Area musician Michael Heaton is being remembered as a talented songwriter whose music reached countless people.
The 1985 Batavia High School graduate, who lived in Montgomery, died Dec. 29, following a battle with cancer. He was 53.
Heaton was an integral part of the Fox Valley music scene. That was evident by the many musicians who participated in a benefit concert for him in September 2018 at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora.
"I just remember him as being a really great guy, a great person who was very talented but humble and unassuming," said Steve Warrenfeltz, owner of Kiss The Sky record store in Batavia, which carried his albums over the years. "He was just a sweetheart of a guy."
Warrenfeltz also took note of Heaton's work ethic.
"He just worked hard at what he did and he seemingly loved what he did," he said. "He really truly loved playing music and that came through really loud and clear."
Warrenfeltz selected one of Heaton's songs, "A Father's Dream (the wedding song)," to be performed during the father-daughter dance at his daughter's wedding reception in September 2018. Because Heaton was too sick to perform the song, area musician Matt Keen did.
"He brought tears to everybody's eyes," Warrenfeltz said. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house. The song just kind of hit the nail on the head how I felt about my daughter and what an honor it is for her to get married and ask me to walk her down the aisle and then have that dance with her."
Sam Hubbell was a longtime member of Heaton's band. As such, he knew about Heaton's many talents.
"He was probably the most talented songwriter in the area," Hubbell said. "He wrote incredibly good songs. It was fun to play with him. I played with him because he was the best in the area, the best locally to play with. You couldn't beat it."
They also became good friends. Hubbell played lead guitar in the band, which also included Adam Gardner on bass guitar and Derek Feiza on drums.
The last time they played together as a band was earlier this year, when Feiza's father passed away.
"He had a benefit for his dad at his house," Hubbell said. "We got Mike to come out and then Adam and I and Mike and Derek got up and played a good 50-minute set."
Heaton served as an inspiration to fellow musician Noah Gabriel.
"I started hearing his name as soon as I started playing out in the area," Gabriel said. "I was probably 19. He was the local guy that was doing it. He was putting out records and recording with Nashville artists. He was the real deal in our neck of the woods. He was just a local legend. And then I got the chance to play with him and hang out with him, and he was just the nicest guy on top of it all."
He listens to Heaton's last album, "I Know What I Know," on a regular basis. That album was produced by in-demand session guitarist Pat Bergeson, who grew up in Batavia and has worked with the likes of Dolly Parton. Bergeson also produced Heaton's album, "Our Little Secret."
"It was just a great album, being a local guy or not," Gabriel said. "That record, if not records before that, should have put him on the larger map. He was far too good to just be hanging around here."
Sugar Grove couple Jay and Mychelle Prichard were big fans of Heaton's music. They last saw him perform in September at the Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ, a fundraiser for Bridge Communities.
Heaton performed two solo concerts at parties they were hosting in their backyard.
"He was an energetic performer who was very personable," Jay Prichard said. "He was very crowd friendly. He was one of those guys who could just connect to the crowd and he was just happy doing what he was doing."
Mychelle Prichard said it was easy for people to connect to his songs.
"Every song told a story and they were all so relatable," she said.
Funeral services for Heaton will be private, but a celebration of life is being planned for a later date.