March 9 is just another Friday for most teens. Another day that kicks off the weekend. A chance to go out with friends and spend a few hours being a kid. For 14-year-old Makenzie Raye it's one step closer to realizing her dream of being a country music star.
Raye, a freshman at Tampa's King High School, will perform at the 77th Annual Florida Strawberry Festival
in Plant City for up to 1,200 people in the Sweetbay Supermarket Showcase Tent from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Two years ago she made her festival debut in the Stingray Chevrolet Tent, which holds 500 people.
It's been a gradual progression toward a full-time country music career like her musical idols Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and fellow festival performer Reba McEntire, who will appear on the Wish Farms Soundstage on March 11.
"I love being able to express myself freely," Raye says. "I love when you look out in the crowd and you see that a song means just as much to them as it does to you."
She started in her elementary school choir and began participating in group shows at Walt Disney World with Tampa Bay companies Applause and Showstoppers. It wasn't until two years ago that she realized the twang in her voice was hinting at a solo career in country music. She adopted the stage name 'Makenzie Raye' and got to work honing her talent.
Throughout the last year and a half, the Temple Terrace teen has taken five trips to Nashville for songwriting sessions, vocal lessons with singer/songwriter Judy Rodman, performances at Nashville Palace
and Commodore Lounge open mic nights and recording sessions at Dog Den Records, which resulted in the recording of her latest single "Dang Fairytales." The song was recently selected as a semi-finalist in the 2011 International Songwriting Competition
by a group of judges including Tom Waits, The Cure's Robert Smith and Kelly Clarkson.
When she's not busy building music connections in Nashville, Raye balances her time between school, varsity soccer -- she plays right forward -- and practicing her singing technique in the mirror. She takes vocal lessons with Jeanne Machin at Music Showcase
in Brandon and has recorded at Morrisound
in Temple Terrace and Ron Rose Productions
For the last three weeks, Raye's spare time has consisted of rehearsing original songs and covers with her four new bandmates -- James McCartney (drums), Chuck Hanson (guitar), Tito Vallejo (bass) and Tom Zvoncheck (key) -- for their first gig together at the festival.
They have their work cut out for them, but it's nothing Makenzie can't handle, according to her mother Stephanie.
"Rarely do I have to ask [Makenzie] if she's practiced," she says. "She loves it. And to work as hard as she does, you'd have to."
Although Raye would jump at the opportunity of a music career in a heartbeat, she's got a backup plan. She sees herself studying voice at Belmont University in Nashville and possibly becoming a music teacher.
"I don't care if I'm making millions or become famous," she says. "I just want to sing. It'd be awesome to get paid to do what i love."
Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.