Donnie Herronen isn’t exactly a household name. But his stage name, DJ Donnie D, is well known around mid-Michigan. He recently won Best Club DJ in the City Pulse/Fox 47 News Top of the Town awards, his third win in four years.
“You can’t say it’s not a great feeling,” Herronen said. “You feel the support from your community. I started small and then just worked and worked and worked. To have the city acknowledge me as one of their favorite DJs is amazing.”
But a repeat win in 2017 doesn’t look likely. Earlier this month, Herronen left Lansing to pursue a gig in Nashville. Winning the Top of the Town award brought mixed emotions as he prepared for the move.
“It was heartbreaking, because I was leaving, but it was such an amazing feeling, especially because it was the day before I left,” Herronen said. “What a going away present! It was pretty cool.”
Until recently, Herronen was a regular DJ at Tequila Cowboy Bar & Grill, which opened in the Lansing Mall last year. The bar’s management group, which also operates the original Tequila Cowboy franchise in Nashville, offered Herronen a regular DJ gig at its newest Nashville country bar, Crazy Town, which opened last month.
So far, Herronen is happy with the new gig and is excited to be in a hub of the music industry.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming down here,” Herronen said. “I feel like everyone down here is in the music business. Even my Uber driver gave me a CD.”
Originally from Laingsburg, Herronen, 35, started DJing in 1995, at just 15 years old. Four years later, he was booking professional-level gigs. Growing up, listening to music was always part of Herronen’s life.
“As just a little kid, I was force-fed Elvis by my grandma,” Herronen said. “And I had a little Mickey Mouse record player and a bunch of 45s, and I listened to everything. I always had headphones in my ears. I remember getting yelled at, ‘Take those headphones off!’ But I never would. I just loved music.”
This omnivorous musical appetite still drives Herronen’s career. While his Crazy Town gig means spinning a lot of country, he prides himself in not being limited to one genre.
“I like all music. I can come and play a show for your grandparents or play a show for an EDM crowd,” Herronen said. “I mostly do country, hip hop, top 40 and EDM, but you get all the music, not just one genre.”
This versatility spills over into the practical side of DJing. Herronen has gone out of his way to learn how to use every type of DJ setup he can get his hands on.
“I wanted to learn every set of gear, so I could play on anything, wherever I go,” he said. “That’s what makes it diverse. Some of these places had very crappy tiny rigs, some had CDJs, some people had real turntables.”
Despite the move, Herronen said, mid- Michigan will always have a place in his heart — and on his arm.
“What I’ll miss most about Michigan is that I’m a die-hard Sparty fan. I love anything to do with Michigan State,” Herronen said. “My right arm is pretty much all tattooed with Michigan State stuff.”
Herronen doesn’t rule out a return to his home state. But for now, he’s focusing on his gig in Nashville.
“I don’t know where the future could go,” he said. “It could be really big, or I could be back in Michigan in a year. But it’s a life experience I needed.”