‘The Voice’ winner Huntley wows fans in Manteo

Published 3:38 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2024

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Huntley, the winner of season 24 of NBC’s “The Voice,” played two sold out shows last weekend at the Pioneer Theater.

Though we’re still wondering how in the world Pioneer Theater owner Michael Basnight was able to bring Huntley to Manteo, there are over 400 fans who couldn’t be happier.

The Fredericksburg, Virginia singer-songwriter came on stage Friday night for his first concert performance after winning “The Voice,” playing a combination of well-known rock and blues numbers, as well as several original pieces.

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After opening with “I’ll Be On My Way,” Huntley belted out “Ain’t No Sunshine,” breaking his first but not last guitar string of the evening. Band members Jason Ross (lead guitar), Tyler Rose (bass) and Ian Lafferty (percussion) jammed while Huntley worked on his guitar.”

“Are y’all still kicking?” he asked the audience when he returned to the mic. “These are new strings,” he explained. “And I’ve got sweat pouring off me in this leather jacket” – to which the rowdy members of the crowd yelled for him to take off.

“That costs extra,” he laughed.

The concert really got going on the third song, a rendition of “Free Fallin” that is hands down better than the original. (Sorry, Tom Petty.) Huntley sings with heart, with courage, and with his whole self out there. He’s been compared to Chris Stapleton and Joe Cocker, with a deep gritty voice that has enough power to sustain even the toughest notes.

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But matched with all of that raw talent is just as much likeability. He stands at almost six feet tall, with two long blond French braids – a nod to his Viking roots, he says. The 33-year-old has been singing for almost two decades, and he’s self-taught on everything from the bass guitar to the drums to the piano (compliments of the Guitar Center piano section, he said).

“When I was younger my buddy Robert heard me sing ‘give me the beat boys’ and he was like, ‘dude you can actually sing.’ I’d been singing my whole life but I think it just kind of gave me that spark,” he said in an interview with The Coastland Times last Sunday afternoon.

He called his blind audition for “The Voice” a surreal moment. The show’s coaches – John Legend, Gwen Stefani, Reba McEntire and Niall Horan – all turned their chairs for Huntley, which meant they all wanted him on their respective teams. “It was so quick. I was not expecting that. I was just hoping for one chair to turn. So when I saw that I couldn’t help but crack a smile and lean into it. I definitely wasn’t alone on that stage, for sure. I just sang my heart out and had fun with it.”

Retelling the season finale in classic Huntley-style, he said “I definitely didn’t think at the end of the season I’d be crying like a big baby and Gwen Stefani was going to be holding my head. Like, [if someone told me] hey that’s how this Voice season thing is going to end – Gwen Stefani is going to be holding my big-a– head saying, ‘You’re amazing!’ – it was super surreal.”

His first original song of the evening, “Satisfaction” revealed a side of Huntley that was a little softer and a little more country. He relaxed and smiled more as he sang the words to his own song, ending it with a chuckle, an endearing idiosyncrasy he did with several of his songs.

A soulful rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was followed by three more original songs, and then Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy” – complete with a high note at the end which Huntley completely nailed.

He took a break to chat with the audience, recognizing how crazy the last few months have been.

He was making spaghetti for his daughter, Stella, when the call came in that he had made it to the blind auditions.

“It’s really hitting home how different things are now,” he said. “I’m used to playing in bars and restaurants where people are more concerned with listening to their company than they are with listening to me.”

People are certainly listening now.

Huntley has several YouTube videos from “The Voice” with well over a million views each.

“I have a lot more work ahead of me, but you all really make me feel validated and I appreciate you all for that,” Huntley said.

At one point during the concert, an older couple had come up to dance at the end of “Pride and Joy” and then returned to their seats. Huntley called them back up to the tiny floor space below the stage and welcomed others to join as he started to play “Stand By Me.” Six or seven couples, who couldn’t stop smiling, danced in the dark room as Huntley crooned “When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we’ll see …”

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A sense of delight echoed off the red upholstered walls of the historic theater as “Stand By Me” smoothly transitioned into a mash-up with George Ezra’s “Budapest.”

The atmosphere kicked back up with an original crowd favorite called “Fire & Flames,” followed by a couple of popular covers. He ended the show with an encore to God, as he described it, and a surprising heartfelt rendition of “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” (But the audience was not content, and Huntley and his band seemed more than willing to play one last song. The evening concluded with a second encore to the best version of “Tennessee Whiskey” I’ve ever heard.)

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Later that evening at the Manteo House, Huntley opened up a little more in an intimate setting with a roomful of fans about his spiritual journey. “I’m a pathway for the nonperfect Christians in the world,” he said. “It’s okay to worship and feel good about it, you don’t have to have all the answers … If I am [supposed to have all the answers],” he said with a laugh, “then this world’s going to s—.”

At both the Pioneer Theater shows and the Manteo House parlor sessions, Huntley played some of his original music that up until now only his close friends in his hometown have heard.

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“It was a really cool time because no one else in America has seen these original songs that I just played except for you guys.”

Huntley and his manager have been vague about what’s coming next for the performer, but he did promise that he’ll be releasing “a taste” of his original music on social media.

And he also promised that he would come back to Manteo.

When he got the offer to come to the Pioneer, he said he and his team researched the history of the theater.

“I just had a really, really amazing connection to [the theater],” said Huntley. “Me and my mother, we really connected through The Andy Griffith Show. We used to watch TV Land – I mean every night – as a little kid. I was raised by a single mom so … it was just kind of a full circle moment. I’m definitely going to be bringing my daughter and my mom back here. One hundred percent.”