Photo courtesy of Maggie Clark & www.houseinthesand.com
Many musicians have aspirations to get to Nashville and fulfill a lifelong dream, often years before they actually make that monumental move. Then, there are others that never had the thought enter their minds of ever making Music City home at all. Such was the case of Jon Galletti.
Galletti, now six months into his gig playing steel guitar, dobro and banjo with country star, Jake Owen, definitely seems happy with his current situation, but like most side musicians, he’s taken a rather interesting route getting to the big stages across America. When we talked over coffee in Hendersonville, he chose to begin his story in Washington Township, New Jersey.
Like I mentioned, Galletti had not only never thought about moving to Nashville, he wasn’t even into country music when he was a Choir Director at Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Washington Township, New Jersey. He did, however, have a student that was entering the world of country music herself and her mother approached him with a question. “I heard you play guitar. Would you be interested in playing in Payton’s band?” That mother was Denise Coccia. Her daughter was Payton Taylor.
Photo courtesy of Payton Taylor & brewpics
“She had a great voice. I didn’t think I was that good really. Mediocre at best. I played in a bar band playing 90’s cover songs mostly. We did a couple rehearsals (with Taylor’s band), played some festivals and played New York City.” It was a couple of years later that Taylor’s family made the major decision to move to Nashville to give Taylor her shot at a music career. One she is making great strides in to this day. There was some talk about Galletti making the move too, but he still had his job as Choir Director and there really wasn’t any reason for him to leave, at least not at that point. Eventually, however, his position at the school was eliminated and having nothing to lose, he figured, “Why not?”, packed up his things and headed south and has been living in Nashville ever since.
Upon arriving in Music City, Galletti served tables at Margaritaville on Broadway to make ends meet and played the honky tonks here and there as well. It was also around this time that he landed his first touring gig with a band called Brother Virginia.
Brother Virginia traveled the Midwest casino circuit and for Galletti’s first touring experience, it was loads of fun. “They were a great group of guys” said Galletti and they’re still together as a band but they’ve changed their name to South of Somewhere. The ironic thing about having played with Brother Virginia is they covered so many of Jake Owen’s songs that Galletti was already familiar with them before getting the actual Jake Owen gig. He had a great story to go along with this stroke of luck.
“When I got the call for the gig they acted like I wouldn’t know who he (Jake Owen) was. Lukas (Bracewell, guitarist) is the one who called me and he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m in a band and we’re looking for a steel player, are you interested?’ I knew who he played with and then I thought maybe that’s not what he was talking about because he didn’t really say that. So, we got to talking and he’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s Jake Owen, these are the dates we’ve got and all that stuff. Do you want to go listen to his music and tell me if you’re interested and give me a call back?’ In my head I’m thinking, ‘I already know how to play every single one of these songs.’ Yeah, so that Brother Virginia band is where I learned all the songs I’m playing now. Though I wasn’t playing steel at the time, I was playing banjo and dobro and guitar, so that was kind of funny.”
It’s certainly true we never know which life experiences are going to benefit us further down the road, and Galletti’s time with Brother Virginia was something of a miniature goldmine. When I asked if a lot of Owen’s older songs are played on this tour he said yes. Owen has so many hits accumulated that they could go out and play 90 minutes of nothing but hits and they’re playing anything that’s been a number one.
Galletti also mentioned that even songs that may not have had a lot of commercial success but have a fun factor when played live are added to the setlist. That, and they also like to add a different spin to some songs.
At the beginning of this tour, the “Life’s Whatcha Make It Tour 2018”, Jake Owen went around asking the band for ideas to change some things up to make sure every show was different. New ways of arranging songs, for example. Galletti, being one of the new guys on board, had all kinds of suggestions and some weren’t exactly all that well-received immediately. Galletti tells the story of one such concept while laughing a little in between sentences.
In a band rehearsal right before the start of this tour, Galletti decided to add a new twist to “Days of Gold”. Adding the intro from the Dropkick Murphys’ song “Shipping Up to Boston” to the beginning of “Days of Gold” it gave the song a new impact that works wonders in a live show, or so Galletti and the rest of the band thought in their rehearsal. Now, keep in mind, this was a band rehearsal only. The boss wasn’t there. The day of the first show when Owen heard this crazy newfangled arrangement all he could say was, “Why are we playing ‘Riverdance’ at the beginning of ‘Days of Gold’?” Obviously, Owen had never heard “Shipping Up to Boston” before. Despite his initial confusion, once he saw the crowd reaction to Galletti’s idea, which was overwhelmingly positive, he knew his steel player had a knack for knowing how to create live arrangements that worked.
Since this tour has been centered around playing at baseball stadiums, the stage is set up so that the steel guitar stands directly above second base. Galletti said he jokingly likes to refer to the tour as “Jonathan Galletti’s “Steelin’ Second tour featuring Jake Owen”.
Video courtesy of Fox 66 WJET & YouTube
When I’m chatting with a touring musician, I can’t help but digging into their life on the road a little. I asked if there were any towns on the schedule that were positive surprises. In other words, places Galletti thought were going to be bad and turned out to be much better than he’d imagined. It didn’t take very long for him to come up with a story for that one, and it was one I wish all of you could have been sitting there with us to have heard. Galletti is quite an adept storyteller, especially when humor is involved.
The date was July 19, 2018. The town was Cohasset, Massachusetts. The venue? Well, according to Galletti, “It was presented to me as a circus tent with a very slowly revolving round platform that served as a stage in the center.” The actual name of the venue is the South Shore Music Circus, but aside from me telling you the name, Galletti’s information was generally correct.
The Jake Owen camp traveled through the night and arrived in Cohasset early in the morning. Galletti woke up on the bus at the venue. He described the area they were parked in as “between an alleyway and the woods” and when he looked out he didn’t have a great feeling about things. He figured he would go outside and check it out anyway. Sure enough, there it was, a big tent. The place where they had driven all night to play. The temperature that day was around 90 degrees and according to Galletti, “when you walked into the tent, the temperature rose about another 10 degrees.” This wasn’t looking very promising at all.
At soundcheck that afternoon, the guys in the band who were new to the venue (Galletti, Lukas Bracewell, guitar and band leader and Darius Mines, keys) were all just wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. This was clearly nothing like any other place they’d ever played before. Due to the size of the venue and the much smaller crowd, the decision was made to do a sort of toned-down version of the show. An acoustic-style show, but just “make it a little more colorful”. One that utilized all of the band members since they were all present. That may have been the only thing that made any sense at all so far, but there were surprises waiting. Owen, along with the remaining band members, were veterans of the South Shore Music Circus, they knew how all of this worked. No matter how confused the new guys looked, Owen had these few words for them, which he repeated several times, “Just wait until tonight.” That’s all he would say.
Describing a building near the big tent which served as the band’s green room, Galletti now could hardly relay the remaining portion of his story without breaking into laughter. The memory of this night is still so clearly etched into his mind (and probably will be forever) that he simply could not get through telling the tale without reliving the whole event. On the audio of our interview, I’m laughing as much as he is, just because it was hilarious hearing him breaking up every few words.
He tells how the band members had to exit the green room building to enter the main tent for the show. In the same fashion that football players enter the field through the tunnel and fans high-five them and cheer loudly as they go by, the fans at the South Shore Music Circus high-fived the band and cheered “at the top of their lungs and Jake hadn’t even come out yet” as they walked to the stage. “I had earplugs in and it was still blaring”, said Galletti with a laugh. Then when Owen came out, all bets were off. “It was SO loud. We immediately abandoned the acoustic show. We wouldn’t have been able to hear ourselves. We played harder at that show than we do at stadiums.”
“Myron (Howell, drums) is a hard player. He basically plays with baseball bats. He played harder at that show than any show the whole tour. At one point, Jake turned around and looked at Lukas and said, ‘I told you, wait until tonight’ and Lukas just laughed because he got it.” Galletti continued to laugh and said it was a great show.
I asked him if there was any video of that show and he said there had to be. Oddly, when I looked for video, I found ONE. One video of Owen singing an acoustic number all by himself on the stage. Not exactly the experience Galletti had been describing to me. I took a chance and reached out to the person that posted that one video and asked him if he had anything else from that night. I was lucky. He did. He was kind enough to share it with me too. In that video, the mayhem and close quarters are quite apparent. So, a great big shout out to the South Shore Music Circus and anyone who attended that show. Jake Owen and his band absolutely appreciate your enthusiasm and your support. They really, really do. I believe that’s why Owen returns. Bigger is not always better. There’s a lot of heart in that tiny venue.
Video courtesy of Jake Kaplan and YouTube
Now that I had an idea of life on the road, what did Galletti do with his time off? Time off? What time off? As it stands, there really isn’t much of that. The Jake Owen bus generally leaves on Wednesdays and comes home on Sundays. Galletti has a standing Sunday night gig with Natalie Brady at The Stage on Broadway, one that he’s been playing for about two years now.
Tuesday nights you can sometimes find Galletti playing on Tootsie’s rooftop and every so often on a Wednesday he plays at Opryland. Otherwise, he might be playing elsewhere downtown or doing session work. Is he busy? You might say that, which leads me to something he mentioned about working for Jake Owen. He said he really likes working for Owen because band members are allowed the freedom to take on side projects. Owen doesn’t restrict them on things like that or dictate what they wear on stage like other artists do. It’s that easy going atmosphere that makes for a pleasant working environment.
Easy going and spontaneous! Working for Jake Owen there is never a dull moment. The guys in the band never know what Owen will do next. Whether it’s changing the setlist at the last second or grabbing a guitar tuned in a key the song isn’t usually played in, there’s always some scrambling going on. The crowd never knows it, but it’s going on right before their very eyes. Owen will suddenly pick up a different guitar than he normally plays a certain song on and the guitar is tuned much lower. The guys then have to play a few notes and hope they don’t go out to the crowd too loudly before one of the band guys figures out what key they’re supposed to be in. With the assistance of talk backs, they can quickly chat with each other on stage and all get on the same page and play the song correctly.
That’s just one of the musical curveballs Owen throws at his band mid-show. In Fort Wayne, Indiana during this tour, Galletti was ready to trade the Stage Manager, Thompson, a banjo for a dobro when transitioning from “Tall Glass of Something” to “Eight Second Ride” when suddenly Thompson put the dobro back and took off running. This left Galletti standing there not knowing what was happening. “Where’s he going?”
Where he was going was to stand on the spot directly below the point where the boss, Jake Owen had climbed to the very top of the stage. Just like that. No warning. There he went, like Spiderman, right to the top. “Now, Thompson’s a big guy. He’s built like a Viking warrior.” He’s standing there like, “Please don’t fall, please don’t fall.” Galletti continued, “He just looked up as he stood there like, if this guy falls, I will catch him.” According to some in Owen’s camp, he’s climbed to the top of that stage before, so he wanted to do it again. I suppose you don’t want to mess with tradition and I also suggested that maybe he’s a little superstitious. You climb it once, you’d better climb it every time or bad things might happen. We ‘ll never really know.
Then, there was that one time the band played a “little dive bar in Chicago” on the Bud Light Dive Bar Tour. Jake Owen actually has four dates on this particular tour this year and the Chicago venue was changed at the last minute. A bit of a pleasant surprise for some people that had made prior dinner reservations at a barbeque restaurant called Bub City. Rather than cancel their reservations, the venue simply gave these patrons tickets to the Jake Owen show as well. If they were already fans, what luck! If they didn’t know who he was? “They sure knew him by the end of the night”, claimed Galletti. He told another story of Owen’s spontaneous sense of fun as it went down in Chicago that evening.
“There was actually a band scheduled to play after us that night. Well, two songs in, Jake says, ‘I’m playing for THREE HOURS tonight!’ He played every single minute of those three hours”, said Galletti, through laughs. He said it was the best time ever. I don’t think I ever found out what happened to the other band that was supposed to play, but I guess we all know they didn’t get their full set in. That’s simple math. Owen really brings something different to the table at every show and this is something that Galletti gels perfectly with. This artist doesn’t fall into any ruts. He thrives on creativity and he needs to share that creative edge with his audience. Again, never a dull moment.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Galletti
I’ve been a fan of Owen for many years and it just wasn’t in the cards for me to see this tour. It’s really disappointing, but at least I was able to see him at CMA Fest, even if he only performed one song. I had to ask about that. Why only one song? Was that planned or did something happen at the last minute that his set was cut down to that one song? Galletti put it like this, “Just since I’ve been with the band, which is only February, Jake’s gone from zero to 60 and a lot of cool things are happening. He’s inching back into that world (CMA Fest) since it’s been a while.” So, yes, that one song was planned and he really brought it with that one number, so quality over quantity this year. I’ll take it.
Video courtesy of Patti McClintic & YouTube
It wasn’t all that long ago that Owen moved to Big Loud Records and I asked Galletti how that was working out. “He’s ecstatic with them.” That’s all I needed to hear, but Galletti elaborated that Owen loved the freedom that Big Loud gives him.
As far as freedom goes, when the crew is on the road they work. They work hard. Everyone thinks it’s all rock and roll and crazy parties, but listen to these hours and see how much you want to work with a touring show. They wake up at 8:00 AM and they go to bed at 2:00 AM, and yes, they’re working during all those hours. So, when they do get an entire day off, it’s a big deal. They take full advantage of it.
Galletti told me about a day off the whole crew had in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. They were on a run that ran from Milton, Delaware, to that Cohasset, Massachusetts show, a gig in New Hampshire and finally Erie, Pennsylvania. Between the New Hampshire and Erie shows they had a full day off. They were stopped in Buffalo, so they went out and lived it up. Doing a mini-wing crawl of sorts, they hit a bunch of bars where they ate their weight in wings and put so much money in jukeboxes in every bar, “people were probably getting free songs for a week after we left.” One stop was at Gabriel’s Gate in Buffalo’s Allentown district. The wings there got a special mention.
What else can we learn from a touring musician? At least on the “Life’s Whatcha Make It Tour 2018”, weather conditions have special considerations, at least when it comes to baseball fields. So far, only two shows on the tour have been canceled completely. Those were the first two shows of the tour and they were canceled because the crew had not yet been out to set things up. It had rained before they were able to get there and set up the stage and the baseball stadium didn’t want the crew destroying the field when they were dragging the equipment across the wet grass. So, it wasn’t falling rain on top of the musicians or the crowd that halted things. It was simply baseball stadiums that wanted to remain pristine. Understandable.
Lightning is always a problem. Nobody’s playing anything with lightning. That’s just way too dangerous. Rain hasn’t been a problem for Jake Owen on this tour. Well, maybe a little. It was the show in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jordan Davis played. Chris Janson played. Perfect weather for both of them. Then this big black cloud appeared and the Jake Owen band just stood there watching it and saying, “We’re not playing.” The fans were moved to the concourse area until the storm passed, where, of course, the beer concessions are. Galletti was impressed by how many of those fans stuck around. “I would have left at the first delay, but those fans that stayed, they ended up with a great show. It was one big party.” I imagine the beer sales were quite good that night. What else would you do while you had to stand there waiting?
I asked what’s next after this tour wraps up. The tour was scheduled to end at the end of September, but due to its success and the recent number one hit, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”, LiveNation is now extending the tour by adding some arena shows in October. For now, they’re still calling it the “Life’s Whatcha Make It Tour”, but the openers will change. Jumping on board will be Morgan Wallen and David Lee Murphy.
That’s not all either. All during the current tour, Tree Vibez Music, Florida Georgia Line’s music publishing company, would send buses full of songwriters out to festivals where Jake Owen was playing, and all day long, he would go out to those buses and do co-writes. He would then come back with songs for his band to hear. Says Galletti, “He has tons of songs and they’re all really good.” If this is any indication of what we have in store for us on future Owen records, I’d say we’re in for some very special things.
When I expressed my sadness in missing out on this latest tour, Galletti also carefully chose his words, but said, “I can’t say anything about it yet, but next year, he’ll (Owen) be playing something very close by (to Nashville).” There was just a slight smile in his eyes that told me I should start saving my pennies for whatever he was hinting at.
I then said, “So, we haven’t heard the last of Jake Owen after this tour?” Galletti responded, “Oh no. He’s just getting started.”
Finally, the question we ask everyone. When Jon Galletti thinks country, what does he think? “I hate to be biased, but when I think country, I think steel guitars.” Good answer.
Jon Galletti can be found: