My Delta Rae Year

By Amanda Epstein

Amanda is a lover of music and a contributing writer for multiple music publications. She has written interviews, reviews, and features. When she is not working, she can be found traveling to catch live concerts, discovering new artists, and learning to play the guitar. Based in Maryland, she travels around the country to where the music takes her.

Delta Rae and Amanda Epstein in Raleigh 2019
Amanda + Delta Rae in Raleigh; Top row: Eric Hölljes, Mike McKee, Ian Hölljes; Front row: Grant Emerson, Liz Hopkins, Amanda, Brittany Hölljes
Mike McKee Delta Rae trash can drum
Mike’s trash can drum

2019 was a year of music for me and Delta Ray in particular was woven so completely into it. Delta Rae is a band made of six members –  a trio of siblings: Ian, Eric, and Brittany Hölljes, along with Liz Hopkins, Grant Emerson, and Mike McKee. Together these six people create not just a show, but an experience. Throughout 2019, I saw them live twelve times. Three times on a cruise; thrice in Colorado; twice in North Carolina; and once each in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC, and Tennessee. 

My journey began in March when I first saw Delta Rae perform on the Melissa Etheridge cruise. Originally, I wasn’t planning on going to their show, but my friends’ set had just ended and they said they were about to jump onstage with Delta Rae. My cabin mates and I headed to the theater to grab a seat for their show. I was blown away by their energy and talent. That was also the first time I had seen their unique musical instrument: in one song the drummer, Mike, plays a trash can…yes a dented, metal trash can. Big metal chains on an upside down metal trash can makes for some interesting sounds.

Brittany and Liz pulled the audience in with their energy and movements. I’m not sure either one of them stood still for more than ten seconds. During “Run” it isn’t unusual to see Brittany spinning in circles in her bare feet. Liz loves fringe on her skirts. When the two of them get going, it can be dizzying. 

The next show was much smaller, but by no means any less incredible. This stage was smaller, but it also had a balcony overlooking it from the floor above it. That’s where I was sitting with a friend eating dinner. This stage was about a quarter of the size of the last one, and they used every inch of it. Between the drums, “Big Red” (their concert bass drum), guitar stands, piano, and mics, the girls didn’t have much moving room.

I only caught a bit of the third show, but it still didn’t disappoint. We had some time between shows and tried to fit in as many as possible. There were usually no less than three going on at the same time. I caught a few songs, but not many. This time I was in the way back and couldn’t see anything from behind all the other standing people. 

One of the best things that week was seeing the band out and about. Dancing with Liz and Brittany in the night club at two in the morning. Watching another show, I turned around to see Mike and Eric standing behind our table. They really are the nicest people. 

In May, I won tickets to see them in DC. The band gives away a pair of tickets to a teacher and a nurse at every stop on their tour. I won the tickets through the “Tickets for Teachers” contest and took my best friend with me. We were in the back of the venue and couldn’t see much, but what we heard was incredible. Little did I know just how much I would see later in the year.

Each show has a VIP option. During that portion of the evening, the band plays two songs acoustically and answers fan questions, then takes pictures with everyone. After the DC show, I did VIP for every other show I saw. Getting to meet the band was surreal.

In June, my best friend, my sister Alex, and I drove over four hours to Pittsburgh to see them play. That was the first time Alex had seen them live and was enthralled the entire time. We did the VIP package for the first time on that trip. 

Delta Rae in West Virgina VIP acoustic session 2019
West Virginia’s VIP Acoustic Session
Eric Hölljes from Delta Rae in Nashville 2019
Eric playing the piano in Nashville

The next trip we had planned was to see them in West Virginia in September. What I didn’t know was what a crazy week that would be for me. The things I do for music… Four concerts in three states in six days! Oh yeah, I worked 4 days that week too. As I was waiting at the airport in Nashville to fly to West Virginia, I found myself having a twitter conversation with Eric. They were awake and driving to West Virginia. I would get a shock later that day.

We got lucky enough to be there to watch soundcheck. When the band finished soundcheck, Liz walked over to us and she knew who I was. During the VIP meet and greet, Eric remembered our conversation and asked about my trip. I couldn’t believe he remembered that! Just goes to show how friendly they are. 

We were front and center for the show, so we didn’t miss a beat. One of the moments that sticks out was when Brittany was introducing the song “All Good People.” The song is all about equality and is very important to her. There were a few people talking in the back of the venue as she was explaining it. She stopped her introduction to address them, and asking them to pause their conversation because this was very important. They did. Getting to experience that night with the kids was a treat.

One of the highlights of that year for me was what we later dubbed the “Delta Rae-cation” in Colorado. Three shows back to back in three different cities. I went with two of their biggest fans, Becky and Kendi, who help run their fan account, Delta Rae Diehards. Becky and Kendi are in constant communication with the band. So much so, that we had to run an errand and pick up a guitar on our way to one of the shows. 

Delta Rae in Denver 2019
Denver night one

Something incredible happened that first night in Denver. The magic and energy in the venue was something I cannot describe. I thought the West Virginia show was amazing, but this was better. I found myself crying with others during “All Good People”. Why was this time more powerful?  Who knows. It was great to be surrounded by people that understand why I love this band so much, because they do too. We weren’t the only ones who could feel something special that night. Brittany would mention something similar to us in VIP the next night. 

VIP photo with Delta Rae in Boulder 2019
VIP photo in Boulder

New songs and emotions in Boulder on night two. I think they were determined to make us cry every night. “Pay No Rent,” an “upbeat song about death” according to Brittany, was the trigger this time. That night was like a family reunion – Much of the crowd from Denver was there, and we were more comfortable with the band. Eric even said that it was like a living room feel in there. 

The third show of the trip was in Fort Collins. This was the day we ran an errand for the band. Their manager messaged Becky, asking if we could stop at a shop and pick up a guitar for their guest guitarist. We arrived at the venue with the guitar and the guitarist, Ellen Angelico, met us outside. She was so thankful.

Delta Rae in Boulder 2019
Delta Rae in Boulder

Some of the same people from previous shows were in the crowd and in VIP. By this night, the Diehards were in a large group. We took up the entire front row. We took group pictures sitting there while we waited for the show to start and posted them on Instagram. Then the band put hearts on it and shared it to their story. I was like “what is this life”?  

That night I was in charge of running the merch booth. I got to have conversations with their manager Jessie, so many fans, and the opening act Frances Cone while they were at the booth. Since I was at the table, I couldn’t be in the main venue with everyone else, but I would run back and forth every other song so I could catch some of the show from the front. Becky, Kendi and the others in our group would look for me and bring me up front with them when I came in. Diehards really are the best people. 

At the end of the show, while closing things up, I got the chance to talk to Jessie. She started out as a fan of Delta Rae and is now their manager. We had a whole conversation about how she got to her position and tips for working in the music industry. Everyone involved with this band is incredible and humble, including the light and sound guy Adam (or A-Tay), the manager Jessie, and the brand partner Taina. They take the time to talk with fans and have real conversations.

In December there was another triple show event. One show in Nashville followed two days later by back to back shows in Raleigh. I knew we were in for a treat because Raleigh is a hometown show for the band, who got their start in Durham, North Carolina. For the Nashville show Becky, Kendi, my friend Leigh, and I did VIP again. The fact that the band remembered me, by name, blew me away. With as many fans and interactions as they have, they remembered who I was!

Delta Rae Raleigh 2019
Night One in Raleigh

Two days later we were off to see them again in Raleigh. This time, all four of the founding members of the Diehards were there: Becky, Kendi, Cassie, and Jen. There was a special event for these shows. The band was recording for a TV special and live CD, but they needed an audience, so we got to go in early for the soundcheck filming both nights. The fact that they opened this up to fans and not some hired group was really special, and made us all feel like we’re a part of something. There were so many faces that I had seen in Colorado, and others I knew from the internet; we had a running joke that we all needed name tags with our Instagram handles!  

Since I had VIP for both shows, it was my job to save spots in the front row for our friends. Our group was about twelve people now. We got bigger at every show. The friendship between Diehards is unlike anything I’ve seen before. We may only see each other once or twice a year, but the connection is unmatched. The music and message of the band has brought us all together. 

The second day all of the Diehards made a plan to meet up for lunch before the filming. There must have been twenty or thirty of us. People from all over the country. I know people in the group that came from Illinois, California, Tennessee, and New York to be there. 

That night there was something special planned for the band. Everyone knew what was planned, except for the six people in the band. We made sure the light and sound tech, manager, and film crew knew what was going to happen. One of the Diehards had brought three hundred battery operated tea lights, and passed them out. There was a certain moment in the show that we were all supposed to turn them on. When we did, the band was shocked. Eric couldn’t sing words and Brittany started crying. 

They know how much their fans care and are there to support them, and they give us back so much love. They pay attention to their fans and what goes on in our lives. Grant even knew I had traveled to see concerts that weren’t theirs. I’ve never seen a band so connected to their fans, and foster that connectivity between fans. With this band, it is about so much more than good music. They stand for something and make us feel special. I can sum up this band in one word: Magic. 

Delta Rae in Raleigh December 2019
Raleigh Night Two

If the pandemic hadn’t happened this year, I was scheduled to see them 7 times in the month of April. I can’t think of any other band that has made me want to see them that many times in one month. While the set lists tended to be mostly the same, with some variations, the shows were different. The energy in each venue and every city were unique. 

Check out Delta Rae’s website, or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Listen on YouTube, Apple Music, or Spotify. Loving the band? You can find their unofficial fan club The Delta Rae Diehards on Twitter and Instagram.

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