Michael Ray Shares Heartbreaking Déjà Vu

"Those Are Our People," He Says of California Shooting Victims

What happened at the Borderline Bar & Grill on Wednesday night (Nov. 7) reminded so many country fans of what had just happened a little more than a year ago at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

It reminded country artist Michael Ray of that awful night, too.

I talked to Ray before he took the stage at a private Musicians on Call event in Chicago on Thursday night, and he shared what it felt like to hear the news about the shooting in California, and how it sounded much too familiar for him.

“It took me right back to waking up on my bus in the middle of the night after Route 91 happened,” he said. “We’d played Route 91 on that Friday night (two nights before the shooting there), then had stopped in Arkansas, and we were on our way back home. My phone started buzzing on the table by my bed, and I ignored it at first. But then it kept buzzing again and again. When I finally picked up, it was my buddy, and the first thing he said was, ‘Are you OK?’ He told me what had happened, and was still happening, and my heart broke. So today, it breaks again for all the families of those young kids, as they’re trying to piece together why their loved one just went out to have a good time, and then this.” The shooting at the popular country music club left 12 people dead and 23 injured when a gunman opened fire inside the bar.

This time, Ray heard the news while he was starting his day in Chicago. “This morning, while I was making coffee on the bus, I turned on the news,” he said, “and all the sudden and my heart just broke again.

“Because those fans? That’s our family. That’s where the country music family starts: those fans. They’re there having country music be part of their life, whether it’s listening to the music, seeing a band, or taking those line dancing lessons. These were college kids. They are the future of our country. They aren’t even that much younger than me. They’re unwinding, having some wholesome fun.”

The victims of this all-too-familiar tragedy, Ray said, were just doing what they love.

“People save money and vacation days to come to our shows. They let us into their cars when they’re dropping their kids off at school, they listen to us on dates nights,” he added. “Those are the people that tell us their life stories in meet-and-greets that we take and write songs about. Those are our people, so this shakes us to our core. When you see all those cowboys boots and those plaid shirts, that’s exactly what all of us see from the stage. This could easily be Joe’s Bar, 8 Seconds Saloon, and even Boots N Buckles Saloon, where I got my start.”

Even though he was about to go on stage and play a show, I could tell that Ray’s heart was with the victim’s families. “Those families are living through their worst nightmare right now. We want them to know that the country music family is wrapping our arms around them, and we want to be there for them, and let them all know that you shouldn’t let this stop you from living. Don’t let anyone take away your shine.”

As tough as it is to wrap your head around a solution to this kind of scenario, Ray did say that he hopes his team and his music industry peers can take steps to start making a difference: encouraging anyone with mental health struggles to seek help before turning to violence.

“What happened last night, that is something we’ve always talked about with my tour manager and my security guys, but now we are really talking about it. People can say, ’I’ve never had an issue,’ but you’ve never had an issue,” Ray said, “until you have an issue.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.