When DJ Trae shows up, he gets the party started.
During the day, he is a disc jockey at Brooksville radio station 103.9, the on-air personality on weekdays from 12 p.m. to 3 a.m.
He’s a busy after-hours DJ in Citrus County and beyond, bringing his energetic personality to local events ranging from Kids Night every Wednesday at Crump’s Landing in Homosassa and Teen Night Out on the third Thursday at Inverness Depot to the monthly Crystal Harley Davidson Bike Night at the Florida Cracker Monkey Bar or an Inverness Elks Italian Night Supper, United Way Boots & Bling, Disco Night benefiting Cayla’s Coats or a Stuff the Bus/Fill the Trailer event.
“It doesn’t matter if there are 20 people or 2,000, if they are 5 years old or 50, I just enjoy making people smile,” Trae said.
He was born George Ervin Vance III but everyone calls him Trae.
“I grew up in a small town, Tutwiler, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta,” he said. “I grew up on a cotton farm and have been working since I could walk.
“I got the ‘music bug’ from my mother. I was 2 or 3 and when she was cleaning the house she would listen to music,” he said. “She loved Chicago, southern rock and country music. I also listened with my dad, who rode in his truck, listening to Alabama and John Conley.”
His uncle Johnny, John Jennings Jr., had a band, Curb Service.
“He still has the band,” Trae said. “He plays rhythm guitar and vocals and I went and looked at his band and was fascinated by the gear and the lighting and that they had a trailer and they would pack all that gear in the trailer and to all these gigs walk.
“I loved the theater part, the white trailer with a picture of a girl on roller skates on the side holding a tray — curbside service,” he said. My aunt and some of the other women sang with them; They were called “curbettes”.
“I loved how they would take off from an empty stage, fill it up, and then entertain everyone. I owe a debt of gratitude to my Uncle Johnny because watching him I knew I wanted to do this.
“I would go with him and help set it up and do different things,” Trae said. “My uncle brought me together with my first DJ gig.”
It was a back-to-school party in Greenwood, Mississippi and paid $100.
Trae’s father, Butch Vance, who now lives in Inverness, got Trae a comforter for his truck so he could haul his gear. Later, another uncle, Phil Jennings, bought Trae his first trailer home.
“It was this little 5ft x 8ft trailer, and I thought I was going to make it big,” Trae said, “and also that I was never going to have enough gear to fill it.”
He now fills an 18-foot trailer and travels to perform locally and across the state.
Mississippi boy is coming to Florida
Before moving to Citrus County, Trae, now 46, worked for Miro’s Music Shoppe tinting windows and installing stereos.
One of his jobs was for actor Morgan Freeman at his nightclub Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, doing lights and sound.
“I was 29 when I came here with a new baby and a new wife who is now my ex-wife,” he said.
He is now married to Emily, whom he met in 2013 while DJing at a country bar north of Crystal River.
“She came in for grand pianos and a drink, our eyes met and my heart skipped a beat – better my heart (jumped) than the music,” he said, laughing.
They married in 2015.
“When I first came to Citrus County, my father, who used to be a feather duster, had started a landscaping business and I came to do that with him,” Trae said.
After a stint as a landscaper, Trae worked a few other jobs including window tinting at CTA Audio Accessories.
“When I moved here I didn’t know anyone, so I started hanging out at CTA Audio and the owner, Tim Cyr, became one of my first friends here,” he said.
In 2013, Trae worked at radio station Citrus 95 and also did voiceover work/commercials for talk radio station Fox News 99.9.
“About the beginning of the pandemic, I got off radio for about a year, worked at Digital Hound Media and sold cars at Crystal Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram for about a year. I was pretty good at it, but I was way out of my element,” he said.
He started at Brooksville radio station in 2021, working for Steve and Barbara Manuel, the former owners of Citrus 95.
Prior to that, in 2007, a year after moving to Citrus County, Trae began building his DJ business with his first gig performing locally at a wedding at Dunnellon’s Rainbow Springs Park.
Discussing his career, the big names he’s met – Garth Brooks and Charlie Daniels, to name just two – Trae said he keeps coming back to the lessons he’s learned along the way.
He said some of his best lessons came from his mistakes.
“About 23 years ago, after I had been DJing for a few years, I was hired to host a staff Christmas party at the Isle of Capri Casino in Coahoma, Mississippi, and I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said .
He booked the job without getting the details of the size of the room, thinking it would be a small conference room. Instead, he showed up with two small speakers he’d bought at a pawn shop, only to be told he’d be in the grand ballroom.
“I knew I was in trouble and I was almost in tears,” he said. “A guy who worked there saw me and saw it wasn’t going to work and had me hooked up to his sound system.
“I learned a very valuable lesson from that,” he said. “If you’re going to book something, you need a game plan.”
Today his guiding principle is: It is better to have too much equipment than too little.
Another guiding principle: play in front of the audience you have, not the one you don’t have.
When you have 20 people, those people deserve their best.
“I’ve found that I have just as much fun with a small amount as I do with a big one,” he said. “And I especially love getting to know the people who see me regularly.”
“DJ Trae is sure to be a fixture at Teen’s Night Out,” said Renea Teaster, executive director of the Anti-Drug Coalition, one of the sponsoring agencies of the monthly teen event. “It offers more than just music, but an atmosphere in which teenagers feel comfortable. He has developed a relationship with the students, including a few special needs youth who attend each month.
“It’s great that he makes everyone feel like they belong,” she said.
Trae said one of the downsides of what he does is being a guest at an event and not being able to critique the DJ.
“I can’t go to a wedding without taking notes,” he said, laughing. “I look at DJ gear and see what they’re doing, what I like or dislike, and how I could change what I’m doing.
The way I see it, when you stop listening, you stop learning, and I want to keep learning,” he said.
Here’s what he learned: when all else fails, play Electric Slide or Copperhead Road.
“It doesn’t matter where you are or who’s at the event,” he said with his big ol’ DJ Trae grin, “they’re playing ‘Copperhead Road’ and I guarantee before you know it everyone’s on their feet and on the dance floor.”