Some concerts change your life. For Joe Adragna, that concert was The Minus 5 in 2002 at the House of Blues in New Orleans.
“That show kicked me in the pants,” Adragna said.
Nowadays, Adragna doesn't need nudges to release his music. Under the moniker The Junior League, he released his sixth album, “Eventually is Now,” earlier this year. He’s performing live as often as possible, too, including a show on Saturday at Mid City Ballroom in Baton Rouge. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
Though his conversation is laced with self-deprecation, Adragna is in a sweet spot. Personally, the 45-year-old happily-married husband is father to a son who loves The Beatles as much as his dad. Musically, "Eventually is Now" has been littered with praise from regional and national outlets.
"I'm always surprised that people know The Junior League stuff at all," he said with a laugh.
The scene is a sharp turn from when he first landed in Louisiana.
A native New Yorker, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist moved from Florida to New Orleans in 2001 after his wife received a job offer. In Florida, Adragna fronted a band with longtime friends. In Louisiana, he didn’t know what to do with himself.
Then, he saw The Minus 5.
The concert was one for the books. But the cherry on top came when Adragna met Minus 5 members Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, who are also known for their work with R.E.M. The next morning, Adragna took the group to the now-closed New Orleans shop Magic Bus Records. Those moments kicked Adragna out of his funk.
"I was going through a low period. I figured I wasn’t going to play music anymore,” he said. “Seeing that show was inspirational. It made me think, 'All right, if I don't do anything else, I'm going to record something of my own.' "
By 2006, he had recorded and released the debut album, “Catchy." When opening for Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in New Orleans in 2007, McCaughey called his new pal Adragna to play drums for a couple dates.
“I’ve been in The Minus 5 family ever since,” Adragna said.
The Minus 5 connection gave Adragna a foot in the door. The Junior League records began to feature collaborations with major players like Sloan’s Jay Ferguson, bassist Michael Giblin, songwriter and violinist Deni Bonet, British guitarist Boz Boorer and Nashville guitarist JJ Murphy.
“I’ve been really lucky to have friends who I respect who play on these records,” Adragna said. “They bring amazing things to it. If I have an idea, I can throw down a track, then get to a point where I can call upon my friends. It’s a great way to work.”
Ferguson and McCaughey have also made a point to mention The Junior League in articles and interviews, giving Adragna’s tunes even more of a push outside the sometimes-claustrophobic regional atmosphere.
“Jay (Ferguson) mentioning my stuff in a year-end list, and Scott (McCaughey) talking about it … that has helped,” Adragna said. “Honestly, I never really did any press. I sent it out to a couple places. My friends have been very generous in mentioning my work.”
On “Eventually is Now,” the big influence is McCaughey, who mixed and recorded more than half the material and wrote the track "You Didn't Miss a Thing."
“Keyboards, guitars, vocals, Mellotron ... you name it, he did it,” Adragna said. “Scott has been a huge influence and a very good friend. I send him stuff, and he always jumps in. I can’t begin to talk about how important he is, not only on the musical level, but he's just a wonderful human being, too.”
When it comes to playing music, live or in the studio, it always comes back to that 2002 concert. Like The Minus 5, Adragna draws from a revolving door of players for his live show. Out of town, he’ll call friends like Giblin and Murphy. In Baton Rouge, he’ll perform with his Gentlemen Commoners bandmates Lee Barbier, Liam Catchings and Philip Mann.
“It’s always a surprise,” Adragna said. “They’re all excellent players. They give me their time and do that. I’m fortunate.”
THE JUNIOR LEAGUE/JAMES FOGLE & THE SOFA CITY SWEETHEARTS/CHEER CAMP
WHEN: Saturday. Doors at 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mid City Ballroom, 136 S. Acadian Thruway, Baton Rouge
COST: $8 online, $10 at the doors (cash only)