Jon Hamm gives local woman opportunity of a lifetime

It was just a routine Sunday afternoon shift for Tupelo Honey Café bartender Abby Swartz until Jon Hamm and Zach Galifianakis walked in.

The two, along with a third person thought to be a producer, arrived at Tupelo Honey at about 2:30 or 3 p.m., following a well-documented Saturday evening.

Hamm and Galifianakis were in Chattanooga following several appearances at Bonnaroo the previous day. They were emcees for one of the famous Bonnaroo Superjams and led the crowd in a rendition of “We Are the World.” At one point, Galifianakis became Hamm’s pet, for some reason.

Both actors will appear in a forthcoming buddy comedy called “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” which is currently being filmed in Atlanta.

Swartz, a recent transplant to Chattanooga by way of Indiana and Florida, immediately recognized the celebrities when they sat down at the bar.

“There was just no doubt in my mind,” Swartz said. “You know how you sometimes see someone famous and you’re not sure if it’s really them? I immediately knew. I got really nervous and I was trembling.”

Gaining her nerves a bit, Swartz offered them brunch menus and took their drink order. According to Swartz, Hamm had a fried egg BLT, and Galifianakis had eggs, bacon and grits. All three men had coffee; Hamm had an orange dreamsicle housemade soda, and Galifianakis had two large orange juices.

Over the next 45 minutes, Swartz chatted with them about Bonnaroo (she had no idea they were scheduled to be there) and other topics. Swartz said Galifianakis recognized the Tupelo Honey name, having lived in North Carolina near the original Asheville location.

Conversation was brief but friendly, according to Swartz. She didn’t have any other customers or anything else more pressing.

“I couldn’t go away,” she said. “I’ve waited on famous people before, but when you’re a server, you can approach and leave the table. I didn’t have anywhere to go.”

But she didn’t mind, of course.

“I’m a big fan of Jon Hamm, like most women of any age are,” she said. “He’s just a handsome dude. You know how famous people are supposed to be larger than life? Jon Hamm is just a big, strong dude.”

And he’s also generous, as she would soon find out.

As they were preparing to leave, Swartz said Hamm stood up and started tugging and struggling with his Bonnaroo wristband. He eventually removed it and handed it to Swartz, saying, “Take this wristband and go to Bonnaroo. This will get you anywhere you need to go.”

Swartz was floored. She asked him if he was serious.

“Yeah, go to Bonnaroo and have a great time,” he said.

The details of the next few moments are blurry, but Swartz remembers clasping Hamm’s hands and possibly telling him that she loved him.

Abby Swartz enjoys Bonnaroo. (Photo: Abby Swartz)

The experience
The whole experience was a whirlwind for Swartz. How many people have a story like this? A chance encounter with a celebrity is one thing, but this was two major celebrities. It was all too much.

To make matters more interesting, Swartz was scheduled to spend the evening with her boyfriend to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Unfortunately, she didn’t have another wristband to give him. But after a brief conversation, he encouraged her and agreed with her co-workers that she had to go.

“I just moved here, I’ve never been to Bonnaroo, and now I have this pass that gives me access to anywhere,” she said. “I had to go.”

Swartz was initially unaware how much access her wristband would give her. She parked with general attendees and entered the festival through the iconic arches like everyone else. Eventually, she found an information desk, and they directed her through gate after gate until she found herself backstage at several stages.

Swartz saw Brandi Carlile, watched Florence and the Machine (one of the best shows of Bonnaroo, according to many) and managed to snag a bird’s-eye view of the festival’s final headliner, the legendary Billy Joel.

“It was the highlight of my life,” she said. “Throughout the night, I kept thinking about how lucky I was. I’m not a very outgoing person, so I didn’t talk to too many people in the artists’ hospitality area. I mostly kept to myself. But there were times when I would just smile and think, ‘There are thousands of people here, and I am the only one who is, basically, Jon Hamm’s stand-in.'”

With the exception of a tweet and several posts on Facebook, Swartz hasn’t reached out to Hamm yet. But she would love to thank him for the experience and let him know how much it meant to her.

“I would love for him to know that I went,” she said. “It was so important. Jon Hamm is amazing, and I would love for him to know that he made my life.”

It should also be noted that Hamm may have given her the wristband, but Galifianakis was also generous. He gave her a 250 percent tip on the bill.

Many will recognize Hamm for his role as Don Draper in the “Mad Men” TV series and, most recently, as the villainous Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Galifianakis is famous for his roles in “The Hangover” films, as well as his starring role in Funny or Die’s hilarious mock public access show, “Between Two Ferns.” Despite Hamm’s prolific dramatic roles, both he and Galifianakis are well-known for their comedic abilities.

Close to Florence and the Machine. (Photo: Abby Swartz)