Hops & Hogs Festival Marks the Return of Music Festivals to Orlando, April 10, 2021

 

As April 10th grew closer, so did the return of the music festivals we love so much. Stage Left Entertainment is an innovative, class act organization that is leading the charge to bring these events back to the fans. So, what exactly was on tap for April 10? How about beer, barbeque and non-stop music. What else could you possibly ask for?

 

As I arrived at the Orlando Amphitheater, the temps were already pushing 90 degrees and it wasn’t even noon. I was immediately impressed with how organized and accommodating the staff was. This continued throughout the entire event, with Steve, from Stage Left Entertainment, frequently checking in with all of the photographers to make sure we were taken care of. Speaking of photographers, it was awesome to see friends that I haven’t seen in more than a year. 

 

As I began readying my gear, I found myself slightly distracted by the sweet smell of barbeque drifting through the venue. The abundance of beer didn’t help matters either, but I was determined: focus, focus, focus! It was time to head to the pit as Grin Cynic’s set was minutes away.

 

 

 

With their roots ingrained right here in Florida, this four-man band hit the stage ready to rock. Lead guitarist, Sean Young, wears his passion and energy on his sleeve and within a matter of seconds the hair was flying. Founding member Mike Lee, took center stage with guitar in hand and provided lead vocals throughout the set. Rafael Lamardo, a beast on drums, and Kevin Corrigan, on bass completed Grin Cynic’s lineup. It’s always great to see hometown bands perform because you can always count on their faithful followers. This time was no different, as Grin Cynic shirts could be seen throughout the crowd.

 

The band’s blistering 30-minute set consisted of songs from their 1997 debut album “Demonstration,” 2019’s “Resurrection” and this year’s “Grin Cynic 2.” In addition to their own music, Grin Cynic had a few surprises up their sleeve. After asking if there were any Led Zeppelin fans in attendance, the guys launched into a stellar performance of “No Quarter.” My personal favorite was “Fly High” which was the first Grin Cynic song I ever heard.

 

Band:

Mike Lee – Lead Vocals/Guitar

Sean Young – Lead Guitar

Kevin Corrigan – Bass

Rafael Lamardo – Drums

 

 

Setlist:

Stealing Time

 All for Nothing

Joke

No Quarter (Led Zeppelin Cover)

 Hold On

Fearless Fly High

 

Next up was Indiana’s Brett Wiscons. My normal routine is to start researching artists a week or two prior to a show so I’ll have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. The first thing I came across when I Googled Brett Wiscons was a video for a song called “Late Bloomer.” It seemed like it would be a good place to start or why else would it have popped up first? My first impression was this guy can sing. My ears decided they needed more, and I soon found myself playing every video I could find. Brett’s singing/song writing talents have not gone unnoticed as he has had the incredible opportunity to open for such superstars as Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffet, Collective Soul, Katy Perry and many others.

 

As he took the stage, Brett immediately apologized for being just one guy when he noticed so many photographers. That definitely broke the ice and gained laughter from the pit. Brett said he had just finished playing a house party in Sanford the day before and he was also sporting a new set of blue toenails, courtesy of his young daughter. If that doesn’t convince you how down to earth Brett Wiscons is, keep reading and I promise I’ll seal the deal before this review is done.

 

Brett started his set with “SARAZONA” and then followed up with several of his other hits including “Don’t Be the One” and the captivating “October.” As if this wasn’t enough, Brett kicked out covers of Pearl Jam’sElderly Woman Behind the Counter in A Small Town” and “If You Could Only See” from Tonic. The final song of the set was “Late Bloomer,” which I later found out was going to be on the soundtrack for the NASCAR Heat 5 video game for Xbox and PlayStation. After the show, Brett walked over to all of the photographers who were huddled together in one of the few remaining spots of shade. He once again made reference to the fact that he was just one guy and there wasn’t a lot of action and jumping going on during the show. Before you knew it, Brett had kicked off his shoes and proceeded to not only give us a jumping split (sort of) but also a full-fledged jumping heel kick. Brett Wiscons is a jack-of-all-trades and is definitely going to be on the top of my list whenever I have my next house party. Oh, and by the way, I did manage to get a pic of those blue toenails and I must say, great job Luka!

 

Band:

Brett Wiscons – Vocals/Guitar

 

 

Setlist:

SarAZona

Don’t Be the One

When You Can’t Breathe

 Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town (Pearl Jam cover)

Tip Me in Tequila

October

 If You Could Only See (Tonic cover)

Late Bloomer

 

My anticipation grew as I knew that Moon Fever was due up next. A few months earlier, I began seeing photos of their recent performances, including a stop at Ace Café in Orlando where they opened up for Buckcherry. The pics and reviews were outstanding and now my expectations were high. I knew I wasn’t alone because I had talked to several fans who made it clear that Moon Fever was the main reason they were here. Moon Fever hails from Los Angeles, California, and their Facebook bio lists their influences as “great stadium bands of past generations with a modern vibe.” Without dating myself too much, this type of music is in my wheelhouse and I knew this performance was going to rock.

As the band took the stage, I was reminded of the old adage, first impressions are everything. With that in mind, these guys scream rock-n-roll. The band wasted no time as they immediately exploded into their hit “Cocaine.” This song was my first exposure to Moon Fever when I checked out their video a few months ago.

If you were going to create a prototype for a rock-n-roll front man, Cody Jasper is your guy. Clad in black leather pants, a black tank top and hair that brought Jim Morrison to mind, he enthralled the audience from the second he took the stage. Jasper made a point to come out to the crowd and meet some front row fans, even taking time to let one snap a selfie.

Jasper was in good company, flanked by guitarists Mitch Micoley and Will Travis. While Micoley kicked out riff after riff, Travis held his own, all while sporting an awesome hat reminiscent of the old Billy Jack movies. After photographing performances of “Cheap Thrills” and “Ride with Me,” I decided to catch the rest of the set from the audience’s perspective. Watching bassist Joshua Buchanan was amazing. This guy had a smile on his face the entire time. You just can’t fake having fun and Buchanan was definitely enjoying himself. His demeanor and blue bandana created an unmistakable image of Jimi Hendrix in my mind. Last, but definitely not least, was Greg Garcia on drums. He successfully set the tempo for the set which, by the way, was not long enough.

 If you haven’t seen this band yet, go ahead and add them to your must-see list. They have an upcoming tour with Adelitas Way that starts in May. I don’t usually go out on a limb and make predictions, however I don’t think Moon Fever will be an opening band much longer, as headliner status seems to be in their future.

 

Band:

Cody Jasper – Lead Vocals

Will Travis – Guitar

Mitch Micoley – Guitar

Joshua Buchanan – Bass

Greg Garcia – Drums

 

 

Setlist:

Cocaine

 Ride With Me

 Cheap Thrills

Undertaker

Do You Want Me

 Shaking Off the Evil

 Medicine Man

 Lost and Found

 

 

Jive Mother Mary had intrigued me from the moment I heard their name. Described as “Soul ‘n Roll from the heart of North Carolina” the band formed in 2006 and have grinded out a lot of hard work to get where they are today. To date, the band has put out three studio albums including “8 Tracks” which was released earlier this year.

 

The set commenced with “Look at Me Now (Good God Almighty)” from their 2018 album “The Long Odds.” Watching this band on stage conjured up visions of Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special. Founding member and lead vocalist Mason Keck put his soulful voice on display in what can only be described as a heartfelt and passionate performance. While on the subject of passion, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention co-founding member, and drummer, Seth Aldridge. His animated performance was explosive and resulted in a fury of flying hair, the same hair that has earned him the nickname “fluff.”

 

Tyler Schulz, guitar, and Keith Ingalls, bass, form the perfect complement to this rockin’ quartet. Schulz has known Aldridge for years and the two played together prior to the formation of Jive Mother Mary. Ingalls worked at a local guitar shop which is where he met Keck. It seemed only likely that fate would bring these four southern rockers together.

 

As the set moved forward, fans were treated with a cover of the Pink Floyd hit, “Have A Cigar.” I’m not sure where 45 minutes went but before I knew it the performance was drawing to a close. The band’s final song was their 2016 hit “Home is where the Heart is.” Jive Mother Mary has already performed with such greats as Buddy Guy, Blackberry Smoke and many others. In addition to their U.S. gigs, the band has also toured six countries and will be heading to Europe next year. Although these four friends are traveling down the road called success, I’m sure Burlington, North Carolina, will always be where their heart is.

 

Band:

Mason Keck – Vocals/Guitar

Seth Aldridge – Drums

Tyler Schulz – Guitar/Vocals

Keith Ingalls – Bass

 

 

 

 

Setlist:

Look at Me Now (Good God Amighty)

The Long Odds

Save My Soul

 Hope it Ain’t That Bad

Have a Cigar

 I Tried to Let Go

 I Can Still Be Your Man

 Home is Where the Heart Is

 

 

With Saving Abel poised to take the stage at 5:00 pm, we were officially beyond the halfway point of the festival. I’ve had the privilege of shooting a Saving Abel show before, so I knew exactly what we was in store for us. Saving Abel was born in the small town of Corinth, Mississippi, some 27 years ago and the guys have always stayed true to their roots. Co-founding member and lead guitarist, Jason Null, came up with the band’s name that is based on the biblical tale of brothers Cain and Abel.

 

 I actually belong to several Saving Abel social media groups, so I know just how strong and passionate their fans are. Just like they tell you from the onset, they’re not metal and they’re not country. What was coming was a 45-minute rock-n’-roll punch in the mouth, southern style. Saving Abel took the stage to the delight of the crowd that was primed and ready to rock. The band erupted into “New Tattoo” from their 2008 self-titled album, and there was no turning back from there. To say that lead vocalist Scotty Austin was animated and energetic would be an understatement. Austin knows only one speed and that’s with the peddle to the floor.

 

The darkening skies and a little rain weren’t about to ruin this party and that was evident as the guys got into “The Sex Is Good” from their 2010 album, “Miss America.” As Jason Null tore things up on his signature red, white and blue guitar, his partner in crime Scott Bartlett, held things down while wearing his red, white and blue cowboy hat. Bassist Scott Wilson was his usual badass self and continually played to the crowd. Steven Pulley provided the beats, and man can this guy play. The cohesion between this group is undeniable.

 

Scotty Austin gave a shout out to all military personnel just before the band played their 2008 hit “18 Days.” As the performance came to a close and the skies darkened even more, the band gave the fans what they wanted, and that came in the form of their first single “Addicted.” Saving Abel is a band that loves performing and they do have some upcoming shows so be sure to check them out.

 

 

Band:

Scotty Austin – Lead Vocals

Jason Null – Lead Guitar/Vocals

Scott Bartlett – Rhythm Guitar/Vocals

Scott Wilson – Bass

Steven Pulley – Drums

 

 

 

Setlist:

New Tattoo

Contagious

Mystify

The Sex is Good

Let it All Out

You Make Me Sick

Mississippi Moonshine

18 Days

Drowning (Face Down)

Addicted

 

As fate would have it, the weather was not in the mood to cooperate and the event had to be cut short. A big thank you goes out to Stage Left Entertainment, along with all the bands and artists involved in this awesome festival. This was a huge step in the right direction, and I am truly grateful to have been a part of it.

 

Follow Grin Cynic Online:

 

 

Follow Brett Wiscons Online:

 

Follow Moon Fever Online:

 

Follow Jive Mother Mary Online:

 

Follow Saving Abel Online:

 

    

 

 

 

 

I've had a love for photography since I was young. Whether it was a Polaroid or a Kodak 110, I was always the kid with the camera. My love of music goes back even further. Nothing beats being at a show when those lights go down and the crowd goes nuts.