Argos’ Chad Kackert no stranger to singing the blues

Chad Kackert was at a small table with one pint of beer and one pint of water. The former Grey Cup MVP was in jeans and a baseball cap, and just after 10:15 p.m., the opening act summoned him to the stage with a question: “You already have a whiskey in you?”

“Yes sir,” Kackert responded.

It was open mic night at The Wicket, on Bloor Street West, and a breeze swept in through the open window as Kackert tuned an acoustic guitar before his set. At his request, he had not been introduced as a member of the Toronto Argonauts.

“I like to just not be the focus of everybody,” he said with a sheepish grin. “It’s fine with football, when you have the ball in your hands, because that’s what I do professionally. This is kind of, ‘Am I doing alright? I’m not really sure.’ ”

Kackert has been writing songs since high school, and three originals were on his planned set list. The 29-year-old running back grew up in Simi Valley, Calif., with a family fluent in music. He said he only learned a few songs before he started trying to create his own.

“It went from something to experiment with, as a creative outlet, to a cathartic outlet,” he said. “Because high school kids can get emotional, girlfriends and stuff like that.”

An injury at the end of his high school football career left him with some free time before he went to the University of New Hampshire, so he helped form a six-piece rock band with some of his non-football friends. They called themselves Aldergrove, after the street the guitarist lived on, and they promoted shows through the early versions of social media.

The band was only together for about eight months he said, but he kept writing: “I wrote more songs, as long as I kept getting my heart broken.”

His three newer songs also dealt with loss, inspired by the break-up of a relationship that had lasted three years. Kackert said he tries to be realistic with his lyrics, saying some of his new songs, “Talk a lot about silence and separation and just not being in touch with this person.”

One of his biggest fans was also one of the biggest humans in the bar. Alexandre Dupuis, an Argos teammate, remained at the little table as Kackert went up to play. And as the rest of the room split — half listening to the music, the other half trying to talk loudly over it — he listened intently.

Dupuis arrived early, almost an hour before the show began. He admitted the first time he heard Kackert perform, he was surprised: “The lyrics of his songs are really inspiring.”

“My mom said it once: ‘Do something every day that makes you uncomfortable,’ ” said Kackert. “I think Eleanor Roosevelt said it first, but my mom reminded me of it.”

His father, he said, used to hitchhike to Malibu when he wanted to surf. And since it was illegal to sleep on the beach, he said his father would burrow a hole into the sand, drop a sleeping bag inside and cover it over. The thinking was it would be easier to avoid police detection with only his head above the ground.

“Cops would step on him and not know it,” Kackert said with a smile.

Kackert is not living on the beach, but neither does he have a stable home in Toronto. He was cut in training camp, rejoining the team later as part of its practice roster. He is living in a hotel near the team’s North York practice facility.

Four years ago, he helped the Argos win the 100th Grey Cup at home, named MVP after rushing for 133 yards in a 35-22 win over Calgary. He signed a new deal the following year, but retired the year after that because of injury. His retirement lasted three months.

“I don’t think they thought I would be okay with being on (the practice roster), but I am,” he said. “I’m an Argo, and as long as I can be, I will be.”

The longer he is in Toronto, the more opportunity he will have for open mic nights at The Wicket. On Monday night, Kackert and his raspy, melodic vocals were alone under a spotlight with his acoustic guitar. He sounded good, even though he was nervous.

“I mess up every time I play,” he said with a smile. “Some people don’t notice. It depends.”

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