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Hot Sauce Universe Returns With A Bash

Jay and Jenae Thomason
Taylor Christian Brooks
Jay and Jenae Thomason relaxing before a recent performance.

“Then just weeks later, boom.”

Jenae Thomason was flashing back to June 30, the Saturday night she and husband Jay simultaneously were rear-ended at a stoplight en route to a private event and sidelined from their full-time foray into music they initiated just weeks prior.

Concert poster for HSU's Bonus Halloween Bash

The husband and wife that perform as the jazzy-folk duo Hot Sauce Universe headline HSU's Bonus Halloween Bash on Friday, Nov. 2, at Nightshop.

The crash wasn’t one violent enough to normally cause injury, but the car that hit them was smaller and directly impacted the hitch on the Thomason’s van.

“Because of this, any safety/impact features our bumper would have normally provided were nullified. So the entire impact was transferred from the hitch to the frame, causing our bodies to take a more intense shake,” said Jay. That incident turned into a trip to the emergency room where both were diagnosed with concussions.

Jenae and Jay Thomason are thrilled to be performing again after being sidelined for two months, roughly seven weeks longer than anticipated.

The performers doubled as promoters for this post-Halloween show.

“We wanted to see this all the way through, from start to finish, and do it at an incredibly high level,” said Jay.

For opening acts, they booked an acoustic solo set by Nolan Kelly, late of the retired Bloomington psychedelic rock band Flaccid, the funky blues/rock/jam band Norobot, and comedian Luke Schneider.

“I just basically hired who I wanted to have,” laughed Jay.

“We were like, ‘OK we’ve been down long enough,’” Jenae laughed at the frustration of being out of commission for so long. “It’s been eight weeks, we’re ready to go, and Jay was like ‘I’m so sick of not playing and I want to do something big.’”

The Thomasons were considerably more chipper than their early August visit to the GLT studios, intended then as an interview for a “finally we’re back” piece. But concussion complications lingered and forced the postponement of both the interview and the next few weeks of scheduled gigs.  

“I barely even remember we were at GLT then,” said Jenae. “It was like having way too many tabs open, the processing was just not there. My vocabulary took a big hit, and my ability to form sentences or even finish my thoughts properly was poor.”

The delay doesn’t surprise Jenna Ford, an advance practice nurse with OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute. She said there is a clinical recovery from concussions, but the exact timeline of what is called a neurobiological recovery can be much longer.

“So for some it can be a week, but for some, yes, it can be two months before they are 100 percent back,” said Ford.

The duo was quite frustrated at the time, as what they thought might be a one or (maybe) two-week bump-in-the-road conversion to a full-time music career by the end of 2018 had morphed into an extended layoff.

“The doctor didn't want us to go back to work because our injured brains couldn't handle the sensory stimulation of the music and lights without triggering migraines, vision problems, and severe fatigue and nausea,” said Jenae.

Ford said that too is not uncommon, as females generally are at a greater risk than males to receive a concussion.

“Females have less neck segments, less neck girth, and greater acceleration force,” said Ford. “And we do know that dizziness at the time of injury makes for a three or four times longer recovery compared to someone else who doesn’t have dizziness because of the disruption of what we call the vestibular system.”

“I immediately felt like I'd done a few shots. That's the best way to describe it,” said Jenae after their van was hit. “Dizzy, head hurting, slurring my speech. My concussion symptoms were a bit worse than Jay's and it did take a bit longer for me to recover.”

The long delay was especially maddening as they were already months ahead of their target date of making music full-time at the time of the crash.

“When the summer hit, our schedule was so full it was getting overwhelming for Jay, because he was working 40 to 55 hours per week and I was staying home with our son,” said Jenae.

“And then go play 20-30 hours a week,” added Jay.    

So they took the plunge early. And it was working. Jay had quit his “day job” and the gig calendar filled in quickly. Then … boom.

Hot Sauce Universe has incrementally upped its live performances since its return in late August. And there was a silver lining of sorts to the summer accident and layoff.  With time to think, they realized that before the crash, they were expending all their energy into playing live multiple times a week, as well as taking care of kids at home.

“And we processed the big picture in a way we hadn't before,” said Jenae. “We hadn't allowed ourselves the time or mental energy to complete new material, travel, or collaborate with other musicians. All of these things (and more) pull you out of your comfort zone, and that's where growth happens. Growth is what it's about.

Hot Sauce Universe headlines HSU's Bonus Halloween Bash on Friday, Nov. 2, at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington. Nolan Kelly and Norobot open the show musically. Comedian Luke Schneider is also on the bill.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.