Michael Ray Road Hones
Dive Bars & Broken Hearts
Anywhere There’s A Dive Bar – Eustis, FL country singer Michael Ray grew up in the Sunshine State’s many dive bars, juke joints, honky tonks and the storied Sunshine Opry. For him, country music was the thing where people drinking after a long day, a tough break-up, a big win or just the need to get out of the house found their music mingled with neon, cigarette smoke, cold beer and enough heartache and high octane to siphon off whatever might be on your heart.
Coming from a family of working-class folks who know the meaning of “40 and OT,” there’s no faking how Ray gets his country on. After spending a few years as a teenager going to school, playing bars and splitting cable, he decided to chase a crazy dream to Nashville. The result was four No. 1s, including his most recent platinum, two-week chart-topper “Whiskey And Rain,” as well as a reputation as one of those artists who can hold down any stage, anywhere.
“There’s nowhere I’m more alive than playing to a roomful of people,” Ray explains. “To me, that’s where country music comes to life. I love being in the studio, putting a song into just the right instruments and frame. But if you want to really understand how a song works, go play it somewhere big enough to get loud, but small enough to feel the people.”
Having teamed with fellow force of Southern rock meets country Macon, Georgia’s Michael Knox, the pair have been bulking up Ray’s beer joint roots and streamlining his classic country song sense for what is becoming one of the most anticipated pieces of new music this spring Dives Bars & Broken Hearts. Culled from the way life puts you in places you never knew you were going to go, the six song EP creates a sense of how it feels to be a man, hold your own space and make your own way.
“When the songs are this strong, you know you’ve got something,” says the dark-headed musician with a laugh. “And when you were practically born playing this kind of music with your family, literally grew up in the bars and little roadside theaters, you can’t help yourself. It’s like a fast car, you wanna take it out and see how it handles. You know, playing new music in these kinds of places ain’t for the faint of heart; but when you’re not afraid, you bring songs this good, it’s amazing what happens.”
Under the radar, beyond the city limits, Ray has been playing several songs that are part of Dive Bars & Broken Hearts for the last few months. Currently dropping anywhere from three-to-five new songs into his set, he’s been amazed by the fan response to showcasing what has always been the sound in his mind.
Having enlisted the man behind 28 No. 1s, 50 million singles and 25 million albums sold, Ray drew on the best of what Knox brought out in 3x Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year Jason Aldean, Hank Williams, Jr., Montgomery Gentry and Thomas Rhett. Knox understands the potency of making music for people who work hard, who hit the bars and forget what’s bothering them with straight up country on the jukebox or the bandstand.
“When you came up punching it out in bars, there’s a different kind of energy. Michael let me record with live players, sing about things I knew – and trusted that who I am is who all the people I’ve been playing for since I was a kid are, too. We kept finding songs that felt right for who I am, and we kept singing live and pulling the heart out of the songs. It’s been an amazing process. When we’ve been playing, you can feel the difference with the new stuff… so we’re now using the road to really dial in what Dive Bars & Broken Hearts is gonna be.”
Michael Ray 2023 Tour Dates
April 13 Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Athens, OH
April 14 Del Lago Resort & Casino – The Vine Waterloo, NY
April 16 Moo & Brew Festival Charlotte, NC
April 20 Cherokee Hotel & Casino West Siloam Springs West Siloam Springs, OK
April 21 Haute Spot Cedar Park, TX
April 22 The JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa Sonora, TX
April 25 Propst Arena at the Von Braun Center Huntsville, AL
April 26 Temecula Stampede Temecula, CA
April 27 Stoney’s Rockin Country Las Vegas, NV
April 28 Clovis Rodeo Clovis, CA
April 30 Rolling Hills Casino & Resort* Corning, CA
May 6 Key West Songwriters Festival Key West, FL
May 19 Grizzly Rose Denver, CO
May 20 365 Sports Complex Inman, KS
May 26 Waterside Music Series* Solomons, MD
June 1 Moonshine Beach San Diego, CA
June 3 San Bernadino County Fairgrounds Victorville, CA
June 4 Morongo Casino Resort and Spa Cabazon, CA
June 15 Barefoot Country Music Fest Wildwood, NJ
June 17 B-93.7 Birthday Bash Comstock Park, MI
June 23 WYRK Toyota Taste of Country Buffalo, NY
June 24 Catskill Point Greendale, NY
June 30 Lazy Gators Lake Ozark, MO
July 1 Baldwin Golf Course Baldwin City, KS
July 15 Willow Tree Vineyard – Summer Sounds Ham Lake, MN
Aug. 9 Greene County Fair Waynesburg, PA
Aug. 26 Country In The Burg Cedarburg, WI
*with Dustin Lynch
Photo Credit: Connor Morss