Even though I hardly knew Michael Johns, I still felt the impact of losing a fellow musician with whom I had once shared a stage when I learned of his untimely passing.
Last Friday, it was announced that Johns - a top eight finalist on the seventh season of FOX's "American Idol" in 2008 - had died at a friend's house in California; reportedly from a thrown blood clot he'd developed in an ankle he had recently sprained. He was 35.
Aside from the fact that Johns' death also earned him the unfortunate distinction of being the first former "American Idol" finalist to pass away, I found myself not only saddened but deeply reflective of the evening we had spent making music together.
It was Sept. 4, 2010, and a few local musicians and I were scheduled to play two evening performances at the Mt. Airy Casino Resort in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, as a backing band for three former "American Idol" contestants. I had spent the better part of two months preparing for the show - which also featured "American Idol" season one contestants Alexis Stone Lopez and Nikki McKibbin.
Countless hours were spent listening to and playing the 12 songs that were required learning for the three vocalists, meticulously crafting and memorizing each bass line with extreme care. I even went so far as to purchase a brand new instrument (my 2000 Fender Hot Rod Precision) for this particular show, which I still use today as my primary bass guitar.
It immediately became clear to me during soundcheck and run-throughs in the hours preceding the shows that, of the three headliners, Johns was the most flexible musician and most in sync with the backing group. In addition to the fact that he was the most amiable, he also had a great feel for our unique playing style; and the synergy we developed was palpable.
If you dig deep enough, you may be able to find some YouTube videos of the performance, which show how well his stage persona meshed with our renditions of classic rock tunes such as Aerosmith's "Dream On," The Tubes' "She's a Beauty" and Queen's "We Are the Champions."
Despite the fact that this particular performance was the most professional gig I've ever played to this day, my favorite thing about the evening was when Johns let me play his very gorgeous, very expensive Gibson J150 acoustic guitar backstage after the shows. Although I know my way around a guitar pretty well, I found my mind suddenly going blank at the prospect of holding this rare instrument that was probably worth upward of $4,000.
Aside from his Australian accent and wonderful singing voice, what struck me most about Johns was his personality. I never got a sense of egotism from him, as if he felt we were too far beneath him to even associate with offstage. He was a genuine and generous person, who made the show feel as if we were performing with an old friend.
I'll never forget that night for as long as I live, and I think it's a real shame that the world lost such a talented and kind-hearted individual at such a young age.
And now, here's what you can expect to find in the area this week.
RTPI Art Reception To Be Held Friday: The Roger Tory Peterson Institute will be holding an art reception for two exhibits Friday from 5-7 p.m. The first exhibit, entitled "Exquisite Miniatures," features the artistic abilities of husband-and-wife duo Wes and Rachelle Siegrist, who are known to infuse their miniature paintings with such detail that the pieces are often mistaken for photographs. A hallmark of their work is their ability to convey the feeling of a larger canvas or the essence of the natural world in miniature. The second exhibit, entitled "Shrooms and Such," features 45 photographs taken by Randy Piersons showcasing his love and interest in mushrooms and the places they inhabit.
The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is located at 311 Curtis St. For more information on Friday's art reception, call 665-2473 or visit www.rtpi.org.
Benefit For Alexis Ackley Set For Saturday: A benefit dinner for 7-year-old Alexis Ackley of Jamestown will take place on Saturday from 3-7 p.m. at the House That Jack Built. Alexis has been diagnosed with cancer and, on June 2, she had her kidney removed. She will now be undergoing chemotherapy until at least December. Proceeds from the event will go toward helping her family cover costs associated with treatment, which include travel expenses and medical bills. The benefit will include a chicken barbecue dinner, Chinese auction, 50/50 drawings and entertainment. The cost for the dinner is $8.50, and RSVPs are appreciated prior to the day of the benefit. Local businesses are encouraged to donate items for the Chinese auction.
The House That Jack Built is located at 3041 Route 430 in Greenhurst. For more information, call 484-0788.
Inaugural "Haunted Chautauqua Festival" Is Saturday At Dunkirk Lighthouse: The Dunkirk Lighthouse and Military Park in Dunkirk will host the inaugural Haunted Chautauqua Festival at the lighthouse Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event will feature a day including lectures and talks about the paranormal, workshops, authors, round tables, panel discussions and gallery readings sure to be of interest to a diverse audience. There will be a variety of paranormal investigation groups and vendors. Historical Lighthouse tours will also be offered.
The Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse is located at 1 Point Drive North. The event is open to the public. Event tickets $10 (pre-sale) and $15 day of the event at the gate. Pre-sale tickets are available through www.beyondghosts.com.
Chautauqua Lake Voices To Continue Monday: The fourth round of the 2014 SE93 Chautauqua Lake Voices vocal competition will continue at Bemus Point's floating stage Monday at 6:30 p.m. The five remaining contestants will each perform two selections from the category of "Movie Themes." Following the performances, two more contestants will be eliminated - narrowing the field to three. The competition finale will be held the following week on Monday, Aug. 18, in which the winner will be selected.
For more information, search for "SE93 Chautauqua Lake Voices" on Facebook, or visit www.chautauqualakevoices.com.
To include an upcoming show or event in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 487-1111, ext. 243 by Monday.
James Earle Band: 6:30 p.m., Lakeside Park in Mayville
The Kokomo Time Band: 6:30 p.m., Ellery Town Park in Ellery
Bluegrass Jam: 7 p.m., Lakewood Legion, 174 Chautauqua Ave. in Lakewood
The Bees Trees: 7 p.m., Richard O. Hartley Park in Lakewood
Caroline Rhea: 8 p.m., Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, 116 E. Third St. in Jamestown
DJ Eclips: 9 p.m., Bullfrog Hotel, 1414 E. Second St. in Jamestown
Chris Vogt: 6 p.m., Lakeview Hotel, 13 Water St. in Mayville
Geezers: 6 p.m., The Pad, 1064 Route 394 in Kennedy
Bill and Guest: 6 p.m., The Wine Cellar, 309 N. Main St. in Jamestown
Greg Ford: 7 p.m., Lakewood Legion, 174 Chautauqua Ave. in Lakewood
Rob and Katie: 7 p.m., Hadley House, 3328 Hadley Bay Road in Stow
Shotgun Suite: 7:30 p.m., Vikings Lake Park Lodge, 4923 Route 430 in Maple Springs
Tom Cotter with Kerri Louise: 8 p.m., Reg Lenna Center for the Arts, 116 E. Third St. in Jamestown
Brian Chase: 9 p.m., Yesterdays, 103 Chautauqua Ave. in Lakewood
DJ Fish: 9 p.m., Shawbucks, 212 W. Second St. in Jamestown
Iron Eyes Experience: 10 p.m., Bullfrog Hotel, 1414 E. Second St. in Jamestown
DJ Griz: 10 p.m., Lakeview Hotel, 13 Water St. in Mayville
Chad Wiseman: 6 p.m., Lakeview Hotel, 13 Water St. in Mayville
Scroggins: 6 p.m., The Pad, 1064 Route 394 in Kennedy
Michael Hulett: 7 p.m., Vikings Lake Park Lodge, 4923 Route 430 in Maple Springs
Slim Griffin and the Country Gentlemen: 7 p.m., Busti Fire Department gazebo, 886 Mill Road in Busti
Pressure Sensitive: 8 p.m., Celoron Legion, 26 Jackson Ave. in Jamestown
Jay Leno (sold out): 8 p.m., Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, 319 W. Third St. in Jamestown
DJ Fish: 9 p.m., Shawbucks, 212 W. Second St. in Jamestown
Jesse Taylor: 9 p.m., Hadley House, 3328 Hadley Bay Road in Stow
Qwister: 9 p.m., Nickel Plate Depot, 131 Central Ave. in Brocton
Black Widow: 10 p.m., Lakeview Hotel, 13 Water St. in Mayville
Amp'd Up Karaoke: 10 p.m., Good Time Saloon, 590 Fairmount Ave. in Jamestown
Saloonatics: 10 p.m., Bullfrog Hotel, 1414 E. Second St. in Jamestown
Smokehouse: 10 p.m., Village Casino, 1 Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point
Splitfoot: 2 p.m., The Pad, 1064 Route 394 in Kennedy
Val Misuraca: 2 p.m., Lakeview Hotel, 13 Water St. in Mayville
Amanda Barton and Bill Ward: 4:30 p.m., Hadley House, 3328 Hadley Bay Road in Stow
Amanda Barton and Bill Ward: 6 p.m., Andriaccio's, 4837 W. Lake Road in Chautauqua
Greg Ford: 6 p.m., Lakeview Hotel, 13 Water St. in Mayville