At Bonnaroo in 2018, members of the War and Treaty endeared themselves to a large crowd of people with their impassioned performance and co-lead singer Michael Trotter's stories of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving two tours of duty in Iraq. Before their set was over, Trotter, along with his wife Tanya, had the crowd holding hands, hugging each other and shedding real tears as a show of love and unity.
Among the crowd that day was Mike Dougher, co-booking agent for this year's Riverbend Festival, along with Nashville-based promoter Chris Cobb. Dougher hasn't forgotten that show, nor subsequent shows at Riverbend, Moon River or Nightfall concerts here in Chattanooga. He said in a text that booking the husband-and-wife duo was a priority.
"War and Treaty was the first act we all agreed on to bring in," he said via text. "Their show is powerful, humbling, soulful, loving and very emotional. I've had a tear in my eye more than once watching a War and Treaty performance."
Following that 2018 set in Manchester, Tennessee, at Bonnaroo, Michael Trotter sat down with the What Podcast, a show hosted by this reporter, and talked about his own struggles with mental health issues. They talked about his doubts and thoughts of suicide and she talked about being there for him always.
He also talked about the heartache and uncertainty he felt in his own life after a fellow veteran who had confided in him about being raped later committed suicide.
"It's tough every day," he said then.
That Bonnaroo show was a benchmark for the couple, who met at the Spirit of Love festival in Maryland in 2010, and Michael Trotter said in a telephone interview two weeks ago previewing their show Sunday night on the Budweiser Stage that they have come to embrace not only their musical talents, but the power of their message and their shows.
Sunday’s Riverbend schedule
2 p.m. — Gates open.2:45-3:30 p.m. — Brittney Spencer — Budweiser Stage.3-3:45 p.m. — The Magi — Chevrolet Stage.3:45-4:45 p.m. — Los Amigos Invisibles — Coca Cola Stage.4:45-5:30 p.m. — Lenox Hills — Chevrolet Stage.5-6 p.m. — The War and Treaty — Budweiser Stage.6:15-7:15 p.m. — Tanya Tucker — Coca Cola Stage.7:15-8 p.m. — The Shindellas —Chevrolet Stage.7:30-9 p.m. — Gov’t Mule — Budweiser Stage.9:15-10:45 p.m. — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Coca-Cola Stage.
Their shows are about hope and love and showing compassion for each other.
"Man, that's it," he said in the phone interview. "That's the message we try to bring every night."
In the past several years, the War and Treaty have opened for top-tier artists such as Al Green, Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, John Legend and Lauren Daigle and performed at special events honoring Mavis Staples in California for her 80th birthday in 2019 and Ray Charles' posthumous induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year.
"Somehow, some way, Tanya and I just keep getting better," Michael Trotter said in the phone interview. "We are totally better now and understand our mission. After seeing what our music and performances can do, I want to go where the people are.
"There are people who feel hopeless and abandoned for whatever reason, I want to go there and try to give them my heart."
At the time of the phone interview, news of Naomi Judd taking her own life and battling mental health issues had just come to light.
"Suicide is a real thing and our music family and community have been impacted again by a sudden loss," he said.
A War and Treaty show is about hope and love and understanding, and Michael Trotter said he hopes people will come and walk away changed.
"But even if you just come to hear Tanya sing, it will be great. I'm changed every time that angel opens her mouth," he said.