The band plays on at SeaWorld Orlando, even as the singer must keep his mask on

Gabrielle Russon, Orlando Sentinel
·4 min read

When Justin “JB” Braun plays in the band, all masked up, his fitness tracker tells him it’s like he’s riding a bike or in the middle of some intense aerobics.

Being a drummer was always physical, but now, his heart beats even faster during the pandemic.

But Braun and his Beemo bandmates are grateful for the gigs even if it comes with the reality of strict safety precautions as they perform at SeaWorld Orlando’s ongoing food festival this spring. Masks are required for Beemo, just like everybody else.

On Saturday afternoon, Beemo played on a small stage near the Mako roller coaster, the train sometimes roaring by in the background. “If anyone on Mako can hear us, put your hands up and scream!” someone in the band joked.

There wasn’t a packed, lingering crowd, which is probably a good thing in the coronavirus world of social distancing.

But a woman stopped to listen and began dancing. Young children heard the beat from the Orlando-based folk-rock band and started wiggling until their parents whisked them away.

The masked performers sounded just fine, agreed Samatha and Josh Sherhag, of Tampa.

They appreciated hearing music, something that felt normal again after so much had been canceled during the last year from the pandemic.

“You can be in a hazmat suit. I just want live music,” said Samantha Sherhag.

Not all the theme parks have taken the same approach bringing back live entertainment in the pandemic.

The jousting knights at Medieval Times tumble in the sand and sword fight wear masks. So did the high-energy gospel singers who danced on stage during SeaWorld’s holiday show. Colorful masks also adorn the faces of Universal’s stilt-walking employees throwing beads for the Mardi Gras festivities.

At Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the stilt walkers and dancers accompanying a float in a mini-parade are mask-free. They perform in the middle of the path several feet from the crowd on both sides with employees walking alongside to maintain the space.

SeaWorld made it clear to the band from the beginning, masks were essential if Beemo wanted to play.

“We asked the question: ‘Are you sure the singer doesn’t need to do it?’ But they were pretty firm and adamant,” said Dan Harshbarger, the lead singer who also plays guitar.

On the main stage at SeaWorld’s auditorium, the bigger acts such as the popular 1980s band Night Ranger, don’t have to wear masks but they play behind plexiglass.

The band started rehearsing with their masks to get ready. Braun started running to train. The band agreed to downsize from its normal five members to four to make it easier to space out on stage.

For Harshbarger, singing is all about getting a deep breath, like blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

“The first week was quite the challenge,” Harshbarger admitted as the mask muffled his sound. “That’s the hardest part, I think is just keeping the fabric off of your lips.”

The next challenge was keeping the mask to stay on his face to get the words out.

But with some research and help from family who customized some prototypes, Harshbarger found a mask version that worked best.

“Getting that oxygen flow is essential to, like, not passing out when you play,” Braun said.

To deal with the endurance grind, the band bought little oxygen-filled aerosol bottles that mountain climbers use. It helped on hot summer days when they played four 30-minute sets at SeaWorld. Beemo played first at SeaWorld’s Craft Beer Festival last year and then returned this spring to the park’s Seven Seas Food Festival.

With so much practice by now, the masks are “the new normal,” said Braun, who keeps three disposable surgery masks to switch out as he gets soaking wet from the humidity.

“My wife is a home healthcare nurse,” added bassist Tony Mickle. “She kind of looks at me like I’m a big chicken. She’s like, ‘I always wear a mask. Knock it off.’”

For the band, which saw many of its regular gigs at local bars and festivals canceled last year, it’s what it takes to be back on stage.

“It just all about adapting, and then just making sure that everybody’s safe and happy and having a good time,” Mickle said. “We see smiling faces.”

He corrects himself.

“They’re under masks, but we’re pretty sure they’re smiling.”

Beemo will perform at SeaWorld April 11, April 25, and May 7 during the food festival that’s included in SeaWorld’s regular ticket admission. The other band members are Matt Juliano and Sean Quinn.

grusson@orlandosentinel.com