All about family
Music is labor of love for Makovec and sons with Justus
He grew up polka, married a jazz artist, and raised his boys on classic rock and country with a few dance tunes thrown in, but for Allen Makovec and the band Justus of rural Goessel, the focus is all on family.
“I always had a dream of playing in a band with my kids,” Makovec said Sunday. “But I never dreamed it would take off like this.”
With bookings almost every weekend during the summer, including an Independence Day gig at Ramona, the Makovec family — Allen, wife Raelene, and sons, Caleb, Lawton, and Rhett —spend a lot of time together.
“It’s a commitment. It’s takes a lot of time, so it’s not always fun,” Makovec said. “But it is something we enjoy doing together. I hope to someday step back and see the boys take over. They are very good.”
Makovec, lead singer, bass guitar player, and sound manager, formed Justus in the early 1990s, when he played with Cactus Jack, another Marion County-based band. He grew up around the Blue Aces, a polka band his father, Florian “Skeeter” Makovec, played in at Pilsen.
“I’ve been so privileged to work with so many very, very talented musicians and just good people through the years,” he said. “It’s been a real benefit for my boys to grow up around some of these great musicians and learn from them.”
Raelene Makovec met her husband while playing saxophone in a jazz band. Her musical talents also include the piano and flute, and often Justus features a special song just for her. Her greatest contribution, however, in addition to working full-time in the medical field, is providing support in getting the boys from their regular activities to wherever the band might be playing, and more.
Rhett, 13, is a keyboarder in the band. Lawton, 15, joined the band a few years ago as a fill-in when needed, but now is the reliable lead guitarist, a singer, and dance-tune disc jockey during band breaks. Caleb, 21, works full time as an auto technician in Halstead at E.V. Motors, but has been an integral part of Justus since he was in junior high.
“I played the drums,” Caleb said. “When dad asked me if I wanted to join, I said, ‘heck ya.’ I just didn’t realize it was going to be so much work, but it’s been great. I’ve always thought it was cool to be part of a real band. Most kids my age say they are going to start a band, or want to be in a band, but I really am. I know what it’s like and I love it.”
At a Labor Day performance in Florence, Caleb stepped up in a big way to take over lead singing duties when his dad suddenly got laryngitis.
“Dad always does everything,” Caleb said. “There really isn’t anyone else who can fix the sound system, play the bass like he does, sing, and interact with the people. But I had to do it and it went OK. I’ve been around all this for so long it wasn’t hard.”
In addition to the Makovec family, another band member from Salina, Ashley Wheeler, plays bass, drums, guitar, and sings.
“Pretty much everyone can do everything,” Allen Makovec said. “It’s hard with just a small band to cover all the bases. It takes a lot of commitment and talent.”
All family members agreed the best times happened when the crowd got involved in their shows.
“I just love seeing the crowd scream and dance. That’s fun,” Lawton said. “Sometimes they just sit and visit, and that’s OK too, because they are always complimentary. But 99 percent of the time they are jumping around getting into the music.”
Allen Makovec said he was careful to book the band in places that fit his family emphasis, and in places he felt OK about taking his boys.
“We are not in this just to make money and go wherever,” he said. “It’s more about fitting the crowd where we go, and having a good time with the family.”
With many extended relatives in the Ramona-Pilsen area, Justus band members look forward to their upcoming Independence Day gig.
“It’s really fun to be around people you know,” Caleb said. “Everyone is relaxed and there to have a good time. It’s fun to be a part of all that.”
Justus performs a wide variety of music including classic rock and country, plus a few new dance tunes at each gig.
“We learn stuff by listening to it a couple of times, then practicing,” Lawton explained. “We really don’t use music much.”
Allen Makovec said his boys were very talented at playing by ear.
“It’s just a benefit of growing up around it,” he said. “They hear something and they know instinctively what to do with it.”