For Gade Raftery, a 2017 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, his lifelong dream has been to have a career as a musician. He enrolled last year at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with that in mind.
Playing drums since he was 6 or 7 years old, Raftery now plays in three different bands and last year was invited to record songs at Ocean Way Studios in the heart of Nashville’s famous Music Row, where clients include George Strait, Matchbox Twenty, Harry Connick Jr., Faith Hill, The Mavericks, Willie Nelson, Train, Gretchen Wilson, Kenny Chesney, Three Doors Down, Sheryl Crow, Steve Martin and Paul Simon.
“That was the pinnacle of my drumming career thus far,” said Raftery, son of Tim and Terry Raftery, Labadie.
But he isn’t taking anything for granted. Unsure where his music will lead him in the future, Raftery is building a career in music on other side of the spectrum — business.
Earlier this year Raftery, who comes from a family, not of musicians, but of entrepreneurs, launched his own music promotion company, Apogee Promotions, setting up shows across the country and booking bands at various venues.
He recently booked newly signed SONY recording artist Jake Wesley Rogers for a show Monday, July 9, at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room in St. Louis.
Rogers, who was featured on “America’s Got Talent,” making it to the semifinal round, is a graduate of Belmont University and is based in Nashville. Raftery spotted him in town one day and approached him about possibly booking a show date in St. Louis as part of his summer tour.
And as one of Rogers’ opening acts for the St. Louis show, Raftery booked fellow SFBRHS graduate Michael Matthews, from the Class of 2015.
Now a senior at Washington University majoring in biology with a minor in music, Matthews is a singer/songwriter who a year ago released an EP (extended play) album, “Labrador,” featuring five original songs. He performs under the name MCT, which, among other things, is a play on the MCAT or Medical College Admission Test, which he’s currently studying for and planning to take this fall.
The son of Dr. Tom and Eva Matthews, Washington, Michael comes for a very musical family. His mother plays classical piano, and both of his older brothers play instruments. His oldest brother, Cameron, also works in the music industry, currently as part of the Willie Nelson tour.
Raftery and Matthews met at SFBRHS, where they both were part of the drum line for the school’s marching band.
Also performing at the July 9 show will be Sister Wizzard and Thames, a St. Louis band who has a strong following.
The show will open with MCT, followed by Sister Wizzard, each playing for around 30 to 45 minutes.Rogers will then play for about an hour, and Thames will close out the show, said Raftery.
Despite not having anyone in his family with a musical talent, Raftery said he was pretty young when his parents suspected he might have a knack for drums.
“I’ve always walked around tapping my chest, from when I was little to even now,” he said. “When I was 6 or so, my parents said, ‘He needs to hit something other than his chest,’ so they bought me a drum set.”
He started drum lessons a short while later and went on to play in a number of bands through high school and now at Belmont.
The idea to launch a music promotions company came to him during a music business class last year. He felt like St. Louis would be a good test market to get started and get a few clients under his belt.
“I noticed that a lot of musicians will skip St. Louis on their tours,” he said. “They will go from Chicago to Kansas City. I thought I could start emailing these acts about having a date in St. Louis as well.”
During the school year, Raftery did some market research on St. Louis, and has already had some successes. The Jake Wesley Rogers July 9 show at Blueberry Hill is the first big show he’s booked, but he expects it is just the beginning.
Raftery said he has several shows in the works, but nothing he can announce just yet.
The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill is a 300-seat venue, and Raftery is hopeful that he can build up to booking larger venues, like The Pageant, which seats around 2,000 people, in the Delmar Loop area of St. Louis.
His uncle is owner of the Lawrence Group, which is developing City Foundry STL, a retail, office and entertainment project located in the former Century Electric Foundry complex across from IKEA in St. Louis’ midtown neighborhood. Raftery has been talking with him about adding an 800-seat music venue.
‘Sister Act’ at SFBRHS
Despite his age, Raftery felt confident that he could be successful booking and promoting shows because he had done it before. In his senior year at SFBRHS, Raftery promoted the school theater’s “Sister Act” production for his independent study class.
“I rewrote the marketing plan and promoted the show . . . and we sold out all three nights — 395 seats each night,” said Raftery.
He used social media, had professional posters made, as well as a banner that he placed along Highway 100. He even booked a radio interview to help promote the show.
“I had so much fun doing that I thought it would be fun to make it a business out of it,” said Raftery. “I didn’t think I would enjoy that kind of work as much as I did until I did it.”
Looking ahead, Raftery said he’s not planning to quit playing drums or performing anytime soon. Having a career as a musician will always be his dream.
But until that happens, Apogee Promotions is both a fun and beneficial, helping him network and make connections with working artists.
“I’m excited to be part of showing people what St. Louis has to offer,” said Raftery.
Songs From ‘Labrador’
Matthews hasn’t held an album release party since releasing his “Labrador” EP last summer, so this performance will be an opportunity to play those songs live.
Matthews has been playing piano since he was 5. He started with classical music but evolved into more contemporary music in high school, when he began playing with bands.
At Wash U, where he is a member of the varsity swim team, Matthews joined a jazz piano program, which has had him playing in combos and gigs around St. Louis. Last summer he went to Italy for a jazz music educational program through Wash U.
The July 9 show at Blueberry Hill will feature him on piano and vocals, playing original music that he wrote last summer. The songs are available on Spotify.
Matthews, who describes his original music as “folk singer/songwriter” style, said he’s currently promoting his music on Instagram with a new release every Sunday.
Like Raftery, Matthews is hopeful he can launch a career as a musician, but he’s also earning a degree and planning for a career in medicine.
He has set a goal for himself to play three live shows over the summer break, so he will be working toward booking more gigs after this. It’s a lot to take on while he’s also studying for the MCAT, but music has a calming effect on him.
It’s a great stress reliever, he said.