One night in the bar toward closing time, there was a man on an elevated surface belting out the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s hit song, “Love Story,” to all the young adults filled with joy and overpriced drinks. Hundreds of patrons come in and out of the establishment, unconsciously listening to the harmony of a familiar voice from a man upperclassmen have heard for the last three and a half years. That man is Al Diaz.
The draw to the story was not just the performer himself, but the lack of appreciation night owls show to bar performers and how disengaged we can get when we hear live music that isn’t under the roof of Madison Square Garden. While it is not our intention, Diaz’s love for performing and telling inspiring stories shows that you don’t know and understand someone until you see what they have lived through.
Born in Westfield, Massachusetts, Diaz began to perform in clubs in 1990 with his first band called “The Keith Kruser Project,” a five-piece ensemble with Diaz as the keyboardist since he did not play much guitar then. The band mostly played rock songs they would hear on the radio. As time went on, Diaz was in bands like “The Funktion,” “Big City Ratz,” “Flux,” and his personal favorite “Orange Crush.” The band performed at New England colleges and played retro 80’s music as Diaz was a dual instrument member playing both the keyboard and acoustic guitar.
For six years, Diaz performed in Killington, the ski capital of the northeast, and locally as a member of a duo he called “The Surf Monkeys.” He started recording at home in his studio, backing tracks composed of drums and bass that he could sing and play guitar along with.
However, in 2002, Diaz’s music career was brought to a terrifying halt when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor called an acoustic neuroma about the size of a golf ball. Diaz had the tumor removed, and it left him deaf with slight facial palsy on the right side of his face. Diaz said, “I thought it was the end of the road regarding music. Hearing everything from one ear was incredibly hard to get used to.” Fortunately, Diaz was able to perform again after a year of rehabilitation. Diaz mentioned, “That was one of my biggest achievements.”
Since 2005, Diaz has been a solo act and still records backtracks in his studio, then performs them live under a stage name no other than his own, Al Diaz.
Arriving at the University of Connecticut in 2017 at the Huskies Tavern, Diaz has seen thousands of students come in as kids and leave as adults, witnessing many disappointing seasons for UConn basketball and a National Championship win in 2023. When asked what keeps him returning to the infamous college bar, Diaz said, “I love performing. It’s awesome that people have a great time. New people come to me yearly, stating their brothers or sisters have told them to see me. Seniors at the end of the year thank me for helping them get through college!” What he loves most about performing is “the satisfaction that people have a good time simply because of me. That is very rewarding.”
While Diaz’s dreams are no other than to keep improving and performing consistently, he has been the heartbeat of venues for many years, providing the tunes of somebody’s Saturday night. Performers like him need more credit for their deep love and dedication to the art of music and entertainment, no matter what the stakes are.
Diaz is married to his wife, Sue, and they share two boys, Alex and Isaac.
I greatly appreciate Diaz sharing his story with all the students.