Just playing for friends
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a series profiling the “Apres Stew” of musicians we have here in the Vail Valley. These talented people create a party, taking us from the slopes and into the night with their familiar tunes.VAIL – In the 20 years Phil Long has been playing music at the Red Lion, he’s witnessed about 30 people meet, fall in love and get married – all within a very short period of time.In fact, Long met his wife, Jennifer, while strummin’ his six string at the Vail Village bar, one of most venerable spots for apres skiing. She was sitting front row, and they instantly hit it off. Eleven years later, the couple has two children, Jessica, 8, and John, 6.
“It has to do with the ghost of the Red Lion,” Long said. “The whole Red Lion is much bigger than all of us. Ever since I’ve been coming here, I’ve noticed how easy it is to talk to the person next to you. The place is just really welcoming.”But if you ask Long’s peers, the Red Lion love aura has nothing to do with a ghost. It has everything to do with the mood Long creates with his music and personality.”He’s super amicable,” said Shannon Tanner, a fellow apres musician who originally booked Long at the Red Lion many years ago. They’ve been friends for 22 years. “He’s very, very friendly with his crowd. He’s very loyal to his crowd. He tries to remember their names every year.”Anyone who’s experienced a Long show can attest to his hospitality. It’s not uncommon to enter in mid performance and feel like Long personally knows everyone in the audience, and it just might be that he does. Long said many of his customers visit the valley annually or biannually, always returning to the Red Lion to hear Long sing.”It’s almost like I play for friends all the time,” Long said. “The only pressure I feel is to re-create the really fun time they had before. It’s like re-creating New Year’s Eve every night.”Mike Johnston, owner of MJ’s Lake Geneva Marina in Wisconsin, has been coming to the Red Lion for years. He hired Long to play at a private party at the marina.
“He entertaining,” said Johnston. “He plays great music and he appeals to everyone. I had 400 people at this party.”Long’s local apres career has taken him to many places across the world. His fondest memory is when a fan flew him and his family to England to play an anniversary and birthday celebration.”It was a 24-hour party,” Long said. “They treated us like a million dollars.”Long’s repertoire is vast. He plays everything from Incubus to Green Day to James Taylor to Led Zeppelin, and then he throws in some originals to mix it up. Have a song you’d like to hear? Yell it out. Long takes requests, and he’s always filling the holes in his song list.”I don’t have a set list,” Long said. “I take the people in the direction they want to go. I get to watch people move more and more into who they were when they were 18.”Tonight will be extra special for Long, as he celebrates his 20-year anniversary with the Red Lion. All of his old friends are showing up for the party, and the crowd can expect several surprise sit-ins.
“Phil is so gracious with his stage,” Tanner said. “We’ll all go in the place, catch up and sing songs. When we get up there together, there’s some kind of magic.”Long said he must be a fairly simplistic person to do the same job over and over again almost every night, but he said, he loves what he does.”I can’t remember the last day I got up here and wished I wasn’t there,” he said.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado