Early in 2022, I started reminiscing about some of my favorite concerts (FTV: Live Shows Revisited – Part 1 2-23-22). Having asked for and received stories about some of your favorite shows as well, they were chronicled in Part 2 (5-11-22). In an article sandwiched in between Part 1 and Part 2, I added some details about our friend Al Jacquez’s two previous visits to the Ontonagon Theater for the Performing Arts (FTV: Al J Returns 3-30-22) in preparation for the solo show he will be doing at the OTPA on August 12, 2022. Normally, I try to limit FTVs to one or two parts, but in this case, I have to make an exception. In discussing Al’s first trip to Ontonagon with his band, Measured Chaos, in Part 1, I mentioned the need to revisit his second trek to the Western Upper Peninsula in 2009. If I have now thoroughly confused you, I apologize. Perhaps a short, quick summary of the story up to now will help.
Al Jacquez was the bass player and vocalist in a band called Savage Grace back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I got to see them perform twice at Northern Michigan University and, like any other fan, was disappointed when the band broke up. While searching for an album to replace my cassette tape of the first Savage Grace album (it lost the will to live), I made contact with Al at the 33 1/3 Records website where he had both of their albums on sale. My first order disappeared in transit so our correspondence back and forth netted me not only the two Savage Grace albums (now on CD) but also a CD of Al’s new band, Measured Chaos. Thus was the seed planted in my brain to see if we could find a way to get Measured Chaos from deep lower Michigan to the far north to do a show at the Ontonagon Theater for the Performing Arts. It took a couple of years, but the first Measured Chaos show happened in June of 2005 (full details in Part 1). When the band departed after their show for an overnight drive to their next gig in Traverse City, my last words to them were along the lines of, “Well, if you are ever touring in the neighborhood again, let us know.” Getting any band to Ontonagon for a concert is no small undertaking, so at the time, I more or less knew it would be a stretch to get lightning to strike twice. I love it when I am wrong!
Sometime during 2008, Al and I struck up an internet conversation about Measured Chaos returning to the Upper Peninsula. Al explained he was looking for dates for a possible mini-tour in the summer of 2009. Their original drummer, Bill Gordon, had been forced to relocate to Georgia for employment purposes so things had gotten a little more complicated since their first visit in 2005. Guitarist Mark Tomorsky and new drummer Frankie Charboneaux would both be commuting in from Los Angeles so they needed more than one gig to make it economically feasible. I told Al, “If you book the tour, count us in. When you have dates, we will figure out the rest on this end.” The next time I heard from Al, they had two U.P. gigs on opposite ends of the peninsula with ours set for a Monday at the end of May. I noted that school would still be in session and asked if they would be adverse to doing two shows so we could bring our students from the Ontonagon Area Schools down for a matinee. Two paying gigs in town on the same trip? No brainer. There were only a few logistical problems that needed to be worked out to make it happen.
The first hurdle was getting the school authorities on board after I had already made the deal. You are probably thinking, “Wouldn’t it have made sense to get clearance before making it a done deal?” The short answer is ‘yes’, but I had a little inside intel that told me it could be worked out. One of my DJs happened to be a guitar player and the son of the principal, who also happened to be a guitar player. Having anticipated the second hurdle (the date available was also supposed to be the first day of year end exams), I did a little boots on the groundwork to find out if any of my colleagues would object to NOT starting exams on that Monday. The answer was a universal, “Not a problem, we can work around that.” When the principal brought up that conflict, I already had the answer in my back pocket. As I had hoped, the plot (um, ‘plan’) was given a thumbs up as long as I made arrangements with the transportation department to get the kids there and back. The theater seats around 300 so we went down as far as we could from seniors to (if memory serves me) fourth grade. We put out the word to the staff that transport would begin at 12:30 pm for the 1 pm show.
The third hurdle was unexpected. When told about the school year ending musical event, there was a certain amount of blow-back when I described the group to the kids as a ‘blues band’. Having never turned down a chance to see any form of live musical performance when I was in school, I was surprised so many in the student body came off like musical snobs. “Oh, we don’t like that kind of music,” was the main beef. When I asked if they had ever HEARD any band performing the blues, most admitted they had not. In the end, my party line became, “It is live music and no matter what you THINK it will sound like, it will be great.” The plot to promote the show thickened when I made it known that any and all musicians in the school (of which we had a lot for our small size) had reserved seats in the front rows. That got their attention and a bit of a buzz about the show started to build in the weeks ahead of the show.
The last thing to lock down was housing the band. On their first trip, we were able to get a good deal from a local business man with an upper floor unit that could house all six of the traveling party. This time, we struck a deal for four rooms at the AmericInn in Silver City. Between the anticipated ticket sales, a couple of donations, and our meager station funds, we were confident we had the resources to cover all the costs (including the buses to get the kids to the afternoon show and back to school). Of course, I had not shared all of this with Al and the band because their part was to show up and put on a heck of a show. My last correspondence with Al was a big thumbs up. The only clinker I had thrown at him was, “Could you do a little Q&A sometime in the program so we can justify calling it ‘educational’? Al said, “Well, I have done school programs before but the other guys probably have not. I think they will be fine with it.”
Our OASD drama program advisor, the late Dana Brookins, acted as our liaison with the theater. Her drama club was operating at full tilt back then and a couple of my WOAS-FM DJs had experience working at the theater. Once I told them they would be allowed to go down and help the band set up and watch how they prep for a show, they were all in. Being able to tell Al that we had an experienced lightboard operator and the theater’s sound mixer ready to help out, all we had to do was wait. It really did feel like it was taking forever for the day to arrive, but once the band rolled into town, things started moving at a much faster pace. Before we knew what hit us, we had a theater full of bodies waiting to hear if the band was going to be as good as I had promised. As planned, rows 1 and 2 were populated by every drummer, keyboard player, vocalist, and guitar player in the school.
If you have ever been on stage, you already know that stage lights make it very difficult to see much farther than the first couple of rows. This was the other reason we wanted to salt the front of the house with kids who played. I introduced the band and they came out smoking. Their lead guitar player, Mark Tomorsky, is a real jokester by nature so when he stepped forward to take the first guitar break, he had a serious look on his face I had not seen before. He attacked his guitar and the house erupted in hoots and cheers which kind of caught him off guard. I won’t say the band was nervous about playing for a school assembly, but in hindsight, I think it was more a case of, ‘Well, we don’t normally do this kind of show’. It was also the opening show of their tour. Two songs in, I looked over at one of my DJs (also a guitar player) – Tommy had an ear to ear grin on his face and he mouthed ‘Best school assembly ever” while flashing me a double thumbs up. I relaxed and enjoyed the show with only one more thing to wonder about: the Q&A session.
When they hit that spot in the program, Al asked for the house lights to be brought up and for the first time, the band was able to see where all the noise had been coming from. Just about every seat up through the balcony was filled and the band raised their eyebrows when they realized the first show of their tour was a near sell out. The audience asked some great questions with Al doing most of the talking. He also went out of his way to thank the theater crew for helping them put together the first show of their tour and invited everyone back for the evening performance. The band did their big finish and we started what we thought would be an orderly retreat to the exits where the buses were waiting. Instead, to our surprise, a lot of the students headed toward the stage to get autographs and talk to the band.
Tomorsky was deeply engaged in guitar talk when he draped his Stratocaster over Mike Immonen’s shoulder and let him play a few licks. Drummer Frank Charboneaux was beating out some rudiments on the stage apron as he talked drums with another group. It took a good fifteen minutes to round up the rest and get them back on the buses. I think Frank said it best, “Hey, that was fun. If we do this again, do you think we could actually come to the school and do some workshops with the kids?” My first thought was, “Are you kidding? Of course we could do that!”
At the evening show, Al mentioned what a great time they had playing for the kids earlier in the day. He also mentioned it would be great to spend a couple of days next time so they could do more with them. I would love to tell you that we put that plan into action, but fate sometimes dictates what will happen no matter how badly we want something to go the way we want. The music industry went into a nosedive not long after that last Measured Chaos show. Many venues closed and bands large and small took serious hits in their ability to tour without going broke. With two members commuting in from California, Measured Chaos would have been hard pressed to make another U.P. swing. In our correspondence in the years after their last visit, Al invited me to a couple of shows they were able to do in the Detroit area while lamenting the difficulty they (and other bands) were having finding places to play. As much as I would have loved to be there, time, distance, and economics prevented me from seeing Measured Chaos or any of their one-off Savage Grace shows over the next decade.
As Al notes on his web page, “I have had a lot of jobs, but I would rather sing.” When the full band jobs became scarce, Al began putting together a show he calls ‘One Voice, One Guitar’. He has performed with a gospel group called OneAchord, some duet jobs with other players like Drew Abbott (formerly of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band), and gigs as a guest vocalist with various groups like the Dick Wagner Band (The Frost, Alice Cooper). In other words, difficult situations aside, Al has found a way to keep playing music. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on live performances for a good chunk of time, but never say never. As we have found ways to keep people safe and healthy (I won’t go into the whole nine-yards about vaccination and social distancing here), live music has begun to make a comeback.
On August 12, 2022, Al Jacquez will finally get to make that third visit to the Ontonagon Theater for the Performing Arts. As mentioned earlier this spring, he has pulled together enough gigs to make this Upper Peninsula mini-tour of his One Voice, One Guitar show happen. At our last writing on the subject, he said his calendar was filling up but he may still have openings for some other shows on this pass. If you might be interested in booking Al for a house show, porch show, deck show or the like when he is in the area, visit his website (aljacquez.com) and follow the prompt to his booking information. If nothing else, we will see you all at the OTPA for what is sure to be a great show. Let me be the first to say, “Welcome back, Al!”
Top Piece Video: Al and the Measured Chaos boys having some fun in L.A. promoting their SOMEWHERE BETWEEN DETROIT AND CHICAGO album – yes, they are LIVING THE DREAM