2 years after being banned from Radio City Music Hall, this NJ band is taking over Country Music
By: Steve Laerton
It was a snowy, December day in 2018. The Not Leaving Sober duo had just boarded their train back to New Jersey the morning after the biggest show of their lives -- Radio City Music Hall -- when they received an email telling them that they would never be welcomed back again.
One day prior, the duo was walking through the windy city streets to their Airbnb in New York’s Murray Hill to get settled in before the biggest show of their lives thus far, they carried with them their bags, a guitar, and a secret.
When Radio City Music Hall reached out to them to open for the Rockettes, they accepted without even blinking. The terms were simple. Sell as many tickets as you can, and keep your performance to five minutes or less. This would be a cake-walk: except for the whole keeping-your-set-to-five-minutes-or-less thing.
“When we practiced our set all of the way through for the first time, we realized it was a little longer than five minutes. And by a little longer, I mean that it was ten minutes,” said Neeks Araco -- one of the band’s two lead vocalists and frontmen. “So when we arrived, the show’s director asked us if our set was five minutes and I panicked and said it was actually six”, Araco noted, knowing damn well that the performance was actually ten...The band went on to perform for 14 minutes.
The performance was a six-song Christmas medley that ended with a three-minute original song.
“We still don’t know how the set ended up being 14 minutes. We timed it over and over and got it down to ten minutes on the dot, every time we practiced it,” said James Long, the duo’s co-frontman and lead vocalist.
The crowd loudly applauded and Not Leaving Sober left the stage feeling accomplished. High fives from the backstage crew and even some of the Rockettes followed.
The after-party turned to a wild night out in Greenwich Village with friends who came to support the band that night.
“We felt like rockstars,” Araco said. But it wasn’t until the next morning that the true rockstar feeling set in-- when they received an email from their connect at Radio City.
“The band [Not Leaving Sober] had told me before they started that their program was 6 minutes in length, which is already 1 minute over the allotted time. We brought them to the stage 1 minute early so that we could compensate for the extra minute in their program. They proceeded to perform for 14 minutes, which then only allowed for our pre-show organs to play for 2 minutes.” via the band’s Instagram, @notleavingsober
The director went on to say in his email, “We didn’t feel like we had any control over the situation, short of bringing security onstage to pull them off and turning off their microphones.” The message went on to say that the band would not be welcomed back.
“We didn’t mean any harm by what we did, of course. We were just having fun and didn’t think it would be a big deal,” said Araco. “But now we got a fun little story out of it.”
Fast-forward two years later, the band is quickly becoming a household name, not only in New Jersey, but in Nashville, and is absolutely thriving in the middle of a pandemic. I sat in on Not Leaving Sober’s latest show at The Chubby Pickle -- the famous Jersey Shore music venue. The house was packed before they arrived, and the venue remained at capacity for the entirety of the show. An hour-and-a-half wait to get in and see the band -- a trio that night (due to COVID restrictions), with drummer TJ Horner, playing on the cajon.
They played plenty of their originals, a few of which are currently blowing up on Spotify -- including their newest single, Chasin’ Tequila (currently at 6,000+ streams in just 3 weeks) and fan-favorite, Beer Run (currently at 30,000 streams).
I have to note, this was an important day for New Jersey, as it was the first day they had eased the restrictions on bars, and the 10pm COVID-19 curfew was lifted. What better way to celebrate than to party with a band called “Not Leaving Sober” at the bar until 2am, for the first time since last March!
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so! The crowd was rowdy and mesmerized. And as you may have guessed, there’s a lot of alcohol flowing at the boys’ shows. It was a party. For the first time in a year, I felt like I was at a concert again. The crowd loudly chanted the lyrics to the songs, so much so, that the band took a break during the choruses and just let the audience sing. I felt like I was a part of the band.
Not Leaving Sober has found a way to turn this pandemic into a positive.
“We had a lot of free time during that lockdown. So we’d FaceTime each other and write songs. Our live shows at the time were canceled, so we’d go live on Facebook and Instagram. We even started a watch-from-home concert series called Couch-ella,” Long laughed.
“We wrote a bunch of new songs, practiced and practiced, and then hit the studio. We had a ton of big shows we were so excited for last summer, and obviously, COVID got in the way of that. We just wanted to find ways to continue to be productive while the world was on pause,” Araco explained.
Since, Araco and Long have moved to Belmar where they are roommates with their life-long best friend. They crack a couple of beers, sit down in the living room and get to writing.
“Band practice is in the basement. And it’s dope because we’re just kicking it with our best friends but also making beautiful music,” Araco explained. The band is literally a group of some of Long and Araco’s long-time buddies: drummer -- TJ Horner, lead guitarist -- Ron Fischer, and newly acquired bassist -- Bryan Choromanski.
The boys have a full-band gig at The Beachcomber in Seaside Heights on March 5th amongst plenty of other shows lined up over the next few months -- the likes of which includes a tour of Nashville, Tennessee, this July.
Since the release of their new song, Chasin’ Tequila, they’ve caught the attention of dozens of Country blogs to go along with over 60,000 streams they’ve garnered on Spotify and over 3,000 Instagram followers. There’s not a doubt in my mind, Not Leaving Sober is the next big artist to come out of New Jersey, and the next star in the Country Music world.
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