Intimate CMA Music Fest Kick-Off Event Shares Entire EP
6 Songs, 2 #1s and a Whole Lotta Fans at E. Nashville’s The 5 Spot
Photo Credit: Connor Vaughan Morrs
Over the last year, Michael Ray has been honing his craft, focusing his sound and going deeper and deeper into the kind of country music he was raised on in the heart of central Florida. Working with CMA Album of the Year-winning producer Michael Knox, the pair doubled down on a lean, working man’s country sound that pulled traces of Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Vern Gosdin, Hank Jr. and Alabama.
Thursday night, at East Nashville’s locals mostly The 5 Spot – where Lady Gaga famously kicked off her own Dive Bar Tour in support of her back-to-roots Joanne – the no frills songwriter treated his own fans to the first front-to-back performance of "Dive Bars & Broken Hearts". The six-song EP explores the phases of life, the emotions that define how we live, the reality of where we find ourselves for good times and bad.
“I had been wanting a way to play this to the people who’ve been part of my life and my career from the beginning,” says the dark-headed vocalist. “CMA Fest brings country music fans together from not just across North America, but all over the world. So many of my fans come every year, this seemed like the perfect way to debut all this music as a whole collected work without playing favorites and picking a city.”
Hunger for his new music was high. Tickets for the intimate rock bar show were gone in less than 18 hours; the fans started lining up before daybreak. With a line down the block and around the corner, spirits were high among those lucky enough to get tickets – and on Knox’s bus were the band, who’d been dropping a few songs into their set, would finally get to put it all together.
“Songs on a record are one thing,” Ray said. “But songs in a bar with real people are something else. Not until you get into that room and hear the people do you know. And growing up in Eustis, with my Grandpa working all day, coming home, getting dressed up and heading out to where the music was, I learned the power of that pretty young.”
With the teaser tracks “Workin’ On It” and “Get Her Back” drawing the strongest response, as the crowd sang along at full voice, even the unfamiliar songs seemed to hit home. From the opening “Dive Bars & Broken Hearts,” Ray drew the crowd into a world of short-circuiting neon, young bucks acting up in their trucks, heartaches that drive you to drink and the idea that beyond perfection is the happiness of trying to be a better person every single day.
"Dive Bars & Broken Hearts" is available for pre-order now. Three of the six tracks will be instantly available; June 23, the rest of the project will be completed. For fans of how real life creates great songs and reasons to hang on and get through it, Ray understands. With four chart-toppers of his own, he performed “Think A Little Less” and “Whiskey & Rain” as the cherry on top of the new music sundae. With stops at the Grand Old Opry June 9 and the Warner/Yee-Haw Brewing Co. show June 10, it’s all about getting the music into the hands of the ones who deserve it the most: the fans.