Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Layin' Down the Law

By day, Michael Donnelly presides over lawsuits and felony trials as a judge in Cuyahoga County’s Common Pleas Court. At night, Donnelly can be found with an electric guitar hanging from his shoulders under the neon lights of local music clubs as he shreds classic rock covers with his band Faith and Whiskey.

Donnelly’s band will open for Bruce in the U.S.A. at this Saturday’s Douse the House event at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, which benefits the Western Reserve Fire Museum.

We spoke to The Judge (which would be a pretty awesome nickname for a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist) about Cleveland rock and Saturday’s show, which he calls “the classic rock party of the summer.”

Cleveland Magazine: What do you say to people who are surprised that you are a judge and in a rock band?

Michael Donnelly: This is the rock ‘n’ roll capital of the world, so I think every judge should be in a band.

CM: Did growing up in Cleveland influence your love for classic rock?

MD: Growing up in Cleveland with WMMS and 98.5, you couldn’t help but become a lover of classic rock. Everybody in the band grew up here in Cleveland, so that’s the music we like to play.

CM: What are your favorite Cleveland concert memories?

MD: The Rolling Stones at Municipal Stadium and the Who at the Coliseum -- just incredible experiences to see those legends on stage and be able to tell my kids now that I saw them.

CM: How is being a judge different than being a rocker?

DM: Being a judge can be very stressful. It’s a lot of responsibility when you’re making decisions that directly affect people’s lives. Being in a band, especially with a bunch of guys that couldn’t care less about what I do during the day -- we just focus on putting the best product out there and entertaining people.

CM: How excited are you to play Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica for the first time?

DM: This is going to be our biggest stage ever. It’s well beyond what we’d ever imagined we’d be able to accomplish. It’s the thrill of a lifetime. I just can’t wait to hear what a guitar sounds like in a venue that large. Plus, with the water behind you, it’s just incredible.

CM: What made you want to get involved with the Western Reserve Fire Museum?

DM: I’ve been on the board for years, and it’s going to be a great asset to Cleveland. It preserves a lot of the history for the fire department and will teach kids the benefit of fire safety, which I feel is very important, having presided over arson trials.

CM: What is your favorite song to play?

DM: “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed. It seems to get a great crowd reaction.

CM: Your court’s philosophy has been described as providing “litigants with a fast and efficient framework for the just resolution of their cases.” Does this stem from the fast, efficient power chords that you play as a guitarist?

DM: No one’s asked me to quit my day job yet, so I think I’m probably better at this than the music. My first passion is for the law, and I would never give up this opportunity, unless maybe someone asked me to go play for the Rolling Stones. Maybe then I’d take a small hiatus.

Prices for Douse the House range from $15 for general admission to $80 for VIP tickets.

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