Tico returns home to play at the Cain’s Ballroom

By Sheri Waldrop

As a member of the graduating class of 2000, Adam “Tico” Hernandez began his musical career playing guitar with his father and friends in the high school Jazz Band.

Adam Tico Hernandez with singer Lauren Alaina. Photo by Joel Hornstein

“Music has always been part of his life,” he said. “I remember my mom and dad always playing music. They are both very musical. My mom plays piano and sings, and my dad plays guitar and sings, and they both love music.”

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His father, Carlos, listened to various kinds of rock music, from the Beatles to Eagles to Salsa music from Costa Rico where he’s from. His mother, J.J., has always loved all kinds of music. He remembers growing up in the 90s listening to a lot of country music with her, but that she also liked the Eagles and such.

He recalls a photo of himself with a little karaoke machine signing with Air Supply, and another at age 2 or 3 with a Mickey Mouseketeers guitar and a bandana pretending to be Bruce Springsteen or in the band.

“I just always remember loving music, whether it was singing in choir or piano lessons,” Hernandez said. “I started playing guitar at 14 and that is when things kind of got serious.”

His dad helped him learn cords before a “buddy” asked Tico to take guitar lessons with him. The friend ended up not taking the lessons, but Tico did. His parents said if he was going to pursue music, he needed to learn the proper way to play guitar.

They drove him to weekly classes and endured the “cranked up” amp playing until 2 a.m., Hernandez said. When he started playing in a band, they continued to support him by taking him to rehearsals and “deal with” the band playing music all the time, as well as attending the shows. They were always at every high school Jazz Band performance.

“I will never forget that experience,” he said.” There was never a time that my mom or dad, or any of my family, would ever say “well this is fun, it’s a good hobby, but what are you going to do for a living. They always supported me and always believed in me.”

Music led him to college where he studied graphic design and music. Hernandez graduated from the University of Tulsa with his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with an emphasis on graphic design, but he also studied music.

“I was playing music all the time and doing art all the time”, he said

Hernandez played in a band called Prize Fighter with “the boys from Sapulpa”, and his parents always supported them, even by just telling them they could do it if they really try and keep pushing.

When Prize Fighter ended, he got a job doing graphic design in Tulsa, but it wasn’t a company that was the best to work for. He loved graphic design, but after a year his parents could see how unhappy he was. Some Nashville doors had started opening, allowing him to go on tour.

When he returned, he remembers saying to his parents “hey this is the chance to maybe move to Nashville and it’s going to be tough moving away from home, but I think it is the right thing to do.”

Carlos and J.J. supported him 100%, he said, helping him get to Nashville and helping their son survive those trying years “of getting food on the table and keeping a house over my head.”

“They just always believed in me and never told me it was something I couldn’t do,” Hernandez said. “There’s never been a doubt, there’s always been positive reinforcement. I’m just forever grateful for that.”

The Nashville move began when he requested time off from his graphic design job to visit his Costa Rican family for the first time in seven years, but just days before leaving a call changed his path.

An email from Hernandez’s boss saying he would have to return to work early did not sit well with him. He picked up the phone as fast as he could and quit.

Hernandez said, “I was just furious at that and just knew that if I could do something in music I would be so much happier.”

He went to Costa Rica, and while there an email arrived from his buddy, Rich Gilliland, asking if would like play guitar on a tour based out of Nashville for a couple of months. I went on tour with a band named Salvador and I was playing with a band called Liquid. This opened doors for him to move to Nashville.

“I had an incredible roommate named James Holloway that was a great drummer. Man, we started out renting an apartment together and that kind of started the Nashville journey. Then it became networking and networking and playing gigs,” he said.

In 2014 and 2015 he was playing with a band named The Farm when Natalie Murphy, wife of band member Nick Hoffman, sent Hernandez a message letting him know she had recommended him to Lauren Alaina’s manager, Trisha McClanahan, for an audition. He did not know at the time that Lauren Alaina, after taking a couple of years off, was restarting her career.

At the time he received a call to audition, he was preparing to leave with The Farm for the Middle East to play with a USO tour. Thanks to his father, Carlos, he was able to work in the Nashville audition and became music director, bandleader and guitarist with Lauren Alaina.

Throughout his career is has played with Prize Fighter, Liquid, Group 1 Crew, Jaci Velasquez, and Nicole Simone. Made to move to country with JaneDear Girls, Krystal Keith who is Toby Keith’s daughter, The Farm and then Lauren Alaina.

Hernandez is extremely excited to be in the music industry and getting to work with an artist like Lauren.

He said, “It is an honor and pleasure to work with her. We get to do some incredible things, and to see things as they go along the journey, it is just incredible.”

The “Top of the World” tour made a stop at Tulsa’s Cains Ballroom on April 7.

It is exciting being on stage and getting to play shows, whether it be at Stagecoach Festival in California with 90,000 people screaming the songs or at the Cain’s Ballroom with 1,000-1,500 fans. Feeling that energy is what he can’t wait for at the Cains, he said.

Connecting with people via music is one of the coolest things, he said. To know you are helping to bring joy, helping people have a good time, and hopefully they find some love while making the world a little better place through music is really exciting.

He writes music as well, co-writing with some friends and peers in Nashville. Just “plugging away” and trying to break into the realm in Nashville. It can be a long journey, he said, but it’s a fun one. He is hopeful some will be heard on radio.

There are so many good songs we play each night, it is always fun to see the crowd’s reaction to Road Less Traveled, which is Lauren Alaina’s first number one, and to see songs connect with the audience.

From the new album, he likes to play Getting Over Him. He said the band gets to rock out and it features some “pretty good guitar stuff’. He loves It Was Me, which is an extremely powerful song and Lauren tells an amazing story. Her voice is just incredible on it, he added.

He enjoys traveling, even when he is not traveling for music. Loves being with family and friends, (laughing as he said) I also love good karaoke. When we get home from the road, he loves to just chill. Nashville has three professional sports teams and he always enjoys watch sports.

The Cains Ballroom and being in his hometown, is a full circle homecoming moment for Hernandez. The band has done a couple of small events in Tulsa, but not an official show with Lauren Alaina headlining. For her to be headlining at the Cains Ballroom is a big moment.

Parents Carlos and J.J. Hernandez with Lauren Alaina and son Adam Hernandez. Photo by Joel Hornstein

Growing up he went to many shows at Cains. He said it is incredibly special to know the heart of the Tulsa sound, and the heart of a lot of music, came from that place.

“The energy and spirit that is in the Cains, for us to be part of that, and for me to have my mom and dad, family and friends there, people I went to high school with and grew up with there supporting it, there is going to be so much love throughout the evening.” He said, “I’m just incredibly excited. It is going to be one of the best nights. After the places I have played, it is the top of the bucket list. It is the staple venue of Tulsa and I’m eternally grateful we get the chance to do it.”

Hernandez was able to spend some time with family and friends while the tour was in Tulsa.

“I would like to say how proud I am in being from Sapulpa and being from Oklahoma, for my upbringing here and growing up here. I am extremely proud and grateful for the people this town, and Oklahoma, have brought into my life. I just wouldn’t be who I am without them. I wouldn’t be getting to do what I do, I think it all led me here. 

“From my journey growing up and graduating from high school in Sapulpa, then going to the University of Tulsa, all that stuff has meant so much to me and continues to. I love (Sapulpa), I love this place and there is no place like home.”