Finishing off 2019 and heading into 2020, Orlando Americana maestro Thomas Wynn was in the midst of one of the busiest and most rewarding periods of his musical life. Besides the usual abundance of local shows, Wynn and his band the Believers were still riding high off their newest album, Wade Waist Deep, and had even played the Suwannee Hulaween Festival in October. Aside from his own music, Wynn was also busy putting together the nightly music programming – an ambitious slate of local and touring acts – for revamped music venue-slash-restaurant the New Standard in Winter Park.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, along with a nightly curfew and the shuttering of all non-essential businesses in Central Florida, and everything ground to a halt. Wynn went home to take care of his family, and stayed there. But soon enough he would be back on the grind, virtually gigging from his home and reconnecting with his extended Orlando musical family. It's what a lifer musician does.
"I've been a homebody since March 21," says Wynn in an email interview with Orlando Weekly. "Haven't left other than the necessities. I'm quite enjoying my time at home with my family – my wife, two young children and our dog."
By early April, Wynn and his wife, fellow Orlando luminary Hannah Harber Wynn, became "residents-in-residence" for Southern Fried Sunday's monthlong series of #StayHome livestream fests. Every weekend in April, the duo broadcast a live performance, alongside a who's who of friends and fellow songsmiths for a proper hoot that starts in the afternoon and goes late into the night.
"Jessica Pawli, the creator and curator of SFS, has been a longtime friend," says Wynn. "So when we were asked to be 'residents in residence,' we were honored and delighted to come aboard. We've tried to make each streaming event different in theme, the first one being ''90s Country,' then on April 5 we did a 'Requests Hour,' on the 12th we played 'Originals Only' and for April 19, we attempted 'Ol' Timey Folk Songs.'"
Aside from the family affair that is Southern Fried Sunday, Wynn is also going live for a solo home show series dubbed "The Wynn House Sessions."
These loose and informal Facebook Live broadcasts give us hints of the Band and Bob Dylan in their Woodstock Big Pink headquarters, playing music for the sheer joy of it, unafraid to try new things. "Hannah spearheaded the idea of doing 'The Wynn House Sessions' and I've put together our technical setup," says Wynn. "I'm learning more each time we do it. We plan on having themes for each of these."
Extended "sheltering in place" means that, unfortunately, Wynn has relinquished his duties at the New Standard for the foreseeable future, but New Standard owner Nate Landwer has taken on the herculean task of continuing to host and stream local musicians from his stage, in accordance with social-distancing protocols.
And though Wynn characterizes the mass cancellation of his New Standard calendar as "heartbreaking," he has nothing but praise for Landwer: "It's pretty remarkable what he's been able to get accomplished in the short time he's had to figure out all the streaming stuff. It's wonderful that he's continuing to offer a place for musicians to safely go and stream, and try to bring in some income during this time of uncertainty."
Wynn is contemplative when asked about how he manages to keep himself in the right headspace and heartspace to create amid the new disasters we discover every time we turn on the television or look at our phones.
"My advice is to take this 'extra' time, with whatever medium you feel creative in, or have been yearning to try, and create, create and create some more," says Wynn. "Our ideas of 'releases' or 'shows' or 'tours' have all changed. This change was forced upon us, but it doesn't have to be viewed as only negative. New ideas can sprout from change. I hope to let them come and to help them grow."
When you're talking to someone who's as deep a well of institutional knowledge of the Orlando music scene as Wynn, you'd be delinquent in your duties not to ask how he thinks Orlando's musical community will weather this ever-longer uncertain present. So I did.
"I believe that because we're all in this together, we will be able to emerge together. Stronger, unified and more appreciative of the arts, events and gathering places we have in our community. Whether it be at live shows, eating at restaurants or just gathering with friends at your favorite place, there will be something in the collective mindset that will have changed. Hopefully that change translates into endurance."
Catch Thomas and Hannah Harber Wynn on the final April installment of SFS' #StayHome Fest Sunday, April 26, on the Southern Fried Sunday Facebook page. You can view all the "The Wynn House Sessions" on the Thomas Wynn & the Believers Facebook page, and follow that page and Hannah Harber & the Lionhearts on Facebook for announcements of future online performances.
This story appears in the April 22, 2020, print edition of Orlando Weekly. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider supporting this free publication with a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.