A year or so ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram, as a millennial is apt to do, and I saw my childhood friend Collin O’Brien rocking out on drums.
This was crazy, my buddy has played drums since we were wee ones at Wealthy Elementary in East Grand Rapids, playing with Batman and Spiderman action figures on the floor. But what caught me this time was Collin’s big smile as he kept the beat going for the band of this cool, ‘70s-esque, key-driven musician called Neal Francis.
A few months later, I’d moved back to GR from Las Vegas, and my wife and I purchased tickets for a Black Pumas show at GLC Live at 20 Monroe. Lo and behold, Neal Francis was opening for the soulful rock band from Austin. Fast-forward another few weeks, and we hear Neal on a special interview show on Sirius Radio’s The Spectrum channel, and then I see Collin’s chipper face on a special performance on the CBS Morning Show.
Every time, I annoyingly tell everyone around, “Hey, that’s my friend, Collin!”
Well, Collin and Neal Francis are playing at Meijer Gardens tonight in support of Amos Lee. I hope plenty of readers are there to check out the sick licks Neal Francis and Co. are putting out. Unfortunately, I won’t be there because I have a wedding in NYC, which itself is going to be a blast. But, if you are like me and miss this show, Collin tells me Neal Francis will be back in town later this fall.
Anyway, I used this show as an opportunity to catch up with my old friend and help spread the word of the cool tunes he’s helping create now.
Pat: So, how did you and Neal meet?
Collin: It’s a pretty long story, so I’ll try to truncate it a little bit. I’ve known Neal for a really long time. Soon after I moved to Chicago in 2009, we knew each other and played in each other’s bands, so we were in the same sphere, kind of. He got sober years ago, and we reconnected after he was out of treatment, and I went to his first show with his solo project and was captivated.
I moved to Denver in 2019 and got the call to play with Neal the day before and was asked to fill in, so I learned the (expletive) out of the music, and the show went well. But I still moved to Denver the next day. Then, I got a call from our manager, and they asked about a show the next day, so I flew back and then I was subbing in all summer.
Eventually, they needed someone full time and asked me to be the guy, and I was super happy and stoked to get that call. It just fell into place.
Pat: So I saw you at GLC Live, and now you’re playing at Meijer Gardens. What’s it like coming home to play these shows?
Collin: It’s been really cool to reach out and knowing that I’ll see a bunch of family and friends at the show.
I don’t know that I’ve played Meijer Gardens before, but I’ve seen so many concerts there growing up, so it’s going to be cool to be on that stage. Coming back to Grand Rapids is where it all it began in elementary school. It feels pretty full circle in a way, and I’m just really grateful.
Pat: I’ve known you a long time, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it seems like you’re living your dream playing music full time. What’s that like?
Collin: It’s been a really wild kind of journey to get here and will continue to be a pretty wild journey moving forward. I’m trying to stay really present every day and stay focused on the music.
Every day we get to play a show or music with this band is a total gift; I just need to keep that in perspective. It’s hard to be on the road. I absolutely am living my dream, but that doesn’t mean driving across the country 100 times isn’t tough. Just really kind of eyes on the prize. That prize isn’t we get to play this venue or have all these dates, it’s how much (expletive) fun can we have on stage every night.
Editor’s note: Seeing these guys live, they are having a ton of fun. Just look at their smiles as they glance back and forth at each other!
What’s Pat drinking?
It’s officially gin and tonic season, if you ask me. So, I’ve had a few Hendrick’s and tonics the past few weeks.
Also, I went to Long Road’s Less Traveled on Cherry Street this week. Awesome little cocktail bar there — a lot of cool cocktails on the menu to check out.