February 9th at House of Blues Orlando, Aaron Lewis returned continuing The Sinner tour. I was excited for this show. It had been years since I’d seen Aaron Lewis perform with his former band Staind and now I was getting the chance to see him as a country star. I arrived at 7 PM and picked up my photo credentials. I was uncertain what the crowd would be like. Would rock fans still come to see him even though he’s a country singer? Would country fans come to see him as a former rocker? The answer is, “YES!”
The line to get inside the venue was wrapped around the block. After getting through security, the venue inside was packed. It was a squeeze through people to make my way over to the pit. As I waited my friend James showed up who was also there to photograph. There was one other photographer also with us who neither of us knew. I saw my friend Lauren who works security and said hi quick as she made her rounds. Soon enough, the lights dimmed and our first artist came to the stage.
Travis Marvin stood on stage alone, acoustic guitar in hand, baseball cap on his head, and a smile on his face. He looked right at home in the spotlight and started off with “Time of Our Lies” from his self titled EP. It’s a slow paced song that captures your attention about two lovers who are simply living a lie. Travis’ pleasing voice tells the tales and the fans listened closely. He followed up with “Typically Taken” also from his self titled EP. He picks up the tempo a little with this song about a woman with him that all the men want, but can’t have. I liked this song as it brought out more of Travis’ singing ability and harmonious voice.
From a photographer’s perspective in the pit we couldn’t have asked for better. Though the lights behind him were mostly dark blue to purple, the lights in front of him were very bright providing us some very clear shots. And with only three of us in the pit, it was easy to move around and gets some good shots of Travis.
After his first three songs I ran upstairs to see if I could get some balcony shots. I asked security if it was OK for me to take some pictures, which they said OK and grabbed a few pictures before going back downstairs to listen to Travis finish his set. He sang some songs off his newest EP titled Simple including “Never Had a First Time” and “Simple”. The crowd even got to hear a new song called “Born to Lose”. When Travis finished his set, the crowd gave him a great round of applause. Travis’ songwriting is solid as is his vocals. I would not be surprised to see him as a headlining act in the near future.
James and I chatted for a bit as we waited for the next artist to take the stage. The crowd was getting louder as the night went on. They were partying hard and it was starting to show. People were laughing and smiling more. When the lights dimmed a second time they began to cheer once again and we made our way back into the pit.
This time we had a full band on stage with Alex Williams. They ripped into an upbeat song titled “Hellbent Hallelujah” with Alex on vocals and rhythm guitar, Mike Eli on lead guitar, Matt Carter on drums, and Johnny Fargo on bass. Alex’s silvery voice had the crowd bouncing along to the tune. The followed up with “Broken Compass” which had the more contemporary country sound. Alex and crew were having fun on stage performing for the crowd.
There were a lot more options for photographing with this group. Alex stood front and center playing while he sang. Mike was grooving with his guitar sometimes getting lost in the moment of his music. Johnny smiled a lot and liked to move around the stage. I noticed Matt also loses himself in his music as he banged away on the drums. The lighting was a nice mixture of reds, yellows, purples, and blues. The photographers couldn’t have asked for better lighting this evening.
Alex continued to entertain the crowd with songs such as “Week Without a Drink” and “Last Cross”. Alex and the band then surprised the crowd with a cover of “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band. This is one of my favorite songs when Telsa covered it. Alex and his band did a phenomenal job making the song recognizable and making it their own. The crowd definitely appreciated too. Alex also performed a somber and touching song called “Old Tattoo”. Once they finished their set the band received lots of cheers and applause. Alex Williams has a great voice, a strong support band, and wonderful songwriting that sets them up for success in the future.
James and I again waited by the pit for Aaron Lewis and his band to hit the stage. The crowd was certainly rambunctious and we watched as security escorted some troublesome people out of the venue. As we waited James showed me some of the setlist people listed online for other Aaron Lewis shows. The immediate thing we noticed was the encores were all different and ranged in the variety of songs and number of songs played. One member of security mentioned to us that the last time Aaron Lewis played the House of Blues his encore lasted two hours. TWO HOURS??? We may be in for a longer night than we thought.
For the last time of the evening the lights dimmed and we immediately made our way into the pit. We stood there waiting in anticipation with background music playing until one by one his band came on stage and last but not least, Aaron Lewis walked up front and center, guitar over his shoulder. Wearing a baseball cap stating “Trump for President”, a blue shirt with white stars all over the front, he was definitely not the rocker image as the frontman from Staind. He’s a country singer tride and true and it showed in his style and soon enough we’d hear it in his music.
Before he started, Aaron said he would start his show like he always did. He asked everyone to stand up who was sitting, for men to remove their hats, and started reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I put my hand over my heart standing in the pit and recited it with him. I respect any artist who takes the time to honor our country before a performance. After the crowd cheered for his tribute to America, the band started up into “Country Boy” his first country single released from his EP Town Line. His voice still sounded like the Staind singer I knew and this song could easily be mistaken for a Staind song from the music, but it’s lyrics clearly country. This was a solid song for his opening and the crowd agreed.
From there he went into “Sinner” from his most recent album Sinner. There is no mistaking this is a pure country song in both its sound and lyrics and it’s a great single. As the first time seeing Aaron Lewis as a country artist it took getting used to seeing him with all his tattoos and not expecting him to belt out “Mudshovel”. And though there have been former fans who want to bash him for turning to country, I honestly think this fits him very well. Aaron seems more comfortable and happier on stage singing country and it was definitely showing this evening.
From the pit I was having a blast getting to photograph Aaron Lewis and his band. First, they setup a spotlight to Aaron’s left that shone directly on him so he was illuminated very well. For a photographer it was a dream come true. You couldn’t help to get good shots of him. Otherwise the lighting set was a nice mix of reds and yellows or reds and purples. The lights suited the tone of the set and even at times being all red it provided some great shots.
The last song we got to photograph from the pit was “Northern Redneck”, also from the Sinner album. It’s a country song with a little bit of humor showing the comparisons between rednecks from the south and north. I could see the crowd grooving along as Aaron sang and found myself liking his country music a little more. I listened to the Sinner album before the show and I was impressed with his transition to country. Hearing it live I was even more impressed.
After my time in the pit I went upstairs to see if I could get some more shots, but the balcony was packed with people. I tried to find some spots on the first floor to get some different angles as Aaron continued to play. The majority of his set continued to be country with songs like “Mama”, “Granddady’s Gun”, and “The Road”, which came from his album “The Road”. In the middle of his set he hit the fans with what they waited for with anticipation, the first Staind song that night “Right Here” in his own country version. It was unique hearing it this way and the fans loved it.
Aaron also did a great cover of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters once again in his own country style making the song his own. Before the end of the set he did “Whiskey and You” from Sinner. It’s a song that caught my attention for not only the music but the theme of a comparison between his relationship with drinking and a woman. And Aaron happened to be drinking whiskey on stage during the song. He finished off his set with Staind’s “It’s Been a While” allowing a little of the rocker come out belting out some notes. He then walked off stage to huge applause.
We were now in encore territory and not quite sure what to expect. Aaron came back out to talk to the crowd first. He acknowledged the last time he was at House of Blues Orlando he was “black out drunk” on stage and promised he was not that bad tonight. The crowd laughed and smiled enjoying his honesty. He then started us off on a whole new set that was an absolute wild ride.
He first did “Lost and Lonely” from Sinner. Second, he let his guitarist, Luke, come play a song that he said had special forces soldiers in tears called “Folded Flag”. It was a very touching song and Luke had an amazing voice. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go solo. And then Aaron stunned the crowd singing a part of “Open Arms” by Journey. When he sang “So now I come to you…” he trailed off to let the crowd sing “With open arms”, with a very light audience participation. He stopped and chided the crowd for wussing out which made people laugh and gave it another try which went over better.
And then he truly touched the crowd by performing a part of “Careless Whispers” by Wham to tribute the passing of George Michael. From there he did “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts and followed it with “Schizophrenic Conversations” by Staind. And Aaron still wasn’t done. He next performed “Lessons Learned” from his album The Road. And finally closed the show with “Outside” by Staind. When he said goodnight the crowd exploded in applause and cheers which left a big smile on his face.
I had no regrets deciding to review Aaron Lewis that night. His voice still sounds great, his country songwriting is amazing, and the way he guides the audience through his shows keeps them enraptured all night. The fans were pleased and they definitely got their money’s worth that night.