Chris Kroeze

By Bob Zientara

Chris Kroeze’s public relations firm emailed a story to news outlets last week, announcing that the runner-up on NBC TV’s “The Voice” would appear in person on Feb. 22, 2019, at the Barron Area Community Center.

Ticket sales were due to begin Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018.

That show sold out in a matter of minutes. So did a second, a third, and a fourth BACC concert.

Even before that happened, Kroeze had already agreed to be the headline act in a June 6, 2019 concert at the Rice Lake Aquafest, along with three other appearances at Country Jam, next July, in Eau Claire.

And later last week, it was announced Kroeze would also appear next July 19 along with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Government Mule, and The Outlaws at Treasure Island Casino, near Red Wing, Minn.

In his run on “The Voice,” the Barron singer won the admiration of his celebrity coach, Blake Shelton, fellow coaches (and music stars) Adam Levine, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, and with millions of viewers across the country.

The increased exposure was just what he was hoping for – aside from winning the competition outright, that is.

His experience on “The Voice” is going to “give me the freedom of time,” Kroeze said Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, two days after he returned to his home after spending parts of the previous three months in Los Angeles.

That extra time will be created thanks to fewer concerts (compared to the more than 200 he’d been playing each year). It will give him more freedom to choose when and where he will play, Kroeze added.

It’s also going to give him time to create. Like writing songs, for example.

“I’ve done some song writing before, but this is going to give me more time to focus on it,” he said. “I was busy 200 to 250 nights a year. I played six, sometimes seven nights a week. After that I didn’t even feel like picking up a guitar.”

After being away from home for so long, some extra down time is also welcome, he said.

“We got back around midnight on Wednesday (Dec. 19),” Kroeze said. “It will be nice to spend Christmas in town.”

It was the first time he’d been home in more than eight weeks.

“The last time I had been in town was in the fall,” he said.

That was the night of Oct. 22, when he appeared at an outdoor event held at the Barron High School football field in the aftermath of Jayme Closs’ disappearance. At Barron, Kroeze sang The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” a song he repeated on “The Voice” when he got back to southern California.

A call in April

Kroeze said his association with the NBC network program dates back eight months.

Tens of thousands of performers compete to appear in the “blind auditions,” the first televised portion of the program. The usual procedure is a live audition before representatives of the show, but that’s not how it happened for Kroeze.

“They called in April,” he said. “I don’t know 100 percent how they found out about me. Someone sent them some video.”

By early June, Kroeze was in Los Angeles, taping the “blind auditions” in front of judges Shelton, Hudson, Clarkson and Levine, and a studio audience. The performances were taped for episodes of the show that were broadcast the following September.

Kroeze came home from the first taping to appear along with country western star Travis Tritt at the 2018 Aquafest in early June.

And after Shelton picked him for his team, Kroeze became a “traveling man.”

“I don’t know how many round trips there were. Let me count,” he said. “Six or seven, I think.”

Hours and hours of work

As Kroeze got through the early rounds of competition, the hours of work began to mount up.

There was no such thing as an “average day,” he said.

“They were all so different,” Kroeze said. “There were days we would have a band rehearsal, or a couple of interviews. It was anything from three to four hours up to 18-hour days, depending on what (show officials) needed to get done. It was a blur.”

Viewers were treated to taped encounters between competitors and their celebrity coaches. But that was only a small slice of time, compared to the rest of the work that had to be done, he said.

The vast majority of time was spent with “The Voice” music director Paul Mirkovich and his band.

Kroeze said he was impressed with Mirkovich’s professionalism, and that of the musicians who worked for him.

“He was the band director for Janet Jackson,” he said. “He was with Whitesnake, Nelson, tons of big names. He toured with Cher for years. And that band that he had – you can’t touch them (for professionalism and skill). They were unbelievable.”

Kroeze and finalist Sarah Grace appeared together on Dec. 17, singing a couple of 1960s rock classics, including the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” As the performance continued, each performer sang a verse from one of the tunes, then handed off to the other, who sang a verse from the other song. Both songs were blended into the single performance.

“Paul (Mirkovich) put all that stuff together,” Kroeze said. “He does all the arranging. He didn’t sleep much.”

All-time favorites

If he could choose five bands and/or artists (living or not) that he would most like to jam with, which ones would they be, Kroeze was asked?

“Vince Gill, for sure,” he replied, “just because he’s got one of the best voices ever, and he’s a killer guitar player. And Chris Stapleton, for similar reasons.”

Who else?

“Let’s see, Zac Brown Band would be fun to play with,” Kroeze said. “Their music is all over the map. And Willie Nelson – a living legend, and he would be a blast just to play with.”

But – all those artists are still alive and kicking. How about someone who’s no longer around?

“Hank Williams Senior would be one of them,” Kroeze said. “Just because he changed the course of country music and was one of the first big song writers.”

Editor’s note: A correction – A story in the Dec. 19, 2018 News-Shield misidentified a member of the Doobie Brothers with whom Kroeze sang on the Dec. 17 edition of “The Voice.” The singer’s name is Tom Johnston.