VAIL — Phil Long is just one of the many improvements at Vail’s Shakedown Bar.
Long played the Red Lion for 25 years. He did the math and calculated he has spent about half his life playing at there — two shows a night, 250 nights a year for a quarter century.
He’s grateful for everything it has given him, but says he needed a change.
“I wanted to take a little sabbatical and get a view from another perspective,” Long said.
He didn’t have to walk far. Shakedown Bar is just down Vail’s Bridge Street.
When people ask why, and they do, he asks them how long been they’ve been at their last job. The answer is usually something like, “a long time,” but not as long as Long.
“I gave my best effort every single show, and I still do,” Long said.
He’s still one of the Red Lion owners.
“I still have a good relationship with the Red Lion folks. Everyone is still family,” he said.
Speaking of family, at Shakedown Bar he starts at 4:30 p.m. or so, and plays until 8:30 p.m., then he goes home. Or he’s free to have dinner with friends, because he doesn’t have to rush back for another show. He watched a Christmas special with his kids just the other night, something he’s never been able to do before.
Shaking up Shakedown
Scott Rednor is one of the Shakedown Bar’s new owners and sometimes plays with Long. Once upon a time, Long brought Rednor in from New Jersey and they’ve played together for years. Drummer John Michel and bassist Michael Jude are never far away as part of the Shakedown Bar’s house band. Roy Bloomfield and Kirk Mossley sit in sometimes. Old friends stop by for a song or two.
“It’s a living room and everyone drops in,” Long said.
Long has shared the stage with everyone from the Indigo Girls to Joe Walsh, to a couple guys from Barenaked Ladies. Jerry Springer, the talk show guy, was back to sing with him this summer. Various Denver Broncos and other sports and show business figures stop by.
“They come in and say hello and sing if they’re so inclined,” Long said. “I’m still a little star struck. It’s still a big thrill when they come up and say they enjoyed their night and shake hands. Celebrities here can enjoy themselves in peace. If they want to sing it’s pretty friendly. No one ever rushed them.”
Long started at Shakedown Bar around Thanksgiving and enjoys the changes Rednor and his partners have made.
They added six TVs, including a huge screen that goes across the stage, and a sound system that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can watch the game, or ski movies, or about anything else you want.
“We have the best venue in town,” Long said.
They do a buffet every day, catered by sister restaurant, The Tavern on the Gore. It’s $10 for the buffet. They’ve gone to glassware and added some high-top tables in the dance floor area.
“Scott did a great job. There’s great attention to detail. It’s very comfortable. You come in from skiing and the buffet is ready to go, and you can relax,” Long said.
When it comes to live music, you can never have too much, Long said, and he likes the resurgence of it in Vail Village.
“The more concentrated music in one area, the better. It’s amped up this year,” he said.
Sing what they want to hear
Long doesn’t have a signature song. He sings whatever the customers want to hear.
“My goal is to make sure people are having a good time and feel like they’re in my living room.”
Some musicians have a signature song they begin or end with — Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” is a popular closer. You’ll hear Don McLean’s “American Pie” at various venues.
Long doesn’t plan his sets like that.
After two shows a night, 250 shows a year for 25 years, he plays what people want to hear from beginning to end.
“I try to make it about them. Some people come in a few days a week, some come in once or twice a year,” he said.
Long started playing Vail’s Red Lion during the 1987-’88 ski season when The Red Lion was owned by three restaurant people from Topeka and Manhattan, Kansas.
He and then-wife Jen brought in some partners and bought it in 2000.
“They were ready to get out and we got in,” Phil said. “It was a great feat for us at that point in our lives.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.