Having seen Michael Ray quite a few times as CMA Fest this year, as well as his performance at the C2C after party back in March, it was a treat to see him stripping it back to an acoustic setup for this October run. There’s a totally different dynamic with just a couple of acoustic guitars; we’re transported back to the writing rooms and there’s a lovely intimacy about these kinds of gigs. Especially with the bottle of wine Michael had on stage, it really felt like we were in his living room for an hour or so!
Rising star Willie Jones opened the show. Let’s be totally honest, this guy makes Walker Hayes sound like George Strait, but his brand of funky R&B-infused country has been a huge hit at his Country Music Week shows, and it’s difficult to watch him without a smile on your face! Complete with his own personal DJ, Kermit Young, he brings something very new to the table and defies genre boundaries more than most. With songs like ‘Bachelorettes On Broadway’ and new single ‘Whole Lotta Love’, he’s building a highly infectious catalogue that’s simply made for the country party crowds. Great stage presence, and he did really well to get a rather subdued Birmingham crowd in the mood. The highlight of his set was ‘Lead Me Back Home’, by far the most recognisably ‘country’ song on the set list, performed with his guitarist. An eyebrow-raising moment that showcased his writing ability, and showed us all that there is actually some heartiness in there, amongst all the party bangers!
Michael’s set list was a relatively short one, but the stories in between made up for that. It was such a chilled-out show with lots of audience interaction, and of course lots of singalong moments too. His first smash-hit ‘Kiss You In The Morning’ kicked things off, and we also had the likes of ‘Get To You’, ‘Think A Little Less’ and ‘One That Got Away’ – all big US singles that cranked up the volume in the room.
Although, the ‘Amos’ album was packed full of potential singles that haven’t seen the light of day as far as radio is concerned. Take ‘Dancing Forever’ as an example. A song written as a message of encouragement for his sister, its become even more meaningful now with his recent marriage to Carly Pearce. Such a brilliantly written track that deserved much more exposure. ‘Girl From Spring Break’ and ‘Summer Water’ also went down very well with the adoring Birmingham fans.
‘Her World Of Mine’ is hands down one of the very best radio singles of 2019; it was the highlight of the set as expected, and provided one of the loudest singalong moments. This is the kind of song Michael will look back on at the end of his career with great pride, and the fans have really taken it to heart. Michael has struck the balance between the pop-country radio smashes and the heartfelt ballads really well, and ‘Her World Or Mine’ shows off his raw talent better than anything else.
It was clear that an encore wasn’t planned, however the continued “oohhh” chants from the Birmingham crowd following ‘One That Got Away’ brought him back out for an impromptu performance of ‘Forget About It’ without the PA system turned on. He then left the stage with the crowd going wild; certainly a successful Midlands debut, that’s for sure. It sounds like Michael plans to keep building his UK fan base on a year-by-year basis, from the ground up, and I get the impression he genuinely gets a thrill out of playing over here. We’re looking forward to his next tour already.
Check out our interview with Michael, recorded before the show: