Bluegrass coming to Garden Theatre

Jason Thomas Fiddler-JUMBO
Jason Thomas Fiddler-JUMBO
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Jason Thomas, Lis Williamson, Lon Williamson and Gabe Valla are Gatorbone. The Florida-based band is bringing its bluegrass style to downtown Winter Garden this Saturday.

— The Gatorbone Band, featuring Winter Garden’s Jason Thomas, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday.

When Jason Thomas picks up his fiddle at home, his 10-year-old son likes to grab his violin and join his father in playing some tunes.

Thomas, now 52 and a professional musician, was just about Jacob’s age when he learned to play the mandolin. At age 12, he picked up a fiddle and mastered that, too, mostly through self-instruction; and by high school, the Ontario, Canada-born musician was playing classical tunes in the string ensemble and started his own band that performed locally around Southern Ontario.

When he was in his early 20s, he moved with his family to Central Florida, and within a year, he was sharing his musical talents (bluegrass, cowboy and folk) in Frontierland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, playing at Tom Sawyer Island, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café and the Frontier Trading Post.

Thomas has made a living with his music, providing accompaniment as a studio player on 150 CDs, he said, and joining a variety of groups like the Kane’s River Bluegrass Band, the Claire Lynch Band and Gatorbone.

In his latest venture, he performs alongside three other Gatorbone members, all Florida natives: Gabe Valla and founders Lon and Lis Williamson, who live on Gatorbone Lake, hence the band’s name. The group will perform this Saturday, July 12, as part of the Garden Theatre’s bluegrass concert series.

The band’s original sound is influenced by a mixture of swing, old-time, bluegrass and gypsy jazz, and performances include original, traditional and contemporary tunes. Lon Williamson is the upright bassist, as well as a singer and songwriter, and his wife, Lis, is a rhythm guitarist, banjo player, singer and songwriter. Valla is an award-winning guitarist, mandolinist, singer, songwriter and composer. Thomas is an award-winning instrumentalist and state champion on fiddle and mandolin.

Thomas, of Winter Garden, has performed all over the world throughout his career, including a stint in Tokyo Disneyland’s bluegrass and country shows; at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay; in tours through Austria, England and Barbados; on Royal Caribbean cruises; and, of course, as a teenager in Canada.

So, it’s fitting that Thomas’ current full-time gig is playing with the Celtic rock band Off-Kilter — at the Canada Pavilion at Disney’s Epcot. His music, in a way, has come full circle, he said.

Working with Off-Kilter has allowed Thomas to spend more time with his wife, Beth, and son, Jacob. Their home in Winter Garden also has a recording studio, where Thomas can create tracks as a studio player for musicians instead of having to travel so much. The younger Thomas is in the string group at his elementary school, and father and son have even played a little music together.

Gatorbone on stage

Thomas, Valla and the Williamsons will hit the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden.

The final performance in the theater’s bluegrass concert series is the Sweeney Family Band at 8 p.m. Aug. 2 and 2 p.m. Aug. 3.

Tickets are $15 to $25 and can be purchased at or at the box office at (407) 877-4736.


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