Making his second debut in Athens in six months, Michael Ray took the stage this time around with his name as the headlining act at the Georgia Theatre. A crowd of university students and people from around the Athens area filled the Georgia Theater to see the show. As each concertgoer walked into the venue, they were greeted by a foggy stage with Michael Ray’s name glowing in the background. Not much time passed before the high-ceiling room acquired the pungent smell of alcohol— a smell that I’ve fondly begun to associate with concert venues.
The John King Band, a music group out of Demorest, Georgia, opened the show. Singing songs about 5-inch high heels and letting your hair down, the John King Band set the night off on the right note. Although it was apparent many of the concertgoers didn’t know their music, John King, the lead singer, knew how to work the crowd, especially the ladies. His smile sent all the girls around me screaming and rushing to the stage in a frenzy trying to touch his hand—more often than not knocking me and several other people into the side railing, a trend that would continue throughout Michael Ray’s portion of the night as well.
If you were able to survive that, the band’s music was quite humorous with all the talk of high-heeled shoes, but their performance, despite all the good, had its flaws. In comparison to Michael and his band who had more ease in their movements on stage, it was noticeable that the John King Band was still finding out who they are when it comes to working the stage. Several of the band members were stiff and did not interact with the crowd at all; however, the crowd didn’t seem to mind. In fact by the end of the band’s set, the majority of the crowd was singing along regardless of if they had known of the band for a year or 20 minutes.
When Michel hit the stage, the atmosphere in the room immediately intensified; finally, the person everyone had been waiting all night to see had arrived. The moment Michael stepped out on to the stage, the crowd was singing along, not missing a beat the entire night whether the song was about heading south, running away or driving all night. The first portion of his set list for the night consisted of a more upbeat song selection from his album—in other words the party anthems. The prominent drumbeat, electric guitars, and Michael’s full range vocals, create the contemporary country sound that is embodied in the majority of Michael’s music. These are the songs that have the crowd singing at the top of their lungs and Michael working his way across the stage.
However, some of his songs do have a more classic country sound from 10 years ago; these songs are slower and the lyrics hold more weight. These are his acoustic songs, and they create an opportunity for vulnerability. When it’s just Michael on stage with the microphone and his guitar, his music has a stronger connection around it, because it’s him putting himself out there in front of everyone. “You really get to connect to him because he shares pieces of his life and what got him to where he is,” remarked Hannah Allison, a sophomore Management Information Systems major from Lawrenceville, Georgia. This version of his music is very reminiscent and story like. It’s more intimate. It’s rawer. It’s his way of saying “This is who I am.”
With his own music mixed with covers and his stage persona, Michael Ray easily captivated the crowd. “The whole night was a spontaneous adventure for me. I didn’t decide to go until an hour before the show, but I’m glad that I did,” said Hannah Zenas, a freshman cellular biology and business management major from Alpharetta, Georgia. “Michael’s stage presence and his voice were incredible. I was taken aback when he hit all the low notes perfectly. I thought he brought justice to all the covers he did too. My favorite had to be his tribute to “Should’ve Been A Cowboy”.” Michael would occasionally point out people in the crowd who were dancing along and would invite others to sing along. Through this personal touch that Michael added to the night, you felt like you were fully involved in the concert experience and not solely a bystander.
Before the night ended, Michael carried on a UGA tradition, which was the calling of the dogs. Ray Drew, a player from the UGA football team, joined Michael on stage to lead the cheer. Everyone eagerly joined in while Michael watched from the side of the stage. A couple songs later, Michael finished his last song of the night, his #1 chart topped song, “Kiss You In the Morning.” The crowd had connected so much throughout the night to Michael though that they didn’t want him to leave and demanded an encore from him. Encores are something that he does not normally have the opportunity to do, so it was no surprise when he took the stage again for the night. Overall, Michael put on a phenomenal show. There wasn’t a dull moment, and he touched my hand, so I can’t really complain.