About the Moonlight Pickers
In the same spirit of Waylon, Willie and countless others, The Moonlight Pickers prefer country’s red dirt road less traveled. With tradition at its core, a honky-tonk in its heart and a rebellious renegade soul, The Moonlight Pickers bust open current pop country expectations with a unique blend of fresh Americana tinged original songs plus traditional old school country and rock covers.
Was it fate or pure coincidence? You decide.
It began during a random open-mic in a small bar at the farthest reaches of the western ‘burbs of Chicago. Melissa Ann Olson, our heroine and soon to be fearless leader, caught the ear of guitarist Michael Pentz. From that humble start in late 2014, The Moonlight Pickers began to take their first steps. Quickly producing and recording an album of Melissa’s original music, the EP “What I Need,” the band started coming together and performing in those same far west ‘burbs.
Fast forward through a ton of shows and a few band changes, a second album “Rescue” was released in Nov 2018. A proud collection of songs that speaks to Moonlight Pickers country soul and breathes from their rebel attitude. Live performances have become more frequent and higher profile, Country Thunder Twin Lakes WI 3-years running, town and county festivals, plus top-tier Chicago and suburban honky-tonks and bars. We still love playing those small intimate bars and taverns that got us started, like home cookin’. Stay tuned and catch a show soon!
Who are the Moonlight Pickers?
Melissa Ann Olson
Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Songwriter, Fearless Leader
When you first meet Melissa Ann you will soon discover a tenacious spirit, her stubbornness to be true to herself and the renegade outlaw music that burns deep within. Singing from an early age, beginning guitar in her mid-teens, Melissa’s style brings an emotionally charged drive to each performance with energy and passion that delivers unadulterated truth to her original music and cover songs. Early on her voice reminded many of Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton, and Bonnie Raitt. Her sound has a bright and clear tone with a strength that not only captivates but also inspires.
After meeting Moonlight Pickers co-founder Michael Pentz at a local open mic she recorded and released her first album in 2014, “What I Need.” During that period Melissa felt it was time to fulfill a long time desire to start a band. The Moonlight Pickers began and broke ground playing local Fox Valley area bars and music venues. Momentum built that soon led to performances at higher profile venues including Country Thunder Twin Lakes WI, Elburn Days Festival, and Yorkville’s Summer Solstice Music Fest.
Melissa Ann is unapologetically authentic, forever passionate and in step with the revival of today’s traditional country music. She is a rising melody, intertwined with the depth of her renegade spirit through the songs she writes and delivers. The Moonlight Pickers wouldn’t want it any other way.
Lead Guitar, Songwriter, Producer, Official Band Tech Wizard
Mike’s many talents preceded the humble beginnings of Moonlight Pickers. Since his mid-teens his passion for music was never far from the surface. Influenced by a wide range of his favorites, the Beatles, Stones, and Zeppelin served as his rock solid foundation. Add a dash of the Cure, Wilco, and Afghan Whigs for edgy-progressiveness, and icing on the cake, Waylon, Cash, and Haggard. A musical foundation of such strength and variety leads to the proverbial sky’s the limit.
Mike’s tech skills were honed in radio providing audio-production and voiceovers as a Production Director for WXRT-FM. This groundwork provided a springboard to produce and record several local singer/songwriters, Matthew Ed Stillman, Gary Moore II, Max Benson, Doug Feltz, and others including, our very own, Moonlight Pickers’ Melissa Ann Olson’s first release “What I Need”.
Mike’s intense appetite to write, record, and produce original music will certainly continue to serve Moonlight Pickers in the studio. His innate sense of musical truth and his desire to avoid the cliché will continue to energize Moonlight Pickers’ live performances and their future musical adventures.
Mike “Smitty” Smith
Bass Guitar (the most important of all guitars), Official Band Mom
Smitty was a late bloomer, musically speaking. What lacked in playing time was made up by being a huge music fan. Back when it was seriously not cool to be country Smitty’s teeth were cut on the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, and Charlie Daniels. Rebel country from Willie, Waylon, and Jerry Jeff Walker, plus a deep love of Bluegrass/Americana/Folk added to his musical “bass” (get it?).
Smitty played in “bands” but never quite got out of the basement unless it was to play in someone else’s basement. After a handful of bands in the ‘00’s Smitty joined “Nick Lynch & Silversmith”. He got “out-there” gigging on the regular with Nick and performed on live TV for ABC Chicago’s New Year’s Eve telecast and ABC’s Windy City Live when Nick was a featured guest.
Fast forward, Smitty met a talented singer-songwriter Tim Gleason. Together they started the band Stone Ruckus. Soon, a fast pace of regular gigs began plus a trip to Nashville with a set performed at Nashville’s World Famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. That same week Stone Ruckus played Country Thunder in Twin Lakes WI where he met, you guessed it, The Moonlight Pickers.
Shortly after Ruckus ended, the question came to him, “What band would I like to play in?” A band came to mind, The Moonlight Pickers. We kid you not, a week later Melissa called to invite Smitty to play bass with The Moonlight Pickers. Shazam / Ka-Pow! For reals… Planets align for a reason and Smitty couldn’t be happier.
Matt “SlamGod” Aldridge
Drums/Percussion, Vocals, Serious Toy Geek
Picture if you will. Small town suburban Chicago, big brother’s jamming with his pals, beer runs out, drummer jumps up during Rocky Mountain Way hands Matt the sticks and says “keep it going kid, I’ll be back in a minute”. Matt “SlamGod” Aldridge came to life…
From that point on Matt drove everyone nuts, especially his parents. You can imagine the young untapped strength of SlamGod slowly learning his craft. Lessons ensued, influences arose; rock, metal, country, metal. Did we mention metal?
Matt played in several bands overs the years. Some here, some over by there. Played a little bit of everything too. When he was looking for his next adventure he met some guy named Smitty to be in some band called Stone Ruckus. The Ruckus couldn’t say no to the SlamGod. Matt also became friends with Moonlight Pickers.
Soon the Moonlight Pickers were in desperate need of a drummer. The call went out. SlamGod answered the call and brought his intense driving style to the Pickers’ Rebel Outlaw Country. Matt really enjoys his spot with Moonlight Pickers. He can be the drummer that he’s meant to be, the drummer that is a part of his soul.
Pedal Steel Guitar, Part-Time Picker, “Best Hair” Men’s Division
Gary started out as a big fan of Moonlight Pickers. He’d come to shows when he could and one night asked if he could sit in. Say no more, Moonlight Pickers can’t get enough of Gary and the high-lonesome sound of his fabulous pedal steel. Gary has stayed true to a traditional style of playing since starting in the mid-1970’s. His playing style not only compliments Moonlight Pickers outlaw country flavor but also other bands in Chicago. The band Trailer Park Twisters is where Gary keeps a more traditional flavor and the band Mason Rivers enjoys Gary adding to their modern country sound.
Gary has opened for the likes of Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Eli Young Band, Randy Houser, and Daryl Worley while playing pedal steel for Nashville singer-songwriter Andrew Salgado. His work has also been captured in the studio on several albums with Dave Rudolph and, most recently, on Moonlight Pickers release, “Rescue”. Now retired from a lifelong career of saving the planet with the E.P.A. Gary is taking full advantage of his extra time to follow his musical passion, making music, playing that beautiful pedal steel guitar.
Book The Moonlight Pickers
The Moonlight Pickers are available to play at your venue, show, or special event. Contact us today!