Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Akron Adventure

A few weeks ago, my friend Jeremy Gloff brought an event taking place in Akron, Ohio, to my attention: "Let's go crazy: Prince tribute party featuring Jill Jones from Purple Rain."

"Vasquezdiva productions presents the second annual tribute party. Starring the one and only Jill Jones from Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge. Also live onstage, Detroit based Prince Impersonator Sir Walt and nationally known drag artist Danyel Vasquez. DJ John Hummell will be playing the best of Prince, Jill Jones, The Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Taja Seville, Wendy and Lisa, Maserati, The Family and more! Purple Drink specials. Purple giveaways all night long.
Group discount hotel rates at THE RED ROOF INN at 2939 S Arlington Rd Akron Ohio. Mention Promo code 655568 Interbelt prince party. Rooms discounts available Friday and Saturday May 5th and 6th
There will be a meet n greet as well with Jill Jones, Sir Walt and Danyel Vasquez
Admission at the door. No pre sale. Doors open at 9pm. This is not put on my the Interbelt but by myself, a private promoter. There is no guest list. Thank you in advance.
The Interbelt is s state of the art nightclub. Two huge dance floors. Plasma screens. VIP section ! 30 years strong. Legendary.
Any questions feel free to contact Danyel Vasquez on Facebook.
It's going to be a beautiful night ! 💜💜💜💜"
In case you think you don't know who Jill Jones is, you're probably wrong. The top picture is her (on the left) in the "1999" video and the bottom picture is her as a cocktail waitress in a scene from the film "Purple Rain"
Having been a Prince fan for years, I was aware of Jill and became a huge fan when she put out her first album back in 1987.
This one
It was never promoted properly (or really, at all) so it never had a chance to become a hit, but it received critical praise and I loved it to the point of wearing out a few cassettes in my car that summer. It's long out-of-print but remains one of the most sought-after Paisley Park releases by collectors.
Years later, on MySpace (remember MySpace?), I sent her a note and she replied. Over the years, we have kept in touch via social media (we've been Friends on Facebook for a long time and she sent a really nice, personal note when my mom died) but we'd never met in person.

Back to the present and the only part of this whole story that is in dispute: Jeremy claims it was my idea, although I think he's mistaken and that it was his, but we ran into each other at an open mic and one of us said, "We should go to this!" and the other one said, "Good idea!!" We decided to go up just for the event and not waste money on a hotel by flying back immediately afterward.

We flew into Akron on Saturday afternoon, where we were met by Jeremy's buddy J.J. Vicars, a fellow musician. Jeremy and J.J. were Facebook friends but had never met in person, so this was already a pretty big deal for both of them. As for me, I was going with the flow with minimum expectations. I just wanted to have a nice time on this mini-vacation, see Jill perform and maybe get a chance to say hi and get a picture with her. Anything beyond that would be a bonus. As it turns out, the entire trip was a bonus.

J.J. insisted on taking us to the best place around for dinner so we scooped up his friend Cameron and went to George's Lounge in nearby Canton.

George's is locally renowned for music and J.J. plays there frequently so he was warmly welcomed, as were we since we were his guests. George's is the kind of tiny hole-in-the-wall, live-music place with really good food that you find in almost every town worth visiting.
Cameron, Jeremy, me and J.J. George's tiny stage is behind us. I can just imagine what it must be like when the place is rockin'.

Our server recommended "The John Wayne" and it was the best burger I've had in a very long time...
BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, lettuce, onions, cheese and an onion ring
We shot the breeze and had some laughs. Jeremy and J.J. both know Jill personally and have spent time with her and played music on multiple occasions. So at one point, somebody reached her via text (she and I hadn't exchanged phone numbers...yet) and let her know we were in town, to which she replied, "Come on over to the hotel and we'll hang out". We drove back up to Akron and met Jill at her hotel where she greeted me with a big hug. The trip was already far exceeding my expectations. Jill told some stories about her time with Prince and it was like sitting around a camp fire. I saw Cameron, Jeremy and J.J. move closer to her when she was talking. Being as I was far from the coolest person in the room, I'm sure I did the same thing.
She's very down to earth and a straight shooter so between that and having a history of correspondence, I immediately felt very comfortable around her. It was like chatting with someone you've known for a very long time, even though we had just officially "met". Lots of back and forth and plenty of laughter all around. I had no reason to think she'd be anything else, but you never know when you actually meet someone in "real life". What if she had turned out to be a weirdo? What if I did?? It could have happened! But it didn't.

At some point, Jill mentioned, "You know, I didn't rent a car and I don't even know how I'm supposed to get to the club later." Jeremy came to the rescue by announcing that we had rented a nice, clean car at the airport and would be more than happy to drive her. Suddenly, we were her transportation and security detail. J.J. and Cameron said they would meet us there later.
Jeremy wanted to torture her by subjecting her to Carpool Karaoke with her own music, but thankfully, the car didn't come equipped with a CD player.

We started heading over to the Interbelt around 10 (Jill was scheduled to perform at midnight). Like most Midwestern towns, I presume the streets of Akron must have taken a beating during the winter and were under repair as soon as the spring weather was nice enough for crews to get out and work on them. As such, there were construction detours all over the place. Plus, it rained the entire time we were there, so finding our way to the club was a considerable challenge. At one point, the GPS on my phone had us 800 feet from the place as we were looking directly at a fully barricaded road in front of us. I don't know who owns the traffic barricade business in Akron, but they are doing VERY well for themselves. I expected my phone to say "Well, I don't now what to tell you" and just turn itself off in frustration. We drove through some parking lots, up and down some crazy hills and eventually found it.
We wanted to pull up close to the front door so Jill didn't have to walk far in the rain. We had planned to drop her off, then go park. The club itself was surrounded by big orange barrels so I got out of the car to move one (fully intending to put it back once we dropped her off) and a really angry security guard came over to yell at me. I think he was having a bad day because he was already really pissed off. We, all three of us, tried to explain the situation, that we had the headliner for the show and needed to get her as close to the front door as possible because it's dark and raining and this is pretty much a construction site. He angrily replied, "No, you DO NOT have the headliner with you! Prince is already inside! He's been here for over half an hour!" We all looked at each other. Without going into detail why what he was saying was simply impossible ("I don't know where you've been for the last year, but I promise you Prince is not in there"), we tried to assure him that Jill was, in fact, the headliner. He wasn't having it, but since he wasn't actually a cop or anybody with real authority (or weapons), he finally gave in and let us pull right up to the front door and park, angrily muttering, "this is b*llsh*t, this is b*llsh*t" the whole time. We had been willing to park much farther away, so in a way, I guess you could say he was actually very helpful. I feel bad because I'm pretty sure he's the only person there that didn't have a good time. I should have brought a beer out to him. And a newspaper. Oh well.

We walked in with Jill and were met by Danyel Vasquez, the event promoter and organizer.
Danyel Vasquez and me.

She escorted us upstairs to the dressing room which is the old projection booth from when the Interbelt was the Ritz theater, which originally opened in 1942 to cater to Akron's black movie patrons.
Jill, Prince impersonator Sir Walt and Danyel Vasquez, primping prior to the show
The Interbelt is listed as a "gay club", but I'm pretty sure this wasn't a strictly gay event. All I saw were Prince people, all genders, all ages, all orientations, as detailed in Prince's song "Uptown":

"As soon as we got there good times were rolling
White, Black, Puerto Rican, everybody just a-freakin'
Good times were rolling"

I don't remember who it was, but after Prince died, somebody was quoted as saying something to the effect of "nobody ever went to a Prince concert, looked around and said 'I don't belong here'" and that is 100% accurate and it also applies to any gathering of his people. Whatever the make-up of the crowd, everybody there was very hospitable. Jeremy and I felt like visiting dignitaries. Everybody we encountered was really nice, really friendly and really fun. And throughout all of it, Jill herself could not have been more gracious.

Jeremy and I were both pressed into service; Danyel was talked into performing one of Jill's songs ("Mia Bocca") at the last second, so Jeremy assumed temporary Emcee duties to introduce her. Jill said it was the first time she'd been present when a drag queen performed one of her songs, so it was a historic moment.
Meanwhile, I was put in charge for the post-show autograph session, meeting Jill with a bottle of water after her performance and helping people take pictures and move through the line.
Years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry pays off!
I felt like we earned our keep!

Here are some more pictures...
The dance floor at The Interbelt, as seen from the VIP booth. Oh, I forgot to mention that we were in the VIP booth with Jill. Oops.
Jeremy and Jill dancing in the VIP booth. She's clearly amused by his antics, which is understandable as most people are amused by Jeremy's antics.

Jill with a copy of her first album that J.J. Vicars acquired while he was in Japan.
Me with a big, dumb smile on my face because I was sitting next to Jill Jones, singing along with Jill Jones to songs that Jill Jones sang on! Remember, my expectations going into this were low and manageable. She tried to Facebook Live a lot of this but the videos were all taken down almost instantly due to "copyright violations", which is equal parts bizarre, sad and hilarious.
Of all her songs, my all-time favorite remains "For Love" which is on side 2 of her first album. I had no reason to think it would be one of the songs she'd perform. She closed with it!

Post show

J.J., Danyel, Cameron, Jill, me and Jeremy at the end of the night. And yes, Jeremy was representing on behalf of Cappy's Pizza.

Me and Jill
Jeremy and I ended up back at Jill's hotel room for more chatter and laughs until about 3:30 in the morning before exchanging farewells and heading to the airport. By the time I finally crashed into a bed on Sunday afternoon, I had been awake for 37 straight hours. 

23-year-old me can't wait to do something like that again. 53-year-old me says something like that can never happen again. 23-year-old me is pretty persuasive though... 


J.J. Vicars said...

That was the first time I had met Jill in person as well. Her and Gloff had met before and played a little but not me. The closest I've come so far is recording my arrangement of her song "Tiki" to illustrate the point I was trying to make at the time that it would sound really cool as a Stones--y rocker. Meeting her in person for the first time was indeed like seeing someone again whom I'd known all my life. A relaxed camaraderie. Her cousin Rachelle (spelling?) was cool too.

George's I play at the fourth Thursday of every month plus special occasions. The next special occasion is during the Canton Blues Festival. I usually play George's on one of the two nights starting just as the festival is wrapping up. There have been some legendary jam sessions there.

Interesting history about the club. News to me. Yes, there were indeed people of all types there rather than merely the clientele that some would expect. A brunette in a short black dress lingers in the memory.

The LP of mine that Jill is signing is a Japanese pressing. As most record collectors know Japanese pressings have the "obi" sleeve and a four-page insert and are generally more plush than their American counterparts. I made sure Jill checked it out completely while she had it in her hand. She included a very nice personal note in the autograph and it's now one of the highlights of my collection. Putting it next to the photo of Redd Foxx and Louis Jordan that Redd signed and I acquired from Louis' estate.

Glad that everybody had a good time. Hopefully next time it will be longer and coincide with some of my gigs so that Jill and Gloff can sit in, which they both hold a standing invitation for.

Clark Brooks said...

You were an outstanding host. The hospitality you showed us was a major factor in making it as good a time as it was. Thanks again!


I was so happy you guys came out... Clark this blog had me rolling.. Its so spot on especially about the parki.!ng attendant. Such good memories made I am happy we all got to make them together!!!


Its Jill btw!!!! lol

Clark Brooks said...

Oh hi, Jill! Yeah, I anticipated a good time and it turned out to be so much more than that!