Long time Juneau musician Albert McDonnell will play his final performance as a Juneau resident Friday, when he performs with Collette Costa and the Whiskeysippers before the Whipsaws concert at Centennial Hall. The bassist, songwriter, arranger and producer plans to relocate to Portland, Ore. later this month, but his influence on the capital's music scene will linger long after his departure.
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."