JEDI MIND TRIP - Defying the Odds & Soaring at the Top of Their Game

Best Rock Band • Best Variety Band • Best Rock Vocalist • Best Rock Keyboardist

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature, Review Music Awards,   From Issue 809   By: Robert E Martin

30th April, 2015     0

Jedi Mind Trip decidedly represents the ‘Gold Standard’ when it comes to the many groups throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region that perform a wide range of Classic Rock ‘n Roll guaranteed to pull fans to the clubs as well as the dance floor.  For nearly 20 years now group founder, frontman, and lead vocalist Dan Ardouin has managed to navigate the often precarious waters of the regional music scene by achieving the Triple Crown of group longevity, popularity, and economic viability, as witnessed by securing both Best Rock Band and Best Variety Band honors at this year’s 29th Annual Review Music Awards, along with Best Rock Vocalist honors for Ardouin.

Over the years Jedi has featured the area’s top musicians within its ranks and gone through many reincarnations since the group first formed in 1996 and performed their first gig at the now defunct Cruiser’s on January 2, 1997.

With an original line up that featured Ardouin along with his two close friends Pete Schaller and Matt Hayes along with drummer Todd McMahan, today in addition to Ardouin & McMahan Jedi’s current line-up also features bassist Dave Mossner and guitarist/keyboardist Mark Shelley in the mix. And to underscore the levels of their professionalism, recently ex-Verve Pipe co-founder Donny Brown started drumming for the group on Thursdays, where they regularly perform at The Stables each week.

When asked why Jedi has enjoyed such prolonged success, Ardouin first cites his ability to hire good musicians “But in addition to that I think another reason the band has endured over the years is because I run it kind of like a dictatorship,” he smiles. “It’s very hard to be in a band where four or five people are trying to drive the ship. I decided a long time ago that democracy doesn’t work in a band. It can be democratic, but all the stars have to align together; and even then you need a leader.

Indeed, this is a valid point when one considers that even a band as legendary and groundbreaking as The Beatles went through periods where either John Lennon or Paul McCartney would take turns leading and guiding the group.

“Another important factor in our success is making the right decisions,” reflects Dan. “I did the bar scene as long as I could, but started hitting a cap in terms of money and compensation that turned into a brick wall of sorts. That’s when we made the decision to start performing more weddings and focusing upon festivals around the state. We set a bottom line in terms of what it takes to book us; and while we still do play bars, weddings and festivals form the bulk of our schedule. It’s funny because my fan base has grown and now we have their kids showing up to gigs saying ‘My parents love you!’  Now I’m that guy in the band,” he laughs.

Does Dan see a shelf life or end-point for the band in terms of their ability to continue performing, coupled with the ongoing rigors of performing all over the state?  “Yeah, that will happen when I can’t sing anymore; because age has nothing to do with it.  I was the house band at Rick’s in East Lansing for seven years; and when I decided to graduate from Rick’s I went on to do this for 12 years at the Hamilton St. Pub. At some point you simply have to graduate. Some of the last times we played there I started out playing songs like Jesse’s Girl, which he had played 12 years earlier when we first began; and all these 18-20 year olds knew all the words.   What that told me is that people are still going to love these songs that we perform because they are staples of any classic rock collection.”

In terms of their song selection, Dan says the group performs 80 percent of what they should play and slips 20 percent of what they want to play into their performance on any given night. “I once tried to write originals, but that isn’t a priority for me,” explains Dan.

“Honestly, I never put the time into it. I knew that in order to write a good song you had to put all of your time into it. There was a period where I hired some guys from Detroit into Jedi and then performed originals in their band, so was working in two separate directions. But I learned then it’s all or nothing. You can’t write originals and try to make it. If you want to do that route you can’t stay in your backyard, but need to travel to the bigger markets. I knew you had to exert due diligence and spend time writing a bunch of songs and then throwing them away because they weren’t good enough. I never had that bridge to get over creatively. I can write a riff, but now I’m at a point where I’m good knowing that what I do best is what I’m currently doing because I can do it really well.”

“It still comes down to entertainment. I love all the original acts around, but as I noted earlier, I never had that bridge of creativity. Mark Shelley and Andy Reed and many other prolific writers populate this region, but I never really cultivated or tried to hone that talent. I prefer to stick with what I’m good at.”

An important component of the professionalism that Jedi Mind Trip embodies is their work ethic. Although they shine at performing cover songs, they constantly keep their sets updated. “We have about 150 songs to draw upon, but probably only 70 that we pick from,” he explains. “But we constantly do learn new old songs,” he smiles.

Has Dan noticed much of a change in terms of audience response over the years and through different generations of fans? “Yeah, you’ve got to keep them on the dance floor,” he states. “Younger generations are still engaged with live music, which I can tell from the number of weddings we book. I’m not playing to 18 -20 year olds at the Pub or Rick’s anymore, but the fact young kids are booking us to play their weddings tells me they would prefer a live musical experience over a D.J.”

In term of their schedule, Jedi Mind Trip usually performs three nights a week every week. “Maybe three weeks out of the year we take some nights off,” notes Dan, “but recently I also started a Production Company and will be handling the sound for the Concert Series at Tittabawassee Township Park this summer. I’ve built a sound system over the years and keep adding to it, so Joe Christensen will be running it and we’re calling the new company Jedi Mind Trip Productions. We have a PA system that we can fly along with trusses and JBL’s – all top quality equipment.”

In addition to summer festivals and private parties, Jedi Mind Trip can be seen at The Stables in Bay City every Thursday, along with regular gigs at the Wil-lew and the BOB in Grand Rapids. Additionally they perform regularly at the Little River and various other casinos throughout Michigan and Ohio.  Dan says the largest crowd the band has performed before was the Party on McCarty last summer, where they drew 5,000 fans.

Finally, does it get easier as the years move along and what’s the most challenging thing about keeping a band like Jedi together?  “Yeah, it does get easier,” confesses Dan. “I’ve got this down to a science. Our trailer is all neatly packed and we’re at a pretty cool place right now. Every line-up that Jedi ever featured has possessed its strengths, and we’ve had a million different line-ups, but right now I feel that Todd, Dave, Mark and I are firing on all cylinders.”

“Musically, there’s nothing we can’t do.”





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