After the Virginia bars and The Voice, Huntley comes to the Pioneer

By on February 1, 2024

Huntley at the Pioneer Theater. (Photos by Lauren Cowart)
Huntley at the Pioneer Theater. (Photos by Lauren Cowart)
Huntley at the Pioneer Theater. (Photos by Lauren Cowart)
Huntley at the Pioneer Theater. (Photos by Lauren Cowart)
Huntley's parlor session at Manteo House on Friday night. (Photos by Lauren Cowart)
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Many contestants on The Voice go on the show to figure out who they are as artists. But after spending a weekend with Huntley for two sold out shows at the Pioneer Theater on Jan. 26 and 27, followed by two intimate parlor sessions at Manteo House, it’s clear that Huntley knows exactly who he is. He’s a blues and rock singer songwriter who’s been hustling and grinding and betting on a dream for two decades.

In his debut single, he sings, “You can take all my pennies till’ my pockets they run dry, you can starve the soul inside me, you can leave me high and die, I’ve had my ups, I’ve had my downs, I’ve been kicked and knocked around. There ain’t nothin’ that the Devil can throw, I’ll keep pushin’ till the wheels fall off, I’m holdin’ on.”

After trying out for American Idol and The Voice numerous times, going to Nashville and returning home, and playing his songs in the corner of bars in Virginia where people were more interested in chatting with each other than listening to his music, Huntley started to think maybe a music career wasn’t in the cards for him.

“I was literally about to become a substitute teacher,” said Huntley (who does not use his first name Michael), adding that he had just signed the papers to become a teacher and was sitting down for spaghetti dinner with his daughter when he got the call from the Voice. “It gives me chills even talking about it.”

He went on to be the second fastest four-chair turn contestant in the history of the show. Now that he’s won, he’s grateful to The Voice, but it doesn’t define him. Notably leaving out most of the songs he sang on the show, Huntley stuck to originals and covers that showcased his more soulful side, with bluesy renditions of “Does That Make Me Crazy,” by Gnarles Barkley, a broken down version of “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty, and classic Southern blues rock songs like “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers Band, “Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band, and “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

On Friday night, his rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” had the small dance floor below the stage filled with couples slow dancing in each other’s arms.

Huntley confessed at the parlor session Friday night—while politely turning down requests for some of the most popular songs he sang on the Voice—that most of the mainstream rock and roll songs he was known for singing on the Voice were chosen for him and that most of them were songs he had never heard before. When presented with some of those songs, including Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive,” (a popular karaoke song), he worried the audience might not see who he was as an artist. But he trusted that his coach and producers knew what they were doing.

“And the majority of people in America got what I was doing. And I mean, even with the diversity that I showed tonight, it shows that I do a lot more than just like rock and roll, and a lot more than just, you know, ‘Dead or Alive,’” he said.

The man who taught Huntley to play guitar when he was young drove all the way down from Virginia to attend Huntley’s show at the Pioneer Theater. At the parlor sessions, Huntley told him that for his “Talks to Angels” performance on the Voice, he had dedicated the song to his mentor’s son who had passed away—a part that had been cut out of the show.

“I think that America is looking for authentic people and, you know, authentic music,” he said.

For Huntley, a big part of that authenticity is representing his Fredericksburg Virginia roots, and that meant bringing his long-time friends and bandmates along for the ride to the Outer Banks.

His backup band included Jason Ross on lead guitar, Tyler Rose on bass and Ian Lafferty on percussion, all incredibly skilled musicians in their own right who brought their own talent and electricity to the stage. Huntley, who’s known each of them for years and brought them together after coming home from winning The Voice, lovingly referred to them as his “Blue Ridge Boys,” to the audience. Even his photographer, security, and manager are his good friends from home.

“I’m keeping it as local as possible,” he told the audience at the Pioneer on Friday night, later telling the Voice that he plans on bringing the band members along for as much of the ride as possible, reflecting on the fact that it’s just hitting him that the Pioneer Theater might be his last show in a small, intimate setting.

“It’s just really hitting home just how different things are now and I really appreciate you guys coming to listen to my music,” he said. It is clear that Huntley is relishing these final moments of relative calm before the storm—before his album gets released and more money, more fame, bigger arenas and larger audiences become part of his life.

“I was raised by a single mother, and we used to bond watching the Andy Griffith Show,” Huntley told the audience on Friday. “I just got chills saying that. It’s just funny because this opportunity has been really amazing. I just went and sang the anthem for the Buccaneers and the Eagles [NFL playoff game], but you know all of these opportunities and full circle moments…I’m always gonna be my weird authentic self.”

With his raspy crooning voice, Huntley gets likened to artists like Christ Stapleton and Joe Cocker, but he has his own style and his own message.

“I think that I just have a really cool message to show…that you can be down to earth, and you know, as a guy, as a man, we can be vulnerable and strong at the same time.”

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