By Linda Sickler, Savannah Morning News
The strong friendship between Eddie Venegas and Ricardo Ochoa has survived time and distance.
“We are both from Venezuela,” Ochoa says. “We had the same violin teacher and became friends because we were in the same studio.
“We had very similar lives down there. We both got jobs in the Venezuela Philharmonic, so at a young age, we were both professionals.
“He introduced me to surfing,” Ochoa says. “We really bonded as young kids.”
“We’re basically like brothers,” Venegas says. “We went to the same schools and played a lot of music together in all kinds of styles.”
Ochoa moved to the United States, and a few years later, so did Venegas. They’ve managed to stay in touch and on June 2, will reunite for a concert of Latin jazz at the Tybee Post Theater.
Venegas discovered music as a child when his parents took him to a symphony concert.
“I fell in love,” he says. “I don’t remember it, but my parents told me when I got home, I started mimicking the violin section, so my father bought me a violin.”
Later in life, Venegas learned to play the trombone.
“In college, someone loaned me a trombone and I was using it as a hobby, a way to kill time,” he says. “But I became more serious and am now a trombonist/violinist.”
That ability has given Venegas some unique opportunities, including a job with singer Marc Anthony.
“They needed some trombone and string parts for his music,” Venegas says. “Their music director knew I played both.
“I came in and was part of it after that,” he says. “There’s a big violin solo that is sort of a feature in those concerts.”
Venegas really enjoys working with Anthony.
“It’s nice to be part of a performance and hear the feedback of the audience,” Venegas says. “It works like clockwork.
“We all have a big role. I play the violin and sing at the same time, then put it down and play the trombone. That sensation of playing with an ensemble together is really nice.”
For a time, Ochoa and Venegas were roommates in New York City.
“We lived at our teacher’s house,” Ochoa says. “We always helped each other and went to school together.”
Ochoa helped Venegas even before his arrival in New York.
“Right before he got on a plane to go to New York, he got robbed at gunpoint and they stole his violin,” Ochoa says. “He was coming from an orchestra rehearsal.
“He called me and said, ‘I don’t know what to do now. I don’t have a violin.’
“I was lucky enough that I was playing an instrument that was loaned to me by my teacher,” Ochoa says. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about that, I’ll give you my old violin.’”
While Venegas stayed in New York, Ochoa moved to Pittsburgh to earn his master’s degree and then moved to Savannah.
It was while the two were studying at Queen’s College that Venegas took up the trombone.
“I started playing trumpet, but it only lasted two weeks,” Ochoa says. “I didn’t have the patience for it, but he kept going with the trombone until he became so proficient, it led to some really good opportunities.
“There are several YouTube videos of Marc Anthony in concert where it’s pretty exciting to see Eddie,” Ochoa says. “For years and years, I’ve been wanting him to come to Savannah so we can perform together again. We always played together when we were younger and there were a lot of sparks when it came down to creativity and performance.”
In addition to music, Venegas has worked with his wife, Karin, to create the film “Unafraid: Voices from the Crime Victims Treatment Center,” which is about sexual assault victims. It has been presented at film festivals throughout the United States.
“I wrote some music and did the cinematography and my wife directed,” he says. “We got some distribution, which was very exciting.
“The film is also about the center my wife’s mother founded with friends in New York City. It was one of the first centers founded to help sexual assault victims and domestic violence victims.
“They also revolutionized the way authorities collect evidence and came up with their own rape kit,” Venegas says. “Before that, they needed two eyewitnesses, otherwise they couldn’t prosecute.”
Ochoa is the program director at Tybee Post Theater and a member of the popular local band Velvet Caravan. He also has founded a new band, the Lowcountry Jazz Collective.
Venegas is looking forward to the opportunity to play with Ochoa again.
“He came to visit last summer and we had a chance to catch up,” he says. “But it’s never enough. We go back a long time.
“He’s put together a pretty nice band. We’ve got a pianist, a bassist, two violins and a Latin percussionist.
“There’s always some experimentation that comes with this,” Venegas says. “Some of the pieces we’ll play are ones I’ve done with my string quartet, the Sweet Plantain Quartet. I’m going to modify them for this band. There’s always a lot of learning and growing from this kind of experience.”
Ochoa’s job at the theater gave him the opportunity to bring Venegas here. They also will perform at the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head at 8 p.m. June 3 and 4.
The Lowcountry Jazz Collective is a group Ochoa formed recently. It features him on violin, Eric Jones on piano, Dave Masteller on bass and Gino Castillo on percussion.
“I had intended to develop a Latin jazz band about 10 years ago with Eric Jones on piano,” Ochoa says. “Gino Castillo, who lives in Charleston, is probably the best and only Latin percussionist in the region. “He originally is from Ecuador but lived in Cuba. This is the first time Gino and Eric and I have played together.
“This is a unique situation we hope grows and serves both Savannah and Charleston,” Ochoa says. “There really is no Latin jazz in Savannah and I would love to see more.”
The concert will be an original show covering the history of Latin violin, from Charanga style to modern Latin Jazz. Charanga originated in Cuba and uses strings with Latin music.
“Back in the days that Cuba was open, they had elaborate shows where they would have big orchestras combined with Afro-Cuban music,” Venegas says. “Out of this came Charanga music, which is a smaller version of that. I paid for college in New York City playing Charanga gigs.
“I had the privilege to play with these bands during college and learn the Latin styles with violin,” he says. “Combined with the classical music I was studying at the time and jazz classes I was taking at the time, those are the sources of what I play today — a mix of Latin Charanga style from the ’70s jazz, and classical music, which is always a part of it.”
At the Tybee Post Theater, Charanga music will be included in the mix.
“It’s a style that precedes salsa,” Ochoa says. “It was popular in the 1950s and early ’60s and it had a lot of violins and guitars, not so much brass instruments.
“Brass took over and made everything louder. We’re going to dig into some of that music and go into the history of Latin jazz with some really fun songs that are very accessible and dance-able. We might even play some American songs that we turn into Latin jazz.
“We hope we have a good group of people to enjoy the show,” Ochoa says. “It’s going to be very fun and very different than anything we’ve had, not only in the Tybee Post Theater, but in the area.”
IF YOU GO
What: Violinist Eddie Venegas with the Lowcountry Jazz Collective
When: 8 p.m. June 2
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave., Tybee Island
Info: 912-472-4790, www.tybeeposttheater.com
By Anna Chandler
WHILE IT’S now a designated National Wildlife Refuge, the Okefenokee Swamp wasn’t always so tame.
The wetland stretching across the Georgia-Florida border holds a history both feral and fascinating. Spanning 438,000-acres, the cypress-steeped home to gators, herons, and carnivorous plants has served as a hideout for draft dodgers in the Civil War, a home for fugitive slaves, and a place for whites who didn’t fit into the plantation economy.
Life in the swamp was a life led outside of society; in fact, due to the isolation many “swampers” of European descent spoke Elizabethan English well into the 20th century.
“That tells you something about how challenging normal life was at the time from the late 1700s all the way to the next century,” notes musician Walter Parks.
A Florida native, Parks made a name for himself as Woodstock legend Richie Havens’ lead guitarist and now performs solo and with his band, Swamp Cabbage.
As a young boy in Northeast Florida, Parks would often venture out into wilds of the Okefenokee to camp and explore. His music has long been woven with sounds that evoke murky waters, low-hanging branches, and sinewy ground. For “Swamp by Chandelier,” which hits Tybee Post Theater this weekend, Parks has delved deep into the history and forgotten culture of one of America’s last frontiers.
“My curiosity about being in the swamp and seeing some of the old vestiges of where people had lived inspired me to investigate,” the singer-songwriter shares.
“I wondered, ‘Was there any music played out there?’ There was a lot of fiddle-playing, shape-note singing, and this form of music I didn’t know much about called hollering.
Hollering was less a musical expression than a practical tool of communication used by hunters and farmers moving through the woods.
In an almost operatic bellow, the men would cry out through the pines to let their families know they were returning home safely.
Eager to hear it for himself, Parks discovered recordings in the Library of Congress’s folk archives. The recordings, made in the early 1940s, document the calls of the Chesser family, settlers who harvested sugar cane and tobacco from the Okefenokee’s sandy soil.
The family allegedly had a fondness for sacred harp singing, but their hollers are etched into history.
“You could hear them from several miles away,” Parks marvels.
“I wondered, ‘How could that be? ‘And then I really listened to the hollers and started to do them myself, and in order to hit some of those really high notes that these guys hit, you have to be singing, really, really loudly. You have to have incredible singing technique, even though they probably didn’t think of it that way.”
Parks transcribed what he heard into musical notation.
“I thought, ‘What can I do that’s different?’ I don’t want to just put on some suspenders and go out and yodel onstage—what’s the point of that? I want to do my own interpretation and my own arrangement.”
Parks will mix hollering with the sounds of the swamp in “Swamp by Chandelier.”
Working the hollers into his own swamp inspired guitar stylings was natural.
“I wanted to give this traditional Georgia music its honor and celebrate it for its historical value, but add a contemporary twist,” he says. “When I started playing these hollers on guitar, it actually sounded like Duane Allman! It all makes sense; it’s a regional style. Why wouldn’t it come out in The Allman Brothers’ music? And why wouldn’t the feel of The Allman Brothers have come out of this folk music?”
Using an operatic vocal technique he learned at Juilliard (and noting the irony in that) and a hollow body guitar, Parks says it’s a “high-wire walk” every time he’s performed the “Swamp by Chandelier” show, but a wire he’s pleased to tread.
“I’ve learned to change chords by just tapping on guitar,” he explains of his technique. “I’m vibrating the whole guitar and the headstock. The amp is on the edge of feedback.”
Surrounded by a Spanish moss-inspired installation created by Savannah’s The Experience Collective, Parks’ one-man show has a meditative, sacred feel to it.
“I thought that the contrast of the symbol of opulence that the chandelier provides would be an interesting metaphor to mix with the swamp,” Parks muses.
“The exploitation of the first growth of cypress trees in the Okefenokee made a lot of people very wealthy. Some of these cypresses were as wide as California redwoods. Some were up to 700 years old. I’m just trying to let people know there is a price that we pay when natural resources are used for human survival, and we have to be careful with it. Back in the early 1900s, the mill owners thought they’d have a supply that lasted 100 years, and they ran out in 20 years’ time.”
Parks plans to share stories on what he’s learned of the Okefenokee’s history between songs. Listen for originals, Swamp Cabbage material, and some songs by his old friend Havens, who passed in 2013.
“I’m missing him a bit,” Parks says gently. “I’m carrying his old guitar around on tour with me.”
Parks hopes that his music sparks the audience’s imagination and encourages them to go out and make a change in their world. Each “Swamp by Chandelier” show is a one-of-a-kind, intimate experience.
“I’m creating this moment, and [the audience] is witnessing a moment that’s never going to happen again,” says Parks. “I’m creating an atmosphere right in front of their eyes. That’s what I’m very proud of.”
By Thomas Oliver
Savannah Songwriters Series
In its sixth year of providing a one-of-a kind format for songwriters, the Savannah Songwriters Series is moving to the Tybee Post Theater.
In its first year after reopening, the Post Theater has quickly become the a popular venue for live music. It created Tybee City Limits, a monthly showcase of live local bands and songwriters and has hosted numerous sold-out shows featuring a variety of musical genres from a Tribute to Bill Monroe and the Ladies of the Blues to the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet.
Now, beginning April 3, the Post will present the monthly Savannah Songwriters monthly showcase of four songwriters in-the-round swapping songs and the stories behind them.
Kicking off the new adventure will be none other than the founder of the SSS, Jefferson Ross.
Joining him will be one of Savannah‘s long-time favorite songwriters, Jan Spillane. Rounding out the foursome will be Tim Malchak making his SSS debut, and Tybee’s own balladeer Thomas Oliver.
Southern folk artist, Jefferson Ross, is a songwriter, singer, guitar slinger and painter weaving stories for the ears and the eyes. Now living in Atlanta, Jefferson travels throughout the U.S. and Europe performing his original music and sharing his art.
Noted music critic Peter Cooper wrote of his latest CD, “Dogwood Cats:” Jefferson’s music is “flannel-warm in the chilled autumn.”
Jefferson lived from years in Nashville playing for a number recording artists including, Terri Clark, and sharing the stage with Country Music greats such as George Strait, Toby Keith, Reba and Vince Gill. He worked as a staff writer for a number of publishers on Music Row including Curb Music.
In 2010, he moved his young family to Savannah, where he helped create the Savannah Songwriters Series, Three years later, he and his family moved to Atlanta. He maintains a home and office in Nashville as well.
Jan Spillane writes, “If you’re not feeling it, don’t do it!”
A native of Savannah and Tybee since birth, the south is Jan Spillane’s home. She plays guitar and piano “she literally sounds like no one else.” Georgia Music Magazine added, “She’s like a lyrical acrobat.”
She’s been traveling to Nashville for the past 25 years and has written, recorded, and performed with some of Nashville’s Who’s Who. To date, she’s released four CD’s, three singles, two videos and in late spring of 2016, her CD, “Blue Canvas” will be released. Some of her credits include: “If Looks Could Kill” which was licensed for a promo on Showtime Cable Networks popular series, “The L Word.” She’s had a single song contract with Ah Ha Music Group for the song, “What it’s Not” and co-written with legendary singer/songwriter, Wood Newton.
From the peace, love, and rock & roll days of the 1960’s to the infectious trend of Americana, Jan creates a passionate and soulful, yet hypnotizing and energetic sound.
A veteran of 40 years in the music business, singer/songwriter Tim Malchak has persevered through many victories and failures.
Many of those experiences shine through in his music. Tim has recorded a total of 14 albums including seven Christian CD’s. As an international and award-winning recording artist in Nashville during the 1908s, Tim first came to be known in the music industry during that time with a string of Top 40 hit singles in Billboard’s Country Music Charts.
Songs like his self-penned “Colorado Moon” and “Restless Angel” helped to establish him as a gifted and influential singer/songwriter.
Later, in 1987 he was honored by Billboard Magazine as one of the Top Ten New Country Artists of that year. In 1988 he signed a major label record deal with MCA/Universal Records and in May of 1989 his critically acclaimed album “Different Circles” was released. During that time he shared the stage with country legends such as of Vince Gill, Alison Krause, Kenny Rogers, Emmylou Harris, Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson, and the list goes on. In 1993 Tim appeared on Farm Aid VI in Ames Iowa that was viewed by over 200 million viewers on TNN.
A survivor of a 26-year addiction, Tim is now 21 years drug free. His career is now centered in church. He is a worship leader at Calvary Baptist Temple in Savannah.
Tybee Island singer/songwriter Thomas Oliver “knows how to hook you with a punchy line,” according to the Savannah Morning News. Connect Savannah said his songwriting “displays a fine — one might say journalistic — eye for detail and poetic flow.”
And Red Line Roots wrote, “…in a world of people trying to make country music and falling short, [Thomas Oliver] soars high above the competition.”
He followed 2013’s “The Edge of America” CD, with this year’s EP, “When You Kissed Me.”
Thomas is a producer of the Savannah Songwriters Series, now in its sixth year of showcasing local songwriters, with the occasional touring artist’s appearance. He also MCs Tybee City Limits.
mandolin and vocals. The three-piece band made its debut during Savannah’s St Paddy’s Day 2015 with nearly a dozen shows in less than week, and now are a staple on the Savannah and Tybee pub circuit with their own fresh spin on a genre shared by the likes of The Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly and the Rumjacks?
This time it’s his tragic romance Romeo & Juliet produced by the Savannah Stage Company. If you missed the show in Savannah in February, get your tickets now!
In this six-person cast and one-hour long adaptation by Katy Brown, the movement from love at first sight to the lovers’ final union is unique to say the least.
By Anna Chandler
Pre-game for Valentine’s with an evening of blues from two of Savannah’s finest vocalists, Huxsie Scott and Danielle Hicks. Each represent a different generation of Savannah blues and are famous ’round these parts for pouring soul, passion, and stunning chops into their set.
Huxsie “The Golden Voice” Scott is a local legend, known as one of the greatest jazz/blues artists to ever represent the Lowcountry. Scott was the original vocalist for the Savannah Jazz Orchestra and acted as the great Ben Tucker’s featured vocalist for many years; she’s performed with numerous jazz ensembles and symphony orchestras since 1973. Among her many career highlights, Scott sang the title song in the 1996 Olympics, placed in the American Traditions Competition, and has been inducted into the Savannah Tribune Gospel Hall of Fame as well as Coastal Jazz Association’s Hall of Fame.
Hicks is a native of Tifton, Georgia; after graduating top of her high school class, she headed north to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy on scholarship for acting, singing, and dancing. New York City was home for nine years, but Hicks found her way back to Georgia and is happily settled in Savannah, where you can catch her at all manner of venues many nights of the week.
Accompanied by piano man Jared Hall, the ladies will offer their takes on classic American blues from Etta James to Janis Joplin to Bessie Smith. With a fitting Valentine’s theme, it’s a perfect warmup to February 14.
Saturday, February 13, 8 p.m., $25 general admission, all-ages
By Adam Messer
Ama and the White Crane”tells the tale of a young woman’s journey to save her town from an evil demon that is killing the fish in her village, and therefore, threatening their very survival.
“We’ve been presenting live productions most weekends since our grand reopening, including live music, stand-up comedy and a couple of stage plays, including Neil Simon’s ‘The Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ and Savannah Shakes’ production of ‘Hamlet,’” Turner said.
They invited the Islands High School drama club to stage their production of “Ama and the White Crane” at the theater after Turner saw they did not have their own auditorium and stage.
“They had launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for royalties, and I saw it on Facebook and reached out to Julie,” she said. “We wanted to support their efforts and give them a grand stage on which to perform, and they are very excited and inspired.”
Organizers hope to reach out to the community partners and fill the theater with families to enjoy the production.
“We hope they will keep coming back for other programming,” she said. “This is the just the first of a full slate of family-friendly programming we will present this year. During the summer, we will have daily children’s movies and some live educational entertainment as well. Think storytelling and song with an educational theme.”
Sukman spent 23 years in New York City as a working actress appearing in numerous plays, television shows and films. She who won a Best Actress award from the Hamptons Film Festival in 1997 for the film “Upstate.” She trained as an actress at the conservatory program at SUNY Purchase and earned her master’s degree in teaching drama from SCAD. She will be starring as Linda Loman in the Collective Face Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Death of a Salesman” in February and March.
“I chose this play for a few reasons,” Sukman said. “We started the school year studying Eastern drama and this play is inspired by Kabuki theatre. The casting was very flexible and I wasn’t sure if we would have a theater space, and it was suitable for great simplicity or something more. I wanted the students to work on something that would be appropriate for a young audience so that we could share it with our ‘next-door’ schools: Marshpoint and Coastal.
“We currently do not have a theater space of our own and we needed flexibility to move it around if need be. When Tybee Post stepped in and offered their theater, we were absolutely thrilled and the students were extremely excited to have a real theater in which to work.”
The play is humorous, but also deals with issues we all face throughout life.
“For instance, there are scenes when the characters fly on the bird, White Crane, who is Ama’s puppet best friend (becoming real through her imagination.) One of the challenges we all face, but especially teenagers, is to maintain our individual spirits, our ‘true identities’ if you will, in the face of adversity.
“I also love that her grandfather sends her on her journey and — even though it sounds ridiculous to go talk to a mountain — she has great love for him; she trusts him; and so she goes. I just lost my father this week and the meaning of that scene now resounds very deeply for me.”
As her first student production, she said there are some unique features of working with students compared to other actors.
“I’ve gotten tons of support from family members of my students and other faculty at the school who have donated time, labor and materials,” Sukman said. “My actors have been terrific and it can be challenging for them having to balance school, other after-school activities, family, etc. and be able to devote time to rehearsals. Sometimes the focus goes a little haywire, for all of us, and it can be a challenge arranging times and commitments.”
The title character, Ama, offers a good role model for all ages.
“Her character is one of great spirit and imagination,” she said. “On her journey, she finds friendship while maintaining her identity as a loving daughter and creative soul.”
“Ama and the White Crane,” Sat. and Sun. matinees, Jan. 30-31, 3 pm
Bring the whole family to see this stylish retelling of the Japanese folktale, “Ama and the White Crane,” by Maureen O’Toole, performed by the all-new Islands High School Drama Club.
Inspired by the great Japanese theatre traditions, an imaginative blend of mystery, movement and music follows the journey of Ama and her puppet companion, the White Crane. Ama battles many forces in her epic quest to free her village from the power of an evil demon, while she is accompanied by a comic pair of samurai and servant.
Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30-31, 3 pm matinee. Doors open at 2:30; curtain up at 3 pm
Tickets are $7 Adults; $5 Students, 17 and under.
Ladies of the Blues, Sat. Feb. 13, 8 pm
A Valentine’s Special. Huxsie Scott and Danielle Hicks belt out the blues in the first of a three-part blues concert series. This show features two female vocalists who follow in the footsteps of all-American vocal legends such as Bessie Smith, Etta James and Janis Joplin, among others.
Savannah legend Huxsie Scott will share the stage with the most talented Danielle Hicks. Two contrasting styles full of emotion, passion and excitement will feature music of the heart
accompanied by everyone’s favorite Jared Hall on piano. It is not surprising that these divas have chosen a Valentine theme to share with all who attend.
This Blues Series is sponsored by The Savannah Bee Company.
Sat. Feb. 13., Doors open at 7:30 pm. Show starts at 8 pm.
Tickets are $25 general admission; $22.50 for Theater members.
A Tribute to John Prine,
Sat. Feb. 20, 8 pm
The Accomplices Band and Friends present a night of live music honoring folk hero John Prine.
In addition to The Accomplices, featured performers include Folly Beach’s Dangermuffin and local favorites American Hologram (Eric Britt, Craig Tanner, and Britt Scott), Jason Bible (of The Train Wrecks), Aaron Zimmer (of City Hotel), and many more.
Get your tickets early for this very special show in the intimate setting of the historic Tybee Post Theater. Three quart of the tickets are already sold out.
Sat., Feb. 20, Doors open at 7:30, show starts at 8 pm.
Tickets are $25 general admission, $22.50 for Theater members
Tybee City Limits, Sun. Feb. 21, 8 pm.
The new year’s first Tybee City Limits, the Best in Live Local Music has a stellar lineup for this bluesy show. Our two headline bands are the Eric Culberson Band and the Greg Williams Band; and Crystina Parker is up as our solo singer/songwriter opening the show.
The Eric Culberson Band, like our two other performers, hails from Savannah and is steeped in the Blues tradition. They are a very popular, high energy three-piece band that has been on the road and entertaining audiences for more than 20 years.Greg Willliams’ brand of bluesy rock and pop has been heard in clubs and festivals from Savannah to St. Croix, sharing the stage with the likes of John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and Warren Zevon. And Crystina Parker, who also plays with the The Lovely Locks, is a storytelling raconteur and one of the most passionate hardest-playing songwriters on the Savannah scene. You won’t want to miss this show!
Sat., Feb. 20, 8 pm. Doors open at 7:30, show starts at 8 pm.
Tickets are $10 general admission, $9 for Theater members
“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline,”
Sat. Feb. 27, 8 pm
After hundreds of sold-out performances on the North American tour and an award-winning run in Branson, Mo., one of the hottest stage shows in America rolls into Tybee when we present the musical theater sensation, “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.”
The show traces the late star’s footsteps from her early honky-tonk days and radio fame through her rise at the Grand Ole Opry and triumphs at Carnegie Hall andLas Vegas.
Written and conceived by Dean Regan, the musical reveals the emotional depth and range of a singer who defined the term “crossover hit” by dominating country, blues, pop and gospel charts simultaneously in the 1950s and early 1960s. Starring a powerhouse singer and actress who sings 22 of Patsy’s greatest hits including “Walkin’ After Midnight,””Sweet Dreams,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy,” “She’s Got You,” “Seven Lonely Days” and the title song, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
Backed up by a band of singers and musicians, Patsy interacts throughout the show with Little Big Man, a disc jockey from her hometown in Winchester, Va., as well as a host of outrageous stand-up comics that serve as warm-up acts for her concerts and radio shows. You won’t want to miss this very special stage production!
Sat., Feb. 27. Doors open at 7:30, show starts at 8 pm.
Tickets are $25 reserved seating, $22.50 Theater members, $15 Students 17 and under.
CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS
By Anna Chandler
IF YOU thank your lucky stars for clawhammer pickin’, freight-train-rapid mandolin, and the mellifluous sounds of Appalachia, praise Bill Monroe.
On Friday, the Tybee Post Theater will pay tribute to the Father of Bluegrass himself in an evening of music and oral history.
Atlanta’s New South String Band leads the production with selections from Monroe’s expansive catalog and stories of the legend’s life and legacy. Comprised of fiddle player Kenny Lambert, guitarist, banjoist, and vocalist Brian Stephens, clog dancer and bassist Maggie Aderhold Stephens and bluegrass pioneer Joel Aderhold, New South String Band is a troupe of champions who have scooped up many esteemed awards for their talents.
Lambert began his musical life on the fiddle and has enjoyed success as a symphonic violinist, touring with the likes of Yo Yo Ma, Robin Thicke, Casting Crowns, Wynnona Judd. He holds the 2012 Georgia Mountain Fiddle King crown from the Georgia State Championship fiddle contest, and is first violinist in the Savannah Philharmonic and Greenville Symphony Orchestra.
Brian Stephens has certainly racked up recognition at Georgia Official State Fiddlers’ Convention, taking home First Place honors in Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar – Finger Style, and Second Place in Guitar – Flat Pick.
Maggie Aderhold Stephens grew up with Georgia bluegrass and currently is a mainstay at Suwanee’s Everett Music Barn, where she and husband Brian perform together on Saturday nights.
Tybee Post Theater Music Programming Director Ricardo Ochoa predicts that the New Year will be filled with memories and loving tributes to Monroe’s legacy.
“It will be twenty years since his passing in 2016,” he notes.
Picking up the mandolin at the young age of 10, Monroe got his live performance start while playing guitar in his fiddler uncle’s band. Monroe formed a group with his brothers Birch and Charlie when he was 18, playing for evening barn dances after getting off work at the Sinclair Oil refinery. The Monroe Brothers toured, signed on to RCA-Victor’s Bluebird division to record in 1936, and scored a minor hit, “What Would You Give in Exchange,” before members went separate ways to form new groups.
After a brief stint in Little Rock, Bill headed to Atlanta, where he formed his seminal group. The Blue Grass Boys is the reason we have the term “bluegrass” today; Monroe himself invented a genre characterized by tight harmonies, quick tempos, and incredible musical precision that would change music forever.
Guitarist/vocalist Lester Flatt, banjoist Earl Scruggs, fiddler Chubby Wise, bassist Howard Watts, and Monroe comprised the “classic” Blue Grass Boys lineup that recorded with Monroe in 1945. With mandolin as a centerpiece, Monroe and his Blue Grass Playboys developed a hard-driving string band style; they hit the charts for the first time in 1946 with “Kentucky Waltz.” “Footprints in the Snow” followed, clocking in at Number Five on the charts.
Though Tybee’s tribute may not take place beneath Monroe’s classic circus-style tent, the Tybee Post Theater is a magical setting, perfect for a journey into the mind of a great American artist. Amidst the earthy scent of fresh-laid brick, handsome rows of stadium seats (originally from Trustees Theater), and a large American flag backdrop, the charming auditorium has a coziness and intimacy that’s perfectly suited for acoustic music.
If you’ve ever seen Ochoa’s gypsy jazz band Velvet Caravan, you probably are familiar with the group’s deep admiration for gypsy jazz pioneer guitarist Django Reinhardt; when they cover his songs, Ochoa and the Velvet Caravan boys often tell stories to contextualize the work. Naturally, Ochoa is very excited for Monroe devotees Lambert and Stephens to share their wealth of knowledge on Monroe’s life.
“Having them present and play makes it more interesting for the audience,” Ochoa says. “When I see an artist, I want to know about them. In a historical context, it will make you appreciate bluegrass more. It makes people love and appreciate the music more.”
This is a key moment for the resurrection of old-time, bluegrass, and traditional music. In a fast-paced, multi-tasking, screen-glow world, Ochoa thinks music lovers are searching for a certain kind of authenticity in their concert-going.
“More people are looking for an intimate setting and are getting away from the arena sound,” he observes.
An evening of mountain music by the sea? It doesn’t get much further from the arena than that.