The Red Lion Pub in Winter Park has been in the Ryan family for almost 25 years (expect a party in September – probably on a Tuesday night!). That would be Christian Ryan’s family. Christian’s talent and tenacity are known throughout the south. Let’s talk about two numbers: 250, and 20. 250 is the number of gigs Christian played in 2014, and 20 is the number of sets he hopes to sit on at the upcoming Great Outdoors Jam (July 2-5 in Lakeland FL). More importantly, he is a modest young man of talent belying his 22 years on the planet, the most sought-after musician in Florida, I’ll wager.
I had been meaning to get to Winter Park to see the recently expanded Red Lion, and the perfect confluence of bands demanded my presence. This show featured Ancient Sun, Flat Land and the Happy Campers. I would have been pleased to see any one of those bands, but all three? Wild horses…
I was actually able to arrive early and relax after the Friday afternoon drive from Tampa (and I actually got some writing done while I was there!). Christian was at Ka’Tiki in Treasure Island with Holey Miss Moley for an early gig, but Sean Maloney, better known to many as Legacy, introduced me to Mama Ryan. From the first hug, I understood why the Red Lion has been such a mecca for music: mom and dad embrace the musicians and patrons and are an extremely important part of the puzzle I often talk about. When all the pieces are in place, we create one beautiful picture!
The Happy Campers kicked it into gear right on time, with Maloney singing “Avenue.” Colin Getts handled the vocals and wah-wah guitar on “Get Down > Inertia.” Getts, Maloney and bassist Andy Lytle all sang on “The Flow,” and by this time Lytle and drummer Colella were locked in.
Lytle was on fire the entire set, best I’ve ever seen from him. And his grin got even wider when Getts, or maybe Maloney, referred to Lytle’s new nickname, The Ginger-Dread Man! You know you love it!
They offered a Phish warm-up by way of “First Tube > Feet.” This was a blazing instrumental, followed by a song about the love of pizza, “The Sauce.” It was the perfect opening set for this night. I was thrilled to see MusicFestNews photographer David Lee, a.k.a. Gypsyshooter, in the house.
In fact, the house was filling fast, with a number of the Hometeam and two other great photographers, A.J. Hége and Arielle D’Ornellas. There is no shortage of great shots from this fabulous night!
Up next was Flat Land. I have seen them a number of times recently, including the previous Saturday night. I wanted to write that they triple-clutched, but most people these days have never driven a stick. Let’s just say they decided to throw it down as hard as they could. Guitarist Chris Storey pointed out that they had never played here and wanted to get everyone’s attention.
I assure you they did. Seriously, the crowd went bonkers throughout the set, extremely receptive to the best set I’ve seen from this Gainesville quintet. They led off with two powerful songs, “Feeling” and “Turn,” and, like everyone on the scene, they continue to elevate their game.
The band’s cover of “Taxman” allows Fae Nageon de Lestang’s incredibly powerful voice to soar. Also, you could hear the vocals all night. That is a tribute to house engineer James, who busted his behind all night to perfect the sound. I love it when I can understand the vocals, hear all the instruments, and not need to resort to earplugs. Thanks to James, I was three for three.
Nate Garland was having another great night on bass, working with the McLeod Brothers (sounds like a wrestling team): Grant on drums and his brother Ian on percussion. The band has been a quartet, but Ian has been performing with the band since March, a great added dimension.
After the ballad “Black Rain,” they kicked out with a superb “Rufio’s Last Stand.” When they finished the song, some guy yelled, “THAT WAS FU%K YEAH ON THE RICHTER SCALE!” (Getts, if that was you again, I swear…). Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Storey’s guitar and Fae’s violin were just blistering all night long. Fae asked if we like to dance, and they played dance music in the form of “Canned Heat.” Then Grant and Storey looked at each other (there was no written setlist this night) and marched into “New Song.” This one features heavy vocal effects from Fae.
After “Sunface,” they blew it up with Zep’s “Ramble On.” Other women have sung this song, but Fae just kills it! Throughout the set, the energy was travelling from band to audience and from audience to band. It was clear that Flat Land could feel the love and the enthusiasm.
Somewhere during the set, two other very important pieces of the puzzle arrived. Kenny Blair, the man behind the Great Outdoors Jam, was in the house, followed shortly thereafter by his partner-in-crime, Hometeam New Year’s Rally host Cody Bean. Jesse James, violin player for the incredible Bath Salt Zombies, was also representing.
I was trying to figure out what Ancient Sun could possibly do after the previous couple of hours of amazing. While they were getting set up, yet another magical event occurred. I have no idea whether Come Back Alice had a gig that night or not, but all of a sudden an SUV rolled up, and out poured Dani Jaye and Tony Tyler, the recently engaged couple. And it was Dani’s birthday. I think this was a surprise for Dani. She and Fae are musical soulmates. I was fortunate to witness them performing together on several occasions at Gov-Fest and then on an awesome double-bill at Skipper’s Smokehouse; when these ladies meet and play, or just talk, the rest of the world disappears for a bit in a wonderful way.
Back inside, Ancient Sun was about to step on stage and up to the challenge. And Christian Ryan had made it back to the pub just in time to sit in. This was going to be special for certain.
I usually attempt to avoid talking about musicians’ appearances, unless it somehow seems germane. For instance, I don’t usually point out that Dani and Fae are both beautiful women who always dress beautifully when they perform. I don’t usually mention that Tony has the best rock clothes, and he told me his secret, and I’m not sharing.
But I have to mention Rick Krasowski, the singer and guitarist for Ancient Sun. He is short of stature, always nattily dressed with a vest, and his long hair looks like he might be in a boy band. That is to reveal his secret identity as a lion, a lion who absolutely roars on stage both with his voice and with his guitar. You look, and you’re thinking there is no way that amazing voice and brilliant guitar playing are coming from that guy on stage right.
But they ARE. Tony Tyler is one of the best soul belters in the business, and Rick is right there with him. You need to hear him and the band for yourself. This was the third time I had seen Ancient Sun, but this was the first full set with no distractions. I will certainly pay attention in future!
The vibe and the energy never left the room as they blasted out with immediately. Tom Shea is a monster on tenor sax, and he and Christian on alto are incredible together. The second song was equally excellent. The third song slowed down a little bit, and Shea took an excellent solo using his effects pedals, getting that Eddie Harris electric sax sound.
Rick was blowing it up on guitar on every song, deep blues and heavy funk and psychedelia in the mix. Then they got nuts with “I Just Wanna Party” (is this the Avicii tune?). Well, everybody knew the lyrics except me.
And then Rick laid it all out there with his signature tune, “Tear You Apart.” Pure emotion. AMAZING.
It was about time to quit, but they didn’t need much encouragement for an encore, coaxing Tony and Dani to the stage to sing Happy Birthday. And then. And then…
They played a brilliant cover of “Uptown Funk.” I would offer that is one of the best songs of the last five years, at least, and one that bands can cover. This one was beyond incredible. Jason Zane was keeping everybody reasonably in line on the drums. The saxophones were nuts, and Rick, Shea and bassist Brandon Miller have the vocals down.
Krasowski might have been the man of the night, except… except… Brandon Miller was the king. Undisputed heavyweight champion of the night. His bass all set was HUGE. Magnificent. Take a bow, Mr. Miller. You deserve it!
Three superb bands delivering stunning performances, one wonderful, warm venue helping keep our scene alive, three great photographers, two great festival masterminds, a carful of Come Back Alice and friends, Christian Ryan in the house with mom and dad, dozens of Hometeamers and friends.
You do the math!
[HAPPY CAMPERS: Avenue, Get Down > Inertia, The Flow, Nebula > Walkin’, I Want You, First Tube > Feet, The Sauce]
[FLAT LAND: Feeling, Turn, Taxman, Black Rain, Rufio’s Last Stand, Canned Heat, New Song, Sunface, Ramble On]
[ANCIENT SUN: Killer, Departure, Bright Lights (Gary Clark Jr.), Occasionally, Oh Sheit it’s X (Thundercat), Dance Around It, Matter and Time, Tear You Apart; E: Happy Birthday, Uptown Funk]
Photos courtesy of David Lee / MusicFestNews / Gypsyshooter
Video courtesy of Justin Gwinn