On New Year’s Eve 2016 you weren’t going to find a bigger rock show then what was planned at the House of Blues Orlando. WJRR was hosting their “Big Friggin’Eve” show with Sevendust headlining and be supported by Red Sun Rising and local Orlando band Soulswitch. There was no doubt in my mind this was going to be a phenomenal show. I’ve seen Sevendust multiple times before and Soulswitch when they opened for Alter Bridge a few years ago. I knew it would be very crowded by House of Blues that night. The venue is located inside Disney Springs, which is essentially a very large Disney owned shopping area. There are multiple restaurants, a movie theater, and even a bowling alley there. Plus, being New Year’s Eve a lot of people would head down there to eat and party.
I made it to House of Blues around 6:30 PM. Doors didn’t open till 8 PM and the show started at 9 PM. But, at least I had a good parking and not having to walk far just to get to the venue. I checked with the box office, but the photo credentials weren’t ready yet. I sat on a bench across from the venue and two other photographers, Jen and Troy, joined me. Jen was the one who got me into photographing concerts. We talked for a bit and then made our way to meet another photographer named Bryan. As we went over to meet Bryan, another photographer we know named Barry was there as well. This was going to be a very busy pit.
All of headed back to the box office waiting for our photo credentials. When the doors opened at 8 PM the box office didn’t have them yet. So we waited. While we did, Supa Dave and LT, two radio personalities from our local rock station, 101.1 WJRR, passed by. Jen and Troy know Supa personally so they chatted for a moment. I took a minute to introduce myself since Supa knows many of my friends in the local music industry. Supa and LT said goodbye and our photo credentials were ready. The group of us then headed over to the security line to get checked and then made our way inside.
We all huddled over by the entrance to the photographer pit waiting for Soulswitch to kick off the show. I talked to the security manager to double check we could shoot in other areas of the venue. In the past, I’ve been told shooting in the pit only, but I suspect that was more at the request of a particular band over the venue’s decision. This night, they were OK with us photographing anywhere as long as we weren’t disturbing the audience members. Everyone had their gear ready to go when we heard the crowd starting to cheer. Supa Dave and LT stepped out to give away some free t-shirts and one of them had a pair of tickets to Breaking Benjamin on January 15th. After they were done, they introduced Soulswitch.
Soulswitch stepped out on stage to a very excited crowd. As a local band, they are well recognized and appreciated by people in Orlando and the band made it worth their while. As the opening sounds to “Walk Alone” drifted through the venue, the band make it’s way on stage. And once they started playing it boomed through everyone with those first notes and Tom Huestis’ screaming vocals. Matt Larson’s heavy bass and Chris Esquivel’s thundering drums set the pace for the night off the first song. And the crowd was all for it bouncing and headbanging with them.
They are a fun band to photograph. Lighting was great mix of oranges and whites, reds and purples, and some blue in there too. There may have been one song where photographers dealt with some strong reds, but nothing I couldn’t work around. The band themselves are very active on stage. They move around a lot and headbang frequently. The band moves in sync very well with their music. Nic Allen (guitarist) and Jimmy Kwong (guitarist) work well in tandem. The real challenge was trying to get a photo of the faces of Jimmy and Matt’s. Both have long hair that cover their faces frequently.
They followed that with “Transmissions Lost”. On the third song, Soulswitch brought out Supa Dave from WJRR to come play with them on their track “Change” from their As It Seems EP. That was a great moment to witness and photograph. The group of us realized we were in the pit after song 4 and quickly vacated. Security didn’t seem mad at us. I made my way behind the soundboard to get some more pictures. Two audience members were kind enough to make room for me to get some more shots. During this time Soulswitch performed their cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries. It’s a great rock rendition and something they usually keep on their setlist. It’s definitely one to find on YouTube. They closed the show with “Demon Inside” and once Soulswitch finished the fans started a Soulswitch chant. They are well loved in Orlando.
I made my way back to the pit to look over some of my photos. The other photographers came in a few minutes behind me. I watched as security was already escorting people out of the building for one reason or another. There was a lot of security guards inside assuming there would be troublesome folks. It wasn’t too long before Supa Dave and LT were back on stage again, which was our cue to hit the pit. They threw to the crowd a few more t-shirts and then introduced Red Sun Rising.
They came out hard and fast with “Amnesia” their recent single track off the Polyester Zeal album and the crowd loved it. Ryan Williams (guitar) and Dave McGarry (guitar) jammed away appearing to enjoy every minute of it while Mike Protich (vocalist) sang to the crowd. His vocals are clear, powerful, and high ranged on the album and just as good live. He hits high notes regularly that most male rock singers couldn’t even attempt to reach.
I enjoyed photographing them because they’re active on stage and the lights were similar to what we had with Soulswitch. Also, I’m a fan of their music as I was singing along as I photographed. I caught another photographer doing the same thing, which made me smile. During certain songs, like “Otherside”, which hit #1 on the Rock charts, the lights were dimmed down and they kept a solo spotlight on Mike as he sang and brought them up during the high points of the song. Ryan, much like Jimmy and Matt of Soulswitch, was hard to photograph his face as he constantly had his hair in front of it. Ricky Miller (bassist) gave me ample opportunities capturing him at the mic since he also does backup vocals. Due to my short height, I couldn’t get a clean shot of Pat Gerasia (drummer) while in the pit, but did get a few of him outside of the pit.
During their set they also played “Unnatural” and they did a cover of “Uninvited” by Alanis Morrisette. The song itself is haunting and Mike’s vocals definitely do it justice. The band closed their set with their other #1 Rock hit, “Emotionless”. It was probably the best choice, which left the fans wanting more once they went off stage. Red Sun Rising certainly left a great impression on the fans.
After I went back over to the pit stairs again, but this time we had a much longer wait. Sevendust was set to come on until 11:20 PM and it was only 10:45 PM or so. I chatted with the security guards, with some fans, and with the other photographers when they showed up. I was joking to one on how you could use an attached 70-200 lens as a club to move another photographer if they stood in your way. We heard from behind the curtain the sound check going on. The crowd was getting antsy and I think we were too. Finally, Supa Dave and LT took the stage one more time and we headed into the pit. After they threw out more t-shirts, they introduced Sevendust.
Now, I was nervous. It was the first time shooting a band I had seen as a fan so many times over. One of the photographers talked to me to get me to see it wasn’t a big deal and just to look at them like photographing a family member. It’s not as easy as you think, especially when it’s a band you like. Suddenly, the curtain was being pulled back, the crowd started to roar, and the members of Sevendust took the stage.
Vince Hornsby (bassist) walked out with his traditional baseball cap on backwards. John Connolly (guitarist) walks out with a baseball cap on the traditional way. Clint Lowery (guitarist) comes out with no baseball cap at all, while Morgan Rose (drummer) comes out with his short dreadlocked hair and over the ear microphone and Lajon Witherspoon walks out last with his long dreadlocks smiling to the crowd. As the saying goes, “Sevendust has arrived”.
The band rips into “Pieces” from their album titled Next and the place erupts. I haven’t heard a crowd this frantic in some time and the band was eating it up. Lajon with his recognizable powerful vocals serenades the crowd while Morgan backs him up with his guttural screams we know so well. This is what the fans wanted. This is the Sevendust Orlando missed so dearly.
Photographing this band was more challenging than the other two. The lighting was more reds and oranges than the first two bands. There was also eight photographers in the pit, which is not very wide. We did our best staying out of everyone else’s way. Unfortunately, I was trying to duck out of the way of one photographer and another one accidentally clocked me in the head. With a 70-200. The same one I was joking about before we walked into the pit. Lastly, as were were photographing, there were people crowd surfing. Those surfers were being dumped into the pit, while the photographers were still in it. More than once I almost collided with the crowd surfers.
After their second song Lajon stopped to talk to the crowd. He told them how much he appreciated the fans, especially for how long they’ve been doing what they do. He was getting teary eyed and choked up. He was speaking from his heart and the fans sensed it. Afterwards they continued on with “Hero” also from the Next album. After that we left the pit.
Two of the photographers wanted to show me the spot they were using after they had finished in the pit, so I followed them upstairs into the balcony area. Security let us shoot from the seating area as long as we weren’t disturbing the guests. I first shot from the upper right side of the stage looking down. I then moved my way over to the center to take some straight shots. I ended up in the same area where Supa Dave and LT were sitting.
I didn’t even realize the time until Lajon called out that it was nearly midnight and started counting down. When midnight hit, confetti dropped down from the ceiling as everyone was hugging and kissing. I took some shots of the confetti coming down. Lajon then announced they still had a couple more songs to play and continued on with their set. Some of their other songs from the night included the acoustic version of “Denial”, “Ugly”, “Enemy”, which is always an Orlando fan favorite as the crowd sang along, and “Praise”. Sevendust wrapped up with “Thank You” from their latest album Kill the Flaw as a tribute to the fans for all the support over the years.
Overall, WJRR’s “Big Friggin’ Eve” was a star studded show filled with great music, great memories, and the perfect way to kick out 2016 and to bring in 2017.