One gig at a time. It sounds so simple, but that's really how the Ries Brothers did it.
"Every opportunity we get has seemed to lead to another one," said guitarist Kevin Ries, 19. "You meet someone at a smaller gig who knows somebody that can get us on a bigger show."
Lately, those shows have been pretty big indeed.
After spending their teen years gigging around their home base of Belleair Bluffs, Kevin and Charlie Ries, 22, are in the midst of their first big North American tour, opening more than 20 dates for G. Love and Special Sauce, including one Friday at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg (click here for details). In May, they'll play the California Roots Music and Art Festival in Monterey, Calif., arguably the most popular reggae-rock festival in America.
It all comes on the heels of their debut studio album, The View from the Outside, released in November. The album's stylistic diversity — a little blues, a little alternative, a little reggae-rock — showcases how and why they've gotten so far, so soon.
Five years ago, Kevin and Charlie — who sings lead and plays drums — were participating in Ruth Eckerd Hall's Grammy Museum Revolution Project, a program that trains young artists to write and make music. That led to a gig at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Eventually their self-taught two-man-band setup caught the eyes of the band Chicago, who brought the brothers out on tour. From there, the brothers booked local shows with the likes of Daughtry, Toby Keith, David Cook and Edgar Winter; and went on a short tour with the late Butch Trucks.
At every show and festival, the brothers picked up some new experience or tidbit of advice.
"It's so cool to meet these bands, not just as a fan, but as a fellow band on the bill," Charlie said. "I feel like they appreciate it more, like it's not just someone coming up to them. I can have those talks that I didn't used to be able to, now that we're on the bills with these bands that I'm such a fan of."
As the brothers grew up, they started experimenting with new sounds — Charlie focused on alternative rock, while Kevin developed a keen interest in reggae. They hired a manager with connections in the latter world, and brought Passafire singer Ted Bowne aboard to produce their music. Those co-signs helped them edge into the world of reggae, including Cali Roots.
"We've kind of combined the fan base we had before with the fan base we've been introduced to in that scene," Charlie said. "We do want to blend genres, but we also don't want to be too all over the place."
Last fall they went to New York to film some promo for the album when they were introduced to Jack Johnson and G. Love, whose rep mentioned was about to embark on a 25th anniversary tour, and might be looking for an opener. A few weeks after the Ries Brothers sent him some music, the Philadelphia roots-funk singer brought them on board.
After the tour wraps later this month in Texas, the brothers will return home, work on new music and play the Gasparilla Music Festival before heading out to Cali Roots, where they'll perform alongside fellow Pinellas County fusionists the Hip Abduction. Along the way, they hope to book a short west coast tour in whatever venues will have them.
"For now, we're being embraced by different genres and trying to put them together," Charlie said. "We've been told by people in our past that that would never work. But different communities are embracing us, so we're not going to turn those opportunities down."
— Jay Cridlin