For this year’s 60th Jeepers Jamboree celebration, musical entertainment at Rubicon Springs’ main camp has been stepped up some with the national sounds of Whiskey Dawn. The group originally consisted of members who met 15 years ago in high school — Jeremy Hughes, Michael Cook and Troy Ferris.
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“We went to high school together in Tracy,” said Ferris, singer/songwriter and spokesperson for the band. “We realized we all shared the same passion for music.”
After high school all three of them went to colleges in San Diego where they would get together and “play music all night; anything from Journey to Bon Jovi to Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks,” said Ferris, 29. “I’ve always been the country boy in the band.”
Excelling in different areas of music, the three original band members became very close and have remained best friends throughout the years.
“Mike is an insane guitarist and bass player,” said Ferris, adding that his fellow band mate “has a keen ear for third-part harmony.”
Hughes accompanied Ferris’ voice, as he says, “as if we were blood related.”
“All I was ever made to do is write and sing country music,” Ferris added.
Referring to his profession as “all I ever wanted to be,” Ferris is passionate about music. “It’s my life,” he said.
In 2006 he and Hughes moved to Sacramento where they officially started the band. Cook was a pilot in Los Angeles, allowing him to fly for free, which he did every weekend to play with the band.
“Eventually, the schedule grew to the point where he decided to quit flying and move up to Sacramento to play full-time with the band,” said Ferris, adding that they also had Steve Mendiola on bass, Steve Cortez on drums and Dave Corina on fiddle/mandolin. “That was the original line-up. It’s changed a bit over the years.”
Current band member Johnny Myers, from Lee County, Va., was incorporated into Whiskey Dawn approximately two years ago. Ferris and Hughes met him while he was playing in the Reno-based country band, Clear Blue 22. When the band was disbanding, they took him on right away.
“It was a no-brainer. He is an extraordinary guitar player,” said Ferris.
At that time Cook, 31, moved to bass guitar and Myers, 25, took lead. After four-and-a-half years on the road, Ferris said that Hughes decided to step down from the band. He recently married and is a teacher in Elk Grove.
“He still plays with us whenever he wants, but he didn’t want to hold us back,” Ferris said adoringly of his lifetime friend. “I’m proud of him and we will always be best friends.”
None of the current band members — Cook on bass and harmony, Myers on guitar, Ferris on lead and rhythm guitar, and Cedric Willmott on drums — have children. Past members who had families “found it too hard to balance both raising children, having a family and playing music fulltime,” said Ferris. “It takes a lot of dedication and commitment.”
According to Ferris, all of the band members love their gigs, love to travel, and have had nothing but success. Ferris said the reason for their success is because they genuinely love what they are doing and are all truly great friends.
“That makes it easy to have fun and have genuine chemistry on stage,” he said. “People can really tell the difference between bands that perform because they love to, and those who just want to be on stage or just want to be famous. It can’t be forced or faked because real country fans can always sniff that out.”
Whiskey Dawn lets the music take them to another level, according to Ferris, which allows their audience to feel free to do the same.
“That’s why we became so popular; we give the crowd permission to let themselves go for the night and just enjoy the music and the moment,” Ferris said, adding that he and Myers are moving to Nashville in August. Cook and Willmott are remaining in their local areas — Cook in midtown Sacramento and Willmott in Fairfield. They will play Whiskey Dawn shows when Myers and Ferris return from Nashville, and Willmott will pick up work with other bands.
“I will keep Whiskey Dawn West going out here, flying home regularly to maintain our fan base and play with the original group,” said Ferris. In fact, the band already has two trips planned after booking some high-end gigs which makes it economically viable for them to fly home. “We’ll keep the candle burning but only when we are back in town. (In the meantime,) we will add accompanying members in Nashville and keep the Whiskey Dawn name and style alive out there.”
Ferris is the songwriter of the group and makes a point of creating the chemistry on stage with the members they take on. He said he is extremely thorough in finding those artists who meet the personality traits to make the shows fun and keep the Whiskey Dawn style.
Having already traveled to Nashville many times, Ferris and Myers have previously played on the main strip, Broadway. They have opened shows for acts such as Faith Hill, Randy Travis, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, Lee Brice and Eric Church, just to name a few.
“It’s just time to take what we’ve learned and who we’ve become over the past six years and show Nashville who we are,” said Ferris, adding that the move is “exponentially exciting” for him as he has several great songwriters willing to co-write with him.
This year’s Jeepers Jamboree will be the band’s last West Coast performance together. “Then, it’s load up the truck and make the big move,” said Ferris. “The people from the Jamboree have been so kind and accommodating, and we’re expecting to play this event and have a blast with all the crazy off-roading Jeepers. One last yahoo before we leave.”