Mica Roberts might not be a household name, but we’re almost positive you’ve heard her voice before… She’s been singing alongside Toby Keith as his right-hand girl for almost 20 years, accompanying him in the studio and on the road.
“I don’t ever remember there being a time when I wasn’t singing,” she says, mentioning the cassettes she has of herself singing hymns when she was two and three years old. “I think that—as long as I’ve been in this business—it has to be who you are and not what you do. When people ask how long I’ve been singing, I say, ‘Since I was who I am,’ you know? It is who I am. If somebody told me I couldn’t sing anymore, I’d probably lay down and die. It’s like breathing to me.”
Mica’s whole life and career has been all about the hustle, working her way up the ranks, getting to know the right people, and putting herself out there to be heard. And she’s gotten where she is today with “a lot of freaking hard work. I waited a lot of tables, I bartended, I detailed cars, I cleaned planes, I refurbished leather, I have decorated the Opryland Hotel at Christmastime years and years in a row. Anything and everything that you can do to make money, to allow yourself to stay in a city where you hope to be able to get a job that can pay your bills…that’s how you get to where you need to be.”
The Oklahoma-born-and-raised singer/songwriter grew up on her family farm just outside of Tulsa, but she left home when she was 15 to work in a country music show at an amusement park in Arkansas. She made her way to Branson to work the club and theater circuit while she was still in high school, saving enough money to buy herself a Holiday Rambler trailer which she then pulled to South Texas to perform. “I rolled around all over the country just working in steakhouses and different things, just to get enough gas money to move to the next place and do it again,” she reminisces.
When Mica initially moved to Nashville, she lived in her sister’s college dorm room because she couldn’t afford her own apartment and got a job waiting tables to start making her own way. In the meantime, she tried to get studio work and tried to meet as many people in the music industry as she could.
“When I moved to Nashville was in the late ‘80s. It was a lot different then. The community was smaller and more loyal. It wasn’t crazy like Nashville is now,” she says. “Back in the days when I was coming up in this business, everybody really did kind of know everybody. Everybody had everybody’s back. It was a different business then.”
She got a job in the Bullpen Lounge at the Stock-Yard—at the time, one of the hottest places in town. “All the stars and artists used to come in there, and I realized fairly quickly that I could make more money waiting tables and bartending than I could singing there. But I’d get up and sing as a special guest, and people would say, ‘Oh, that’s my server!’ and they’d tip me to sing songs.”
During that time, Mica wasn’t keen on going on the road on a tour because she was really trying to get vocal studio work to pay the bills and build a career. However, when a friend encouraged her to audition for Faith Hill’s This Kiss tour in 1997, she gave it a shot, even though she didn’t think her voice was “country enough.” To her surprise, she was offered the gig. She stayed on the road with Faith until July 2001, when Faith took her maternity leave. (She also went on tour with Martina McBride for about six months during that time.)
Eventually, Mica ended up on tour with Billy Bob Thornton and his band, The Boxmasters, for about three years, and the band were in Oklahoma in 2003 performing at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday bash. A massive fan, Mica drove from the show to her family’s farm to pick up her coveted favorite album, Stardust, in hopes of getting her idol to sign it. “I always will get starstruck when Willie Nelson’s in the room. Always,” she adds.
And Billy Bob came through and invited her onto Willie’s bus so she could meet him. While visiting with Willie, Mica’s old friend Toby Keith walked onto the bus and barely recognized her with her rocker look (“You play the part of whatever band you’re with,” she explains). Mica had met Toby previously while working at the Bullpen, and the two were buddies but had lost touch.
Upon reconnecting, Toby invited Mica to go on tour with him as soon as her tour with Billy Bob was done, and she’s been traveling with him ever since. “I’ve been with Toby for almost 20 years, and we’ve been friends for 25, and sometimes I look over at him and I’m like, ‘Damn dude, you’re so frickin’ awesome!’ I just love him so much. He’s just such a great guy and just loves what he does. It goes back to: It’s who he is, and not what he does.”
Life on the road is no easy gig. The hours are grueling, the constant travel is taxing, but because Toby’s crew has, for the most part, remained the same for many years, the group has become a family. And Mica is the only woman on Toby Keith’s road tour, with anywhere between 50 to 100 men on the tour at any given time.
“You have to be able to adapt to change because everything is different every day,” she expounds. “The only thing that’s consistent is I ride on a bus with a whole bunch of boys, and thank God, because I cannot imagine riding on a bus on a tour with a whole bunch of girls. I love my boys so much on that tour.”
They’re family to her, like brothers who take care of her with no fuss and no drama, although she admits that the video games and messy back lounge drive her crazy sometimes. “I love that we don’t have to worry about being politically correct out there because we’re such a close family that you don’t have to worry about what you say to each other. The boys know that I’m not going to get offended if they say something crass or off-color, and I love that they’re comfortable knowing I’m not that person.”
Mica admits that it’s hard with the hectic scheduling and the amount of work required in the industry.
“When you’re a woman in this business, it’s so hard because it takes you away from home a lot. And even if you have a gig in town, there’s stuff you have to do all night.”
A typical day on the road, according to Mica? Wake up, get coffee, try to figure out where catering is to get breakfast, find the bathroom, find a changing room or a hotel room, sound check, hair, makeup, band meetings, rehearsals, show. The work never stops. But because she rides with the crew, and not the band, she gets to the bus after a show way before the guys, cleans up, showers, and is in her bunk before they even get back. She’s thankful for the extra privacy and girl time.
“We go to sleep, and we wake up somewhere else. People say we’re so lucky, but really we wake up backstage. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Idaho or Seattle or Alabama. It’s backstage somewhere,” she adds. Unless the crew has a hotel for the night, they rarely get to see anything outside the backstage area, and because they travel almost every night, there is no time for tourism. “The glamorous part of touring is the hour and a half I’m on stage every night, and that’s about it.”
Most weeks, the tour is Wednesday through Saturday, then Mica heads back home to sing backup for shows at the Grand Ole Opry. She’s always floored by the artists she runs into when she comes off stage. “I’m really fortunate to be able to sing out there quite a bit when I’m not on the road,” she says. “It’s like a walking exhibition. There’s Ricky Scaggs dragging a guitar, or Jeannie Seely or Connie Smith. All those legendary people that I grew up listening to that made me want to do this, like the Gatlin Brothers. I’m reminded every night at the Grand Ole Opry what it was like before it got crazy here. I hold onto and cherish every single one of those nights because every day we’re losing those older artists, the legends.”
Mica doesn’t consider herself “lucky” to be in her position. She contributes everything to a lifetime of hard work and dedication to her craft. And she never takes what she does for granted. And she’s still got a few bucket list artists she’d love to perform with one day, including Tina Turner and Dolly Parton and, of course Willie, who she sang with several times when he was on tour with Toby. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been around a lot of the legends that I grew up listening to, and continue to when I’m working at the Opry,” she says. “I’ll get that Dolly thing eventually.”
Mica continues her session work on her at-home days, writing jingles for companies, covering songs for songwriters looking to sell tracks, singing backup vocals for other artists, and more. “Every single job that I have challenges my mind and my vocal chops in a different way. I think it keeps me on my toes for whatever’s next. I mean, I don’t see me not working anytime soon.”
“If it fulfills my soul and it makes me happy, then that’s what I do,” she continues. “These days, I sing songs, and I do projects, and I go on tours that make me happy and that give me joy.”
Listen to Mica’s holiday single Christmas is Here on Spotify!