Longtime Juneau musician Albert McDonnell plans to relocate to Portland, Ore. later this month.
Clockwise, from top left: The Preserves members Wayne Norlund, Andy Engstrom, Albert McDonnell, Tony Tengs and Steve Wilde monkey around during a rehearsal at Studio A last week. The group is preparing for two upcoming performances in Haines and Juneau on Sept. 10 and 11.
Story last updated at 9/9/2009 - 11:36 am
The Preserves are gearing up for their first ever solo gig, which very well may also be their last.
During their 15 years as a band, the group has performed exclusively at the Alaska Folk Festival, gracing Juneau with only three songs per year. Their only other public appearance was this April when they performed at a CD release party in celebration of their album, "How Excellent & Civilized Are We."
"This is once in a lifetime," said Tony Tengs, The Preserves founder and songwriter. "This is rarer than seeing Haley's Comet."
Selected members of The Preserves will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 at the Chilkat Center in Haines, followed by a grand slam performance at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. The performances will feature a number of musicians who have appeared with The Preserves on the Folk Festival stage over the years, including Tengs, Andy Engstrom, Steve Wilde, Wayne Norlund, Kari Groven and Albert McDonnell.
The main reason behind the performances is the imminent departure of McDonnell, a bassist, songwriter, arranger and producer who has played a prominent role, along with Tengs, in shaping what The Preserves has become over the years. McDonnell plans to relocate to Portland, Ore. later this month.
"Since I'm leaving, this is it," McDonnell said. "If we don't do this now, we never will."
McDonnell has lived in Juneau since 1985. Originally from the Bay Area of California, he came to Alaska in pursuit of work at a fish plant in Kenai. Along the way, he stopped in Juneau to work temporarily at Douglas Cold Storage. What began as a short-term arrangement quickly became permanent.
"When I came, I thought I'd just stay for one winter and see how it went," McDonnell said.
Twenty-four years later, McDonnell has established himself as a respected leader in Juneau's music scene, often taking the drivers seat in groups he has joined.
McDonnell's music career began as an adolescent, taking inspiration from The Beatles, who he credits for initially sparking his interest in music. He played in a variety of rock bands in California, but upon landing in Juneau shifted his focus toward more bluegrass, folk and Cajun styles. He played in a number of bands of various genres, working his way up the local music ladder.
"At first, some of the people I saw who were playing, I thought, 'I'd really like to play with those guys someday,'" McDonnell said. "And I did."
In the early nineties, McDonnell began acquiring recording equipment, which led to the opening of a studio. Studio A, located on the top floor of the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, is still in operation today. McDonnell produced and engineered the albums of various local artists, many of whom he developed long working relationships with.
"I've done over 10 CDs in the studio with him," said Buddy Tabor, Juneau singer/songwriter. "He's probably a musical genius. He's got great, innovative ideas and he's levelheaded in the most stressful times. He can take a mess and turn it into gold. The man is a saint."
McDonnell looks forward to a fresh start in Portland. By leaving his studio equipment in Juneau, he hopes to have more time to focus on his own musical endeavors. He also plans to return to Juneau for various musical events in the future.
"On the whole, I think that Juneau is a pretty good town for musicians," McDonnell said. "I tend to remember musical moments more than a single band or musician. Most of us are kind of inhibited most of the time, for one reason or another, but those great musical moments are when musicians and audiences can let go of their inhibitions. It's kind of an ability to get into a space as a performer, to go deep and put it all on the line. When you have a group of musicians who really respect and enjoy each other, you kind of encourage each other to not be inhibited."
One of McDonnell's final performances as a Juneau resident will be with The Preserves, a group he said he has enjoyed investing a lot of time into.
"We want to work him hard and use him as much as possible before he goes," Tengs said.
Tickets to The Preserves' Sept. 11 performance will be available at the door for $12.
Libby Sterling may be reached at email@example.com.