Michael Tracy soiree at Evening Muse
Michael Tracy soiree at Evening Muse
Writer and Photographer: Jimmy Warsham
North Carolina musicians showcase their talents in Charlotte, NC
It was an unusually hot and humid night in Charlotte on Saturday night. A storm had been brewing in the afternoon and now the leftover humidity was weighing heavy in the evening air. A hot night like this made it a no-brainer to be in a cool club to hear some local music from some very cool musicians. Michael Tracy and Jeanne Jolly were playing at The Evening Muse in the NoDa neighborhood of Charlotte, NC.
Tracy is now a Charlotte resident after having lived many places around the country. Tracy has had an interesting life, growing up in Minnesota, moving to Seattle, then joining the Navy. After moving around for awhile, he decided to make his home in the Charlotte area where he is now raising a family. After working very hard in the local scene, Tracy is now seeing the fruits of his labor and and has won numerous local music awards.
Jolly and her band are from the Raleigh/Chapel Hill area. A classically trained singer, she studied in the beautiful mountains of NC at Western Carolina University and then on to the New England Conservatory in Boston to finish out her education. Jolly spent time in Cullowhee, NC, Boston, California, and now back home to Raleigh, NC. Jolly began her career on the road with Chris Botti. As a vocalist for Botti, she was able to perform at many prestigious venues around the world, and it is clear that her experience on the road with an award winning artist like Botti has taken her to where she is today. With her current band, she works closely with Chris Boerner, guitar player, producer, and long time trusted friend. They have been friends since kindergarten. It is obvious watching them together, there is an unbreakable bond between the two.
As I was waiting for the doors to open, I had a chance to speak to Michael Tracy outside the venue. We discussed how he was feeling, and I got a little insight on some of the interesting things he has been involved in.
S16: Michael, how are you feeling tonight?
Tracy: I am doing pretty well. I wasn’t feeling very well earlier in the week though.
S16: Oh no, what’s going on?
Tracy: I was having some trouble with my throat. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to perform tonight.
S16: Have you been singing too much and lost your voice?
Tracy: No. I was down in Atlanta playing a few shows and on the drive back, I did way too much talking.
S16: So is talking harder on a singer’s voice than actually singing?
Tracy motioned towards his throat.
Tracy: Yes it can be. You spend a lot of time in these vocal ranges than can hurt your voice when you are talking. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be able to do this tonight.
S16: So, are you back at 100%?
Tracy: I am not 100%, but I am ready to go tonight.
S16: Where were you playing in Atlanta?
Tracy: I was performing some private shows.
S16: Tell me about how that works?
Tracy: Occasionally, I have some fans who want me to play at their private events. We went down and played a few gigs for some fans at their homes.
As we were getting a closer to showtime, Jeanne Jolly’s band walked by us. They were on their way out to get changed and get ready for their show later. Jolly spoke to Tracy and asked me –
Jolly: Are you playing with Michael tonight?
Before I could answer, Tracy introduced me.
Tracy: He is here to shoot our show for Shutter 16 Magazine and they will write an article for us.
Jolly smiled and gave me a handshake.
Jolly: Nice to meet you.
S16: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing your show.
Jolly walked away and Tracy and I went into the Muse.
Inside The Evening Muse was a welcome relief to the heat outside. We walked into a comfortable, inviting space that was getting filled with eager fans for the night’s show. As I walked around, I could tell the crowd was very laid back and enjoying themselves and they talked about the day’s events and the upcoming show that evening. There were more than a few drinks flowing, some wine, some local craft beer. Everyone was enjoying the break from the heat and the company of those around them. I settled in to take a look around and see where the best place to view the show from would be. They had it set up as a seated show. There was a maze of chairs and people I would later have to navigate to shoot this show. I found a seat up front near the stage, so I could get a good view of the performance.
As 8:00 neared, Tracy took the stage. He had let me know earlier that he was going to perform a stripped down show with just him on guitar and his friend Darby Adkins on a cajon drum. As Tracy strapped on his guitar and Adkins got his cajon set up, it was clear these two had a great relationship as they were cracking jokes with one another. After a few minutes of setting up, Tracy dropped his signature sunglasses down over his eyes. I saw the glasses drop, and I knew we were getting ready to see a show. Tracy’s set included a few new songs that had not been heard before. He also played many of his well known songs.
A true songwriter, Tracy’s songs are a thoughtful display and take you somewhere other than where you are at that moment. The catchy rhythm, emotion and lyrics of “Wait For Me” is a great example of that. “How much I loved you, Ever old and ever new, / Seasons wither and they bloom, yes they do, Ever Old and Ever New.” I have found “Ever Old and Ever New” from his album Gonna Smile stuck in my head still, days later. Tracy continued with “Old Paperback Novels” and his Edgar Allen Poe inspired “ Raven.” He played the upbeat, patriotic anthem, ‘My Faith, My Country.” There was not a head in the place that wasn’t moving along with Tracy as he spoke of being a free man, purple hearts, with images of those who sacrificed to give us what we all enjoy today. It is an inspiring rock thank you and appreciation of our country.
At one point Tracy asked the crowd if they were familiar with Blackberry Smoke. As an observer I could see that there more than a few confused faces in the crowd. This made Tracy laugh as he encouraged everyone to check out their music if they were not familiar with them. Once he said the name of the song, “One Horse Town,” there were a few in the crowd who recognized the song and gave a cheer. Once he rocked the song, everyone was cheering. I think he made a few more new fans for BlackBerry Smoke that night. As Adkins maintained a steady beat for Tracy all night on his cajon, Tracy offered him the opportunity to play a drum solo. The crowd cheered with laughter and wanted to see his solo. The jokes continued with each other, and they brought the crowd into the fun throughout the show.
Between sets, there was definitely a buzz in the room since Tracy got the house warmed up and the crowd was ready for more music. This short break gave me a chance to talk to a couple who came into town to see Jolly. This was their third show and have travelled to New York City, Greensboro, and now Charlotte to see her. They couldn’t stop talking about how amazing she was. I had seen some of her performances on Youtube and was hoping to see how her live show stood up. The venue was now standing room only. They had to add some additional chairs in the back of the house to accommodate all the people who came in.
Jolly had changed into a flowing peach dress with some brown cowboy boots since I last saw her. The blue and red lights on the stage reflecting off the drums and her dress set off a colorful vibe for what this show was getting ready to bring. Once Jolly got her guitar tuned up, she was ready to go and so was everyone in the audience. Once the first note lofted across the room, it was obvious that the couple I met earlier were not exaggerating about Jolly’s amazing voice. Jeanne Jolly can sing. I don’t really know what else to say. I am not sure I can do justice to the natural talent she has. The tone, softness and power of her voice filled the room, and the band’s style was an accentuation to her vocals. I find it hard to classify their style. It was a combination of blues, country, rock, folk and they even threw some gospel in there for good measure. She reminds us that we all need a place to run to and keep our face to the sun in her song “Boundless Love”, from her album A Place to Run. She does this with a bluesy bouncing groove that no one can resist moving to.
She encouraged anyone who wanted to to get up out of their seats and dance to feel free. It wasn’t really a booty shaking kind of crowd, except for one woman who did jump up for a few seconds. She took us on an emotional journey in “California” as she sang of emotions, people, places, times past, and that we don’t always get a goodbye before we lose things that are important to us. “Matches and Gasoline” is a love song about the heat between two people with a passion that burns white hot. Some slide guitar gives us some background moodiness to the song that makes us wonder if one can maintain that kind of passion forever or if the fire will one day burn out. “Circles in the Sky” is a beautiful song that sounded like a song of hope and a celebration of when we can see those that we lost again. Jeanne is an incredible vocalist whose vocals are as good as anyone I have ever seen. At one point, I almost forgot that I was there to document the event. I had to focus on what I was there for and start shooting.
During her breaks to tune, she shared some insight to what it is like to be on the road with the audience. They occupy their time by telling jokes as they travel. She engaged the audience with a few of their jokes. The crowd laughed with the band. They had a Bob Dylan joke as well as a joke about a monkey losing his tail. It is obvious that they have a sense of humor even when it comes to bad jokes. She was very engaged with the audience. It was obvious to me that there were a lot of people who were fans and friends who had seen her many times.
After the band played its encore, Jolly went out into the crowd and shook hands and hugged necks like we do in the South. It looked like she spoke to everyone in The Muse before they left. I took that time to go speak to the guys in the band as they tore down their gear. I wanted to make sure to thank the performers for coming out, especially when they put on a great show like that.
I got the chance to speak with Jolly after the show and, as we parted, Jolly reached down and handed me one of her new CDs, A Place to Run. I thought to myself, “Wow what a nice person and gesture.” It’s really great when you meet someone with amazing talent who is also an amazing person. I feel like I had the opportunity Saturday night to meet two amazing performers, Michael Tracy and Jeanne Jolly and visit a beautiful venue to see them.
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend taking some time to see Michael and Jeanne. They will take you on a musical journey that you will want to stay on for as long as you can.