Together or apart, these brothers rock the house

By on October 8, 2014

“One question that is always asked: Who’s better &tstr;The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” said Brandon Levan. “I’ll let Ryan answer that for you.”

Turning to his younger brother, Ryan Levan, they both smiled.

“I don’t want to start a fight,” said Ryan. “But… The Rolling Stones.”

With that, the brothers started the song “Dead Flowers.” At Shanks Tavern in Marietta on Friday, Oct. 3, the brothers each played a set and then played together, rocking the oldest continuously operating tavern in Lancaster County.

Both self-taught musicians, neither one of them can read music but learned to play the guitar by reading tablature and listening to songs until they had it right. Now, they each bring their own unique style of playing and musical preference. Each brother can enthusiastically lead his own set, and together they bring mind blowing guitar solos to the audience.

Ryan Levan performs a solo number at Shank’s Tavern in Marietta. (Photo by Lenay Ruhl)

Ryan Levan performs a solo number at Shank’s Tavern in Marietta. (Photo by Lenay Ruhl)

“We dabble with other instruments, but guitar’s our main instrument,” said Ryan. “It just feels good.”

Although they are both busy with their careers, playing gigs at night, and working on developing their new band, drysdale, at the end of the day they are typical brothers.

Ryan teaches third grade at an Ephrata elementary school, and one corner of the small space at Shanks was filled with his coworker, Anne Stevens and their principal, Sherri Horner with her husband. Although Ryan prefers to keep this part of his life separate from his coworkers, last May they got wind of a show he was playing and showed up. Now, they make it a game. When they found out he was playing at Shank’s they put up a sign in the faculty room announcing it.

Ryan changed the sign to say that it was $75 a ticket.

According to Ryan, he has been playing guitar for 20 years. Brandon, the older brother, thinks that’s an exaggeration.

“I’ve been playing guitar for 16 years,” said Brandon. He explained that they got their guitars the same Christmas, so they’ve been playing the same amount of time.

“I got my first guitar for my birthday,” replied Ryan.

“Which is five days after Christmas, so that’s the same thing,” argued Brandon.

Regardless of how long they have been playing, they do it well. Their dad also plays guitar, and Brandon shared a memory of two-year-old Ryan in his diaper strumming their dad’s old guitar.

When asked if there is competition between the brothers, Ryan looked to Brandon.

“He’s better. He’s a better musician,” said Ryan. “I’ve been described as ‘rough around the edges.’”

“Ryan has the voice of an angel,” remarked Brandon in the background, trying to cut Ryan off.

Both brothers are sarcastic, and it is hard to tell the difference between when they are joking and when they are serious. Yet, they have a genuineness about them.

“We fight when we’re not playing,” said Brandon. “The music is the one thing that brings us together.”

In fact, this summer the boys were not getting along very well when they went to see The Spin Doctors in Harrisburg. They had the chance to meet the band after the show.

Lead vocalist Chris Barron told them, “You guys gotta get along.”

Hearing this from the alternative rock band, famous for their 90s hits, encouraged the brothers to play together again. And so emerged drysdale, which consists of Brandon, Ryan and two of their friends.

Both Ryan and Brandon also play solo gigs. Brandon remembers his first gig was at The Hub during his time at Penn State. Ryan’s first gig was his 11th grade talent show where he played with his brother and a friend. He remembers that they won first place for group talent.

“That was the best gig I ever played,” said Ryan. “The first one’s special.”

At Shanks, Brandon started off the night with his mellow style of music, playing acoustic covers by musicians such as Rhett Miller, Snow Patrol and the Flaming Lips. He threw in a few bar songs such as an acoustic “Sweet Caroline.”

“I prefer electric to acoustic. I like playing loud,” said Ryan.

He has recently been getting into acoustic because it creates a “more intimate setting.” At Shanks he played an acoustic guitar just like his brother, but Ryan’s fingers strummed aggressively. He naturally plays loud. Brandon sat at a nearby table with a tambourine.

“Keep that going Brandon,” Ryan encouraged.

Ryan’s set differed from his brother’s as he covered blues music, which he said was his favorite this week, but his favorite is constantly changing. He said he plays every night before he goes to bed.

Together Brandon and Ryan filled the tavern with a contagious passion for music, performing covers all over the musical spectrum from Tom Petty to Rick Springfield to Oasis. They even attempted to cover the song “Freshman” by the Verve Pipe, which was requested by a girl in the audience. Although they didn’t know the song, they threw around a few chords and lyrics and then together played the song as if they had planned it.

Not on Facebook or actively promoting their music, finding Ryan and Brandon out playing a set is a surprise. They recently played locally at the Lititz Lioness Rock-a-Thon fundraiser, and Ryan was seen playing guitar last week at The Sandwich Factory and Sports Lounge open mic in Neffsville.

Modest about their talent, fellow musicians give them praise. At the open mic Ernie Ernst, who played with Ryan for five years in a band called Train REK, sat at the bar watching him jam with Jason Gray.

“Ryan feels it,” Ernst said. “Ryan is the real thing.”

Lenay Ruhl is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express and Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at

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