Between the friends, foes, fellow musicians and faux musicians, industry schmoozers and "supportive" significant others, it's easy for the embedded soldiers of the local rock grind to forget that (at least occasionally) they're actually playing to a listening audience — one who's there simply to enjoy the pleasures of live music.
With his earplugs in hand, collared shirt tucked into pleated pants, close-cropped salt-and-pepper coiffure and a face bearing a timeworn wrinkle or two, John Albert is well outside the target demographic of the club-haunting, indie-rock scenester, but this unassuming elder is arguably local rock's most fervent fan.
"I prefer three-dimensional entertainment to sitting at home watching two-dimensional [entertainment]," Albert says of his impetus to hop from club to club as many as four nights a week. "I'll probably have plenty of time ahead of me, when I'm confined to the rocking chair, to watch TV."
Though he regularly attends classical concerts at Blair School of Music or the Schermerhorn as an early-evening pre-gamer to a night on the Rock Block or Cannery Row, it's the latter stomping grounds where he's a fixture, often taking advantage of free weekly events like 8 off 8th and Rock the Block.
A casual observer who spots Albert at Springwater or Mercy Lounge might make a cursory assumption that he is perhaps a supportive parent, out past sundown to cheer on his starry-eyed kid's band. While such a conclusion would be incorrect, it isn't exactly far from the truth.
"I've been hanging out with him for years at shows," says local rock mainstay Daniel Pujol. "We talk a lot about local social infrastructure, shows and history — dad stuff."
To Albert, rockers like Pujol are "his kids." And many who know him from his presence at their shows knew him first from the halls of Hume-Fogg, The Nashville School for the Arts, Hillsboro High School or any of the local preparatory educational institutions where he's worked as a substitute teacher for the last 15 years. He describes the kids he's seen go from sitting before him in a classroom to sweating it out on the stage — in bands the likes of Be Your Own Pet or American Bang — as "class leaders."
As he crisscrosses Elliston Place — dividing his night out between shows at The End and Exit/In — while talking to the Scene, he often pauses to check on which band is to play next, take in a tune or engage one of his whippersnappers in a casual conversation — in which he might correct their misuse of a preposition or preach the benefits of nonsmoking. His social detours are somewhat intentional, as Albert is a private man who prefers a low profile. When talking of his personal life, a history of social service that has taken the native Tuckassean (he contends that the Cumberland River trumps the state line) all around the region and up the Eastern Seaboard, Albert — whose mildly Celtic cadence causes many to mistake him as Irish — is coy and, at times, even a bit abstruse. Even when it comes to his age.
"[It's] a bit shocking to people less than half my age, so generally I tell my kids, '' '46 is my year,' and they can do the math if they want," he says, "I don't want these kids fetching me a rocking chair." Although it's clear that he's more than ready to rock.