Five years ago, Michael Tracy lived a quiet life working a steady job at an elevator company and raising his family in Charlotte, North Carolina. Next week, the 48-year-old musician is getting the opportunity of a lifetime opening for Bon Jovi on Feb. 8 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.
No pressure there, opening for a band given the Billboard Legend of Live Award last year on the opening night of their This House Is Not For Sale tour, but Tracy is excited for the opportunity after beating out thousands of other acts in the first round of the band’s opening act contest, announced last month on Facebook Live. He says his band — which includes guitarist Darby Adkins (Fiftywatt Freight Train), bassist Andrew Torres, guitarist JT Fitch and drummer Brock Whitfied — is ready to hit the stage.
“The music business is so different now,” he tells Billboard. “Most of these bands are on tour, and it’s hard to get opening gigs because they are with bands on the same label or the same management and the bigger bands are doing shows with other big bands. Bon Jovi is doing this because he wants to give opportunities for bands to get in front of people and play. You don’t get these opportunities this easy in this day and age.”
Tracy isn’t the only Cinderella story: Other announced bands so far include Maradeen (Feb. 10 in Atlanta), Yardij (Feb. 12 in Sunrise, Florida), Hannah Jae (Feb. 14 in Tampa, Florida), Sweet Tea Trio (Feb. 16 in Birmingham, Alabama), Jake Johnson (Feb. 18 in Nashville) and The Former Me (Feb. 19 in St. Louis). The winners of two future rounds are still being determined.
“It’s not easy for people to have this kind of an opportunity,” he says. “When you’re talking about Jon Bon Jovi, you are talking about an A-list act. There are big guys, and then there are titans like him.”
Congrats to all the first round winners in our Opening Act Contest! We surprised our Greenville winner Michael Tracy with a surprise phone call! You can still enter our opening act contest here: http://bit.ly/lnoac The submission deadline for the March 1 – March 8 shows is February 1 at 12pm PST.
Posted by Bon Jovi on Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Tracy — who played guitar as a kid but never had a band — always loved writing poems and tinkering with songs, but was as far away from rock and roll as one can be. One day, his wife, Lisa, suggested he try one of his songs at an open mic night.
Tracy’s first response was, “Why?
Still, he picked up a guitar and tried it out. From there, Tracy journeyed to many more open mics, slowly gaining a following and putting together a band in the Charlotte area. “I got attention from solo acoustic shows, built a band around it, and went into this full time and just like any business, I jumped in,” he says.
Tracy released two independent records — including Gonna Smile and Love and Worries, produced by Bob Marlette (Tracy Chapman, Sebastian Bach, Rick Springfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Shinedown, Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Sahaj Ticotin.
On Monday, Tracy got the call of his life when he found out that he was the first winner selected to open for Bon Jovi. The winner for each tour date was selected out of a group of 10 finalists chosen by Live Nation, with Bon Jovi management making the final decision.
“[Live Nation] gave me a call earlier in the day and told me I was going to be getting another phone call at 2 and that the judges had another question because I was in the top 10,” he says. “I wondered what other questions they had. Then 10 minutes before they called, they told me to be at the phone. At that point, I was prepared there was a chance that was what was going on. What I did not know was that it would be Jon on the phone.”
The rocker put Tracy immediately at ease, telling him the good news and complementing his band. “He made it real comfortable on the phone call,” he says.
He was even more surprised to see the video Bon Jovi posted on Facebook, calling with the surprise. “I had no idea I was being recorded and I had no idea he posted it,” he says. “I was amazed.”
Tracy happened upon the Live Nation contest in the nick of time, submitting his video submission one day before the close of the online contest, he says. “I didn’t see something until the day before the entries had to stop,” he says. “I love Bon Jovi and I thought that this would be a great fit for someone like me. Then I realized that this isn’t a gimmick, he’s really doing this. I thought I had a decent chance, so I threw up a video, and I guess it worked.”
Tracy — who describes his music as “Americana Rock” — was born in Minneapolis and “lived on farms of Minnesota and Iowa when I was young for 12 years” before his family moved out west to Seattle. Afterwards, he joined the Navy and attended boot camp in Florida. “One day, I went home with a friend of mine in boot camp, met his sister and married her,” he says.
Moving around the country — including Virginia Beach, where he was stationed — gave the 48-year-old musician a varied perspective on life, which informs his music and writing.
“As a writer, it’s a great thing because you experience different cultures around the country,” he says. “If you’re a people guy like me — and I’m a people watcher — it’s a great thing.”
Tracy says the timing for the show was perfect, as he was preparing to “go dark” to record music for his next record and navigate the next step in his career. As a regional musician, he’s already had a few breaks, opening for Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder, as well as Dokken and George Thorogood.
“The hardest thing where you get to where I’m at in the music business today is you get to where you are big enough in town where you are playing the big clubs, but you can only play in your city once every couple of months,” he says. “You can’t play bars anymore, and that means you have to travel and that’s not a cheap thing to do. There aren’t many labels out there handing out advances anymore, so it’s a different world and I kept myself regional. I was getting ready to do a music video for a single, release a new album and set up some tour dates, so having this Bon Jovi thing come out of nowhere — the timing couldn’t have been better. It gave me something to talk about at a time when I was going to stay dark for a few months.”
Listen to “Condition of My Day” below: