
No encores were played this night, but CDs were sold. New fans, as always, were made. The girl in the white cats eye glasses stood nervously in front of the stage, waiting for Routh to put away her guitar. "I am fan girl-ing so hard right now," she said to her friend. She had never heard Routh before tonight.
I don't yet know how much of Routh's magnetic, aw shucks personality is a put on. I don't know how much of it is an amped up version of her "real" personality, plied to the masses from the stage. I just don't know. However, I suspect that the answer may be "none of it." She might, just might, really be this damn likable all the time. It sells CDs. It makes people fan-girl out, and invent special handshakes with you. But perhaps most of all, it gives you the most un-teachable upper hand you could ever ask for: it makes people WANT to like you.