[Ed. note: Most of the photos from this review have been removed by request of one of the musicians. I have honored the request but am very upset from a journalistic viewpoint.]
Saturday night was like many here in the Tampa area for music lovers: lots of excellent live music options. There was a little of everything on the menu. It was time to make a choice. I opted for the Florida Avenue Brewing Company, and I could list quickly four reasons why that would be my evening’s selection.
 I had heard great things about FABC and knew they served “real” beer (meaning porters and stouts, not just IPAs and ales).
 Christie Lenée was the feature name on the bill. I’ve enjoyed her beautiful voice, amazing guitar work and great songs more than a dozen times, most recently at Hometeam New Year’s Rally.
 One of my former students, Jen Sladky, was playing in one of the bands performing. She has been on the music scene here seemingly forever, and it was going to be exciting finally to hear her perform.
 There were two bands playing I had never heard, and I knew that this night of music would be well outside my wheelhouse, which was exactly what I needed.
Any one of those would have been sufficient, but all four? The evening was bursting with promise.
My best guess at how the evening would progress didn’t come close to predicting the magic about to unfold.
I have seen Christie Lenée with a variety of bands and playing solo. This evening, she was joined by bassist Jaylon Kaye. Her lilting voice filled the warm, low-ceilinged room with warmth and energy, the perfect way to start the festivities. The instrumental tune sandwiched between several of her other compositions was a great showcase for her picking and tapping talents. Kaye was with her, step for step.
After that, Lenée the musician became Lenée the soundman and Lenée the roadie, working with Sladky to get the next two bands ready and properly mixed.
The room at the Florida Avenue Brewing Company is incredibly comfortable, a mix of tables and chairs, couches and comfy chairs, and the bar is inviting. (And there are porters and stouts. Just sayin’…) Some patrons had brought in food, mainly pizza, making for a very at-home feeling.
Next up was Sweet Water Revolver, hailing now from British Columbia, but it was in Tampa that Ashton met Rama. They have been the two constant factors in SWR over the past ten years. Often, I believe, they perform as a duo, with Ashton on keyboards and Rama on guitar and percussion. This evening, the ladies were joined by Darrell LaFlamme, also on keyboards, and flautist Miguel Hijar.
The instant SWR begins to perform, Ashton’s and Rama’s remarkable vocal harmonies wash over you, bathing you in the sheer joy of their tightly welded voices. And those waves of passion continued all the way through “Fairy Enchantment,” the final tune.
The first tune was “I Want to Get to Know You Better” (well, it’s close!). On this song, Nathalia from Orchid Theory sat in on drums. Rama’s guitar work was beautiful, and the colors of the dual keyboards was wonderful. Meanwhile, Hijar’s flute danced over the music. It was heavenly.
Sometimes, Rama would play a large drum, and at least once Ashton played guitar. The various combinations kept the setlist very fresh. Scribbling my notes, I wrote that I felt inadequate to the task of describing the evening’s music, so far out of my comfort zone in terms of my writing. If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate your perseverance!
A half dozen or so originals were accompanied by a Tori Amos cover. Every song was enthusiastically received. I was certain I had made a very fortunate decision to attend.
The evening’s last band was Orchid Theory, featuring Sladky on bass. José Cochez played drums, Tré Fitzgerald played electric guitar, and Nathalia Estrada played acoustic guitar. Estrada handled most of the vocals, with Fitzgerald also singing.
Their set was closer to rock, a jamming affair that sounded fresh and alive. There was so much going on. Estrada was a great, emotive front woman, Sladky’s bass sounded great, and Cochez kept great but unobtrusive time. And Fitzgerald was a treasure on guitar. He wasn’t up in the mix quite enough, but his fine leads were still easily distinguishable.
At some point, Estrada strapped on a Dylan-style harmonica, and that sounded great, too. When that song was done, she said, “This is our second-favorite song to play: ‘Bermuda Triangle’.” It was excellent. I liked the instrumental tune that followed with kick-ass percussion. And finally, it was time for “our favorite song to play: ‘Sunsurf’.” (Well, something like that.)
Except, delightfully, it wasn’t finally! Nathalia moved back to drums, and Rama came up to play. First, they knocked out a great version of the Crusaders’ “Put It Where You Want It.” Rama switched to her drum. And then… And then…
I don’t know whose fault it was, but I’m blaming Sladky. She played those introductory notes to “Miles Beyond,” a Mahavishnu Orchestra tune written by John McLaughlin. The only other band I’ve ever seen attempt that song was Infinite Groove Orchestra last year. IGO nailed it then. And Orchid Theory nailed it Saturday. I was in orbit. You know, miles beyond. Fitzgerald, Slady and Estrada on drums: blame them all!
It was a magical end to a magical evening!
It was great meeting Michael, Gerald and his son, Kristen, and the friendly bartender. Thanks to Christie for the new CD to review (Live at Hideaway Café) and for autographing the other one for Spencer and Juni. And apologies for my terrible photography.