Michael Tracy Answers the Call…from Jon Bon Jovi!
Writer: Jimmy Warsham |Photographer by: Benjamin Robson
There are only a few names out there in music that need no introduction and can call their own shots. Jon Bon Jovi is one of those names. Jon came onto the scene in the hair band era and 30 years later, the hair is still great; not as long but still great. Jon is a man who takes his music seriously, but he is also a man who is very involved in helping others and giving back. This year, he is giving back to other musicians who need a jump start and a chance to show their chops. He decided to hold a contest where local artists would have a chance to showcase their talents as an opening act on his current tour, This House is Not for Sale Tour, that kicked off in Greenville, SC on February 8th at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
It’s a simple concept: if you think you are ready to open for one of the greats, upload a video of you performing your original music and Live Nation and Bon Jovi’s Management Team will help make the decision on who will open for Bon Jovi on his tour. You have to always be ready when an opportunity like this presents itself.
Our own local favorite, Michael Tracy, was ready, willing, and able for an opportunity like this. Michael heard about the contest late into the submission process. As the clock ticked down to closing out the contest, Tracy submitted his video. As it turns out, good things do happen to good people. The phone rang and it was Live Nation on the line informing him that he was in the top 10. Top 10! What an amazing accomplishment. They let him know that they had some more questions and they would need to call him back for more information. Michael was standing by the phone as the Second call came through, ring ring…..
Michael Tracy: This is Michael.
Jon Bon Jovi: Hey Michael, how are you doing?
JBJ: This is Jon Bon Jovi calling
MT: Hey, Jon!
Michael wasn’t exactly expecting the man himself to be reaching out at this time, but here he was on the phone with one of rock’s most iconic front men of all time.
MT: How are you doing?!
JBJ: Very well. How’s your day going today?
MT: Going well. Live Nation called me a little bit ago. I am very excited about this.
JBJ: Fantastic. Well, what are you doing next Wednesday?
MT: I’m playing for you I hope.
JBJ: Alright, you got the gig, brother.
Jon and Michael discussed the state of the business and Michael’s history for a few minutes.
JBJ: I just wanted you to come on out and have some fun with it.
MT: Jon, I appreciate it. Best phone call of my career so far!
JBJ: So far!! Those are the two key words. So far! Just so far, brother! So far!
Jon laughed and smiled as he reminded Michael that this is just the beginning of good things that will happen to him. Michael didn’t realize it at the time, but Jon was recording their interaction and posted the video of their call online.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to take that call. I know we at Shutter 16 were excited to hear about Michael’s opportunity to open for Bon Jovi. The first show I reviewed for Shutter 16 Magazine was one of Michael’s and his friend Darby Adkins at the Evening Muse in Charlotte, one of our great local spots that holds about 80 people. Michael on the acoustic guitar and Darby on a cajon drum. As I arrived in Greenville, entered the arena, I was told that over 14,000 tickets had been sold for the evening.
I could hear their sound check going on as I waited in the lounge area. The band would have a 20 minute opening set starting at 7:30 to showcase their sound and get the crowd pumped up for the main act, Bon Jovi.
At about 7:00, the boys made their way out into the crowd to speak to friends and family. I saw Michael bounding up the stairs from backstage. Blonde hair bouncing and leather jacket clad, it was obvious that he was getting amped up. As he came back down to, I was able to grab him and wish him luck. I asked, “ How are you feeling, are you ready for this?” Michael replied, “I think we will do all right tonight.” I laughed as he bounced the rest of the way down the stairs and headed backstage.
The band made their way onto the stage. Michael had his dark shades on and that means one thing, it is time to rock. It didn’t take long before you knew something great was going to happen. The drums started, the bass kicked in, then the three guitar lineup cranked up. With Tracy out front, screaming guitar sounds bounced off the ceiling and were accentuated with some work on the tremolo by Darby Adkins.
The arena woke up. As soon as the music started, the people lingering out in the lobby came flooding back into see where that sound was coming from. Tracy (vocals/guitar), J.T Fitch and Darby Adkins (guitar), Brock Whitfield (drums), and Andrew Torres on bass took over the stage, and the energy lifted the entire crowd out of their seats. Tracy was a natural and never stopped the intensity. Fitch and Adkins played off one another with the blistering solos. They were able to get four songs in as they wrapped up with their crowd participation anthem, “Sing Together,” reminding the crowd to make noise to let the Bon Jovi boys know back there there everyone was ready to rock and roll. As the band wrapped, you knew you got some real rock and roll, no lip sync, no auto tune, loud guitars, and a hard pounding rhythm section, just straight rock music with no BS. The crowd exploded as they ended their set. The night was set and the arena was buzzing with energy.
“The Man” was up next. This show is tightly run. As soon as Tracy’s band’s gear was offloaded, the house lights came down, and the music started. The screams started as well. Some things never change, at least if you are at a Jon Bon Jovi show. I think it has been about 30 years since the last time I saw Jon perform. He still has it. Still works the crowd. He may not be running around like he did when he was 23, but he still looked and sounded amazing. He kicked off with “This House is Not for Sale” and “Knockout” from his latest album, This House is Not for Sale, then launched into “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Of course the crowd went nuts!
The crowd vocals were louder than the vocals from the band. The first half of the set was mostly newer material. At one point, Jon said, “enough of this stuff, it’s time for the hits.” They transitioned into some of the older material that everyone is familiar with. “Have a Nice Day,” “Bad Medicine,” “Lay Your Hands on Me,” Wanted Dead or Alive,” and closing out with “Livin on a Prayer.” The only bad thing about a band like Bon Jovi is they have too many great songs. So many things I would love to hear and so little time for them to play them. That being said, they still played almost 3 hours and did their best to provide a mix of new and old.
I would still love to have seen Sambora back with the boys, but Phil X is one of the best guitarist around and did a great job. Sambora has stated that one day he would like to rejoin the band once the time is right. I would love to see this happen, because there was always a chemistry that they had that I don’t know if anyone else can really replicate no matter how talented they are. It had been 13 years since Bon Jovi had played in Greenville, and I do not think he disappointed a soul in South Carolina that night.
Tracy and Bon Jovi made for a great night. Local boy and world famous rock star sharing the same stage. How awesome is that? Being one of my favorites here in the Charlotte area, I will be keeping tabs on Michael Tracy to see how things continue to progress for him as more people will have a chance to get to know the good guy and good musician that he is.
What can you say about Jon Bon Jovi that hasn’t already been said? He is one of the all time best at what he does and is still going strong 30 plus years later.
After the show I had a chance to ask Michael and Darby Adkins a few questions about their experience and what’s next for them. They were still enjoying and processing the show.
Shutter 16: When you hung up the phone with Jon after he called you, what did you do?
Michael Tracy: My wife just walked in after I hung up the phone and she went nuts when I told here who I was just on the phone with.
S16: I went nuts myself when I heard that you had won. I was like, I know Michael Tracy!! As soon as I saw it, I had to message you and post it on our Shutter 16 staff site.
S16: So Darby, when Michael told you Jon Bon Jovi called, what was your reaction?
Darby Adkins: Since we had both entered our bands (I front Fiftywatt Freight Train), it was actually kind of funny because we were on the phone talking about the fact we hadn’t heard anything from the Bon Jovi camp about the winner. He interrupted me and said, “Hey man I’ve got a call coming in from CA, let me get it might be news”. He comes back and says it was the contest people informing him he had been selected as a finalist and they would be calling him back with a few questions from one of the judges. Michael told me to hang by the phone in case they called me too but that didn’t happen ha! So when the judge (Jon Bon Jovi) called him to congratulate him, he immediately called me back and said, “Dude, I just got off the phone with Jon Bon Jovi!!!, Do you want to play guitar Wednesday?”. Before even thinking about playing the show with him, my reaction was of excitement for a fellow musician and friend who brought home the win for local artists. Nearly all local and regional bands entered the contest and it was really cool to know that Jon Bon Jovi himself selected the winner. In my opinion what Bon Jovi is doing should set an example and make a profound statement to other major touring artists to bring on local musicians for the opportunity of a lifetime. So my reaction was, after giving him a bit of grief (haha), I was excited and thrilled that someone local had been selected and honored that he valued my talent enough to offer me a spot on stage for the night. With full support of my Fiftywatt guys, I agreed.
S16: Wow, what a great story. Not only did Michael get selected, but he had the opportunity to share the experience with you as well. What a great gift and honor.
S16: Can you tell us about your first in person meeting with Jon? What happened? Did he offer any advice or tips?
MT: It was incredible. Jon was very warm and soft spoken. He made everyone feel at ease. His advice was to go out on stage and kill it.
DA: When he first walked into the room, I was pretty much speechless and star struck. However that feeling quickly faded as it was a lot like meeting a friend. Conversation about the show, music, snacks in the green room, a few jokes and laughs put everyone at ease. He definitely had the cool factor going on but it was a lot like hanging out with a band mate talking shop before a show. That’s what really made it really awesome. It was obvious how much he still loves what he does and wants to pay it forward for others to continue making music.
S16: It nice to hear that he is a nice, regular guy. You all certainly took his advice, because you did kill it! When you were setting up your gear on stage for your sound check what was going through your mind
MT: How big the arena was. Everything started to sink in about just how incredible this opportunity and experience was.
DA: I was thinking that this place is amazing! Quickly followed by I’m gonna need a bigger amp! I’ve been on some big stages before but obviously nothing like this. I just couldn’t wait to get out there and play a bunch of wrong notes with a big smile on my face ha! The stage manager and crew were all super cool and made everyone as comfortable as playing a local pub.
S16: For those of us who will never have this type of opportunity, what was it like to step out on stage and open the show for one of Rock’s greatest bands?
MT: Amazing. I had been listening to Jon’s music all of my life, so to be sharing the stage with him was truly an incredible and surreal experience.
DA: The noise of the crowd, the people, the stage, even the smell of all the amps and equipment, you could taste the excitement and I was drooling. As soon as I stepped onto the stage, any nervousness I may have had immediately went away and I was never more confident that we were going to rock the place.
S16: What was your favorite part of the night?
MT: The moment we finished our set and received such a great reaction from the crowd. I felt the satisfaction that we had accomplishes what we set out to do that night.
DA: From the first chord to the last whammy bar, surrounded by thousands of people cheering you on and letting you do your thing for 20 minutes. Sharing that with moment with good friends, not sure there’s much that can top that.
S16: Well for 20 minutes there were a lot of us living vicariously through you two and the rest of the band. For those of us who grew up in the 80s, that might be the ultimate to be able to share the stage with Bon Jovi and to do it with friends. I can’t even imagine how that felt.
S16: How did the experience compare to what you thought it would be?
MT: I thought it was going to be incredible and it exceeded all expectations.
DA: For me, it was even better that what I thought it would be. The crew, attendants, staff, management, media, Jon Bon Jovi himself and the entire show exceeded all expectations.
S16: How do you feel this will impact your future musical opportunities?
MT: You never know how these type of career experiences will help you in a big way…but regardless the experience always impacts your ability to become a better performer.
DA: I chalk it up as the experience of a lifetime. Hopefully the attention from the show will help bring awareness to music lovers, venues, clubs, etc. that rock isn’t dead and there are an infinite number of killer bands to follow so get to show!
S16: What are your upcoming plans musically and personally?
MT: I’ll be releasing a new music video for my song “Condition Of My Day” and plan on getting into the studio soon to work on my upcoming new 2017 album release, No More Waiting, and then work on tour dates to support it.
S16: What about you Darby? What’s next?
DA: I’m working on a few things, but priority for me right now is to wrap up the final stages of the Fiftywatt Freight Train album. We’ve got that slated for release in early summer. There are a lot of shows already on the books but there’s always room for more. In addition to that, looks like I might be playing a few more Michael Tracy gigs.
S16: We have a lot of great musicians in Charlotte, do you have any advice for them?
MT: I wouldn’t assume to give any advice to all the great musicians in area but I guess the key to success in the music business is the same as with anything…hard work, a dedicated focus, constantly working on your craft, and never allow the emotional valleys keep you from continuing to climb the mountain.
DA: Be humble, respect other bands and musicians, make friends and be kind to each other. Stay positive and build on success. Love what you do and share it with the world.
S16: We have lost some venues in Charlotte, others are closing also; what is your opinion on losing venues? What is your opinion on the impact for other local musicians like yourself?
MT: It really is a shame that so many of the venues that supported original live music have been closing. I think the greatest impact is that it will make it even more difficult for bands just starting out to find slots on shows to work on their artist development and introduce themselves to the music community. Hopefully some new venues will open to replace the old.
DA: There’s an unbelievable wealth of talent, killer bands of all genres, right here in our hometown. Together with the support of friends, fans, and venues we can ignite this scene and make things happen.
S16: I agree, hopefully there will be a positive outcome with new options for everyone.
S16: What is one thing no one ever asked you that you would like your fans to know about you?
MT: Hmmm…I’ve never been asked what my favorite movie is…it’s Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman.
S16: The only guy that might be cooler than Paul Newman is Steve McQueen.
S16: The music business can be a difficult one; what keeps you motivated to continue moving forward?
MT: My wife of 24 years who has been incredibly supportive….and my desire show my two children that anything can be accomplished in life and not to fear failure. I want them to go out and shoot for the stars.
S16: Is there anyone you would like to send a shout out to?
MT: I’d just like to thank Bon Jovi, Live Nation Carolinas for this incredible opportunity, and of course all the fans and supporters that have been nothing short of amazing.
DA: I would just like to thank everyone who supports local music. I would like to give a big shout out and thanks to my original Fiftywatt band mates Kirk Christner and Thomas Dow for their unwavering support and encouragement for me to step out of character and join Michael for the show. Thanks to all of you at Shutter16, local music followers, and of course Michael Tracy for having me on board for this unforgettable experience.
There are many people out there that could easily take this opportunity and let it go their head. What was one of the first things Michael did? He asked his good friend if he would join him onstage for a bucket list, once in a lifetime show with one of the biggest acts ever. Michael is truly one of the good guys out there in the music scene. Everyone at Shutter 16 couldn’t be more proud and happy for him. We wish you all the best. It looks like both Michael and Darby have some new music coming out. Please get out and support them and local music. You never know. That local band you are watching may be the next musicians that are playing with Bon Jovi.
I would like to say thank you to Bon Jovi as well. What an opportunity he has given great musicians on his latest tour. This is something that really shows he cares about people and is helping artists like Michael to get out there and make new fans. I also want to thank Michael Tracy and Darby Adkins for taking a few minutes to share their experience with us at Shutter 16 and inviting us along for the ride.