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⭐️ Let Her Be A College Student: An Oral History Of Taylor Swift's Night At The Hawk

The inside story of the world's biggest pop star partying at the Jayhawk Cafe

In this Hearings newsletter:

  1. An Oral History of Taylor Swift’s Night at The Hawk

  2. Mike’s Quick KU Links

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EVERYTHING IN THIS NEWSLETTER IS BASED UPON WHAT I AM HEARING FROM PEOPLE I TRUST. PLEASE DO NOT MISTAKE THIS FOR FACT OR FOR ACTUAL JOURNALISM, WHICH HAS VERIFICATION STANDARDS THAT I HAVE NOT ADHERED TO. I DO NOT GUARANTEE THE ACCURACY OF THE CONTENT.

Let Her Be A College Student: An Oral History Of Taylor Swift's Night At The Hawk

A Jayhawk Cafe Love Story

When KUHearings started, I hoped to tell KU stories you wouldn’t read anywhere else. Most of these, I figured, would be scoops. But there are also legendary Jayhawk tales worth sharing, too. This is one of those moments.

On Monday, April 27, 2009, a 19-year-old Taylor Swift went out in Lawrence while visiting her best friend, Abigail Anderson, a swimmer at KU.

This is the story of the night the biggest pop star in the world went to The Jayhawk Cafe, aka “The Hawk,” as told by the students who were there that night.

Comments have been edited for clarity

Justin Pessetto, KU football player and Hawk doorman: We just weren’t busy, so I’m like ‘Well I’ll just work the door tonight,” — and then someone said, “Hey, I think Taylor Swift is gonna come in.”

Dakota Lewis, KU football player: Pessetto was working that night, so we got word that it was gonna go down.

Tyler Lawrence, KU football player: Her friend (Abigail) was a swimmer and all that. The athletes, we all run in the same circles. We heard Taylor Swift was gonna go to the Hawk, and we were all like, ‘Wait what? No way. If this is gonna be a real thing, we gotta go check this out.’ There’s no way you’re going to pass up this opportunity.

Anonymous college friend of Abigail: She texted and said, “We’re gonna do a little get together at The Hawk, down in the Martini Room.” I think Taylor wanted to meet people.

Jaclyn McAnarney, KU cheerleader: It started going around via text. Through the football players, we got a text that there was an exclusive list. You had to be on a list.

Lewis: I don’t think it was campus-wide knowledge that Taylor Swift was going to the Hawk.

Pessetto (doorman): I was just posted up on the door that night, not supposed to let anybody in. Only these people were on her list and that was it.

Editor’s Note: The list may have had a few exceptions.

Lawrence: We got let in. Pessetto being my best friend, that was a no brainer. So I got to go in.

Pessetto (doorman): I got the whole rundown, like ‘you’ll give her the wristband [to get in], and then I was just sitting there casually waiting.

Swift arrives at the Hawk and, like everyone else, needs a wristband to get inside. The famous picture gets taken during this moment.

Lawrence: It wasn’t like a big crowd, or mob. It was just a subtle handful of people.

Pessetto (doorman): Everything must’ve just gone silent. I don’t remember commotion.

Lewis: It was just us hanging outside of the Hawk, nothing crazy. And she just casually walked up.

Pessetto (doorman): Up strolls the six-footer herself. I was just blown away. This is Taylor Swift, as advertised. She was just casually coming through acting like a regular co-ed in Lawrence.

Editor’s Note: After years of the photo floating around, Pessetto requested the record reflect that he was sitting on a barstool in the photo and that Swift is NOT taller than him. He mentioned this multiple times.

Lawrence: I remember thinking: God damn she’s tall. She’s pretty. Wow, she’s really here. This is a really cool opportunity.

Lewis: There she is. She’s here at the Cafe.

Pessetto (doorman): I was blown away by her majesticness. It was like a special mallard, you just don’t ever see them again.

Editor’s Note: I have no idea what this means, but it was funny.

Lewis: It was just like, ‘Oh, that’s Taylor Swift. OK cool.’ And then she was greeted by Sir Justin Pessetto, pulling the typical Chris Farely introduction to her.

Pessetto (doorman): I didn’t even ID her. There were no IDs given. Like, what are you gonna take Taylor Swift’s ID for? You know she’s not 21. Like, why would I even pretend to do that. I was strictly there to put a wristband on her. I asked her ‘How’s your day with Abigail been?’

She said ‘It’s been fun.’

I said, ‘Good, I hope you enjoy your time at the Jayhawk Cafe. You need anything, you let me know. There’s probably a lot of people here to help you.’ And then she just went on her way. She was gone.

Lewis: It’s comical. That’s 100% something Pessetto would say, straight faced, just typical.

Pessetto: I got to brush up against her for that two-and-a-half seconds of just pure joy.

Swift went into one of the Hawk’s five bar areas, the Martini Room

McAnarney: I remember them saying, ‘Listen, everyone gets autographs, pictures, whatever for 15 minutes.’ And then put away your cameras and let her be a college student.

Lewis: I was just a dirty hippie going to Kansas playing football. I had a flip phone. That was my least worry to get a pixelated picture with Taylor Swift.

Anonymous college friend of Abigail: I always got the feeling she just wanted to, like, have a normal experience. We introduced ourselves and everybody was trying to ignore the elephant in the room. She was really sweet.

Lewis: She was just there to be with her friend and experience a little bit of college life.

Lawrence: We all just kind of hung out and chatted. There wasn’t like crazy dancing or shots. We were just enjoying the moment, I guess.

McAnarney: Obviously a lot of the football boys were talking to her.

Lewis: We all got to say hello and introduce ourselves. At some point we spoke a little bit more, just with a group of people. She was just in the group, keeping conversation going and whatnot. It was a pretty casual conversation.

McAnarney: I didn’t want to crowd her, so we waited our turn. I saw a little opening and asked for a quick pic. She said ‘absolutely!’ and was really sweet.

Pasetto: I don’t even know if she drank.

McAnarney: I never saw her drinking at all.

Lewis: She wasn’t drinking. 

Lawrence: There were a lot of $100 bills passed around to let people in at some point.

Anonymous friend: I think she kind of got overwhelmed and they left pretty quick.

Lawrence: I remember a big flash (photo) and everything kind of got shut down at that point.

Pasetto: For us at the bar, we were just like, ‘Wow, that really happened. Taylor Swift was in the Martini Room.’

And just like that, Swift was gone. Five months later, Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV VMAs. Her stardom continued to take off and hasn’t slowed down since.

For those few at the Hawk that night, it made for a KU memory that would last forever.

McAnarney and Swift in the Martini Room

McAnarney: You didn’t really know about it until the next day once people were able to upload their photos [to Facebook]. I definitely got tons of comments.

Pesetto: I remember leaving that night saying ‘we’ll be telling that story to our kids.’ And yeah, here we are.

Lawrence: Looking back, it’s like, “Holy shit. That was really cool.” You don’t fully appreciate what you’re experiencing in that moment.

Pesetto: Every time Swift pops up in Kansas City, I get like 1,000 text messages asking if it’s me in the picture. It’s been a recurring thing for the past 10 years.

Lewis: [The picture] comes up once a year, if not more. It always gets brought up somewhere.

Lawrence: I get sent that picture every year, somehow. It’s been going on for years.

Lewis: My wife makes fun of me. She’s like, ‘yeah, you showed me that picture 10 years ago.’

Pesetto: My wife is a 5’11” gal. I wanted a tall girl and Taylor Swift was one of those reasons. On God. When I meant my wife, I was like, ‘This is my Taylor Swift.’

Lawrence: My daughter is like the biggest Swiftie of all time. We know all the songs… and she loves the picture.

If you enjoyed this story and want more inside KU content, please consider subscribing (for free or VIP). Thank you for your support!

Here’s Swift’s old interview saying she’d travel to KU if she could go anywhere in the world. 👇

Mike’s Quick KU Links

  • Lance Leipold responds to Jim Rome asking about the Michigan State job opening, saying he has “unfinished business” at KU.

  • Hunter Dickinson did a video Q&A with KU fans. It’s a fun two-minute watch.

  • After Tully Corcoran joined us on the ‘Could Be Wrong’ show, a few people requested to read his old blog post about Tyshawn Taylor. Corcoran agreed to re-publish the piece on KUHearings so people could read it. It may be my favorite item on a KU player ever written. You can read it here.

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