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Summer dawns with 3 days of music

Solistice Festival in Savannah

POSTED: June 20, 2013 10:07 a.m.
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Larry Mitchell Band, fronted by its namesake who has six solo albums, plays at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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Now that Live Wire Music Hall has passed into collective memory, the guys who ran the “music” end of the club — brothers Daniel and Brenden Robertson — are staying in the rock ‘n’ roll game, via their Live Wire Sound Inc. and Love Music imprints.

This weekend’s Savannah Summer Solstice Music & Arts Festival is very much like your cross-America jam band fests — loads of music jammed into three days, of varying styles on several stages, with all the amenities including primitive camping, should that be where one’s inclinations lie.

The Robertsons believe it’s Savannah’s first such festival.

It’s at the 200-acre Red Gate Farms, an RV/camping facility on the west side of town.

Local restaurants will have groovy grub for sale, and the event also includes multiple art, culture and info vendors on-site.

As for the tuneage, a good many of these artists — most are local, although some aren’t — proved themselves audience favorites at one time or another at the good old Live Wire Music Hall.

Zach Deputy

Friday at 9:30 p.m., Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

You want to talk about the DIY ethos? Zach Deputy does everything himself. He's a bearded barrelhouse of a one-man band, in every sense you can imagine.

The Savannah native was a beat-boxing youngster, fascinated by hip hop and also obsessed with calypso and island music (his mother comes from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands), rhythm 'n' blues and rock 'n' roll. Growing up in Bluffton, he was the 17-year-old "token white kid" in the long-lived R&B group These Guys, which still performs regularly up Hilton Head way.

The thing is, Zach Deputy has a four-octave vocal range. And he can play just about any instrument.

And that's what he does — through a mountain of onstage looping machines and processors, he plays — and sings — everything you hear. Judging by his esteemed status at jam band festivals over the last seven or eight years, he's more fun that a lot of full bands we could name.

"Early on, I had no intention of being a loop artist," Deputy tells Connect. "It was something I was doing on the side. But over the course of time, I found that the things I was trying to achieve, I was able to communicate as well as I was able to just do it through the loop machine.

"I still thought that eventually I was going to have a band. But it was more like the people spoke than anything. My following for my loop machine show just increased."

Like guitarist Keller Williams, or punk player Jay Vance (the creator of Captured! By Robots), Deputy finds freedom in working without other musicians.

"When you start doing some of the Latin stuff, the bass lines are kinda backwards to American music," he explains. "I love playing bass. I love seeing the whole spectrum of what all's going on in a song. And so I understand it. But explain that to a bass player; it's really hard for them if all their fundamentals are in American music.

"So it's hard to find people that have the same kind of feel or vision for music that you do, when your vision is not narrow. It's very broad. And I've always had a very broad vision of music, due to my upbringing and where I'm from."

He does enjoy "doing the band thing," he says, and has plans to delve further into that world in the near future. "But when you're solo, you don't have to think about anything. You get this feeling like 'Oh, I want to go here' and then you just go there. You don't signal it."

He can switch up the rhythms, change keys, beef the aura and cue background vocals, all without taking his hands off the guitar.

Connect: It's like being a singing drummer, isn't it? You're using both feet, both hands and your brain simultaneously!

"The brain is going crazy," Deputy replies with a chuckle. "For me, I get in a zone. Everybody has their zone, and some people are really good at doing one thing. Some people can do one thing better than I can do, because I work better in the medium of the more I do, the more pocket I get, it calms me down. I have more tunnel vision when I'm over-challenged."

Electric Grandma

Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Along with being one of the sweetest people in Savannah, Lucia Garcia is a multi-talented pianist, singer and composer. As one-eighth of Word of Mouth, she plays rock, rap, fusion and creates all sorts of crossfired hurricanes in between. Electric Grandma is more of a personal project — it's electronica, written, programmed and played with her fiancé, Matt Duplessie (also a Word of Mouth member). This is swirly and other-wordly music sometimes performed with live bass and drums. (Look for Omingnome, another WOM spinoff, to play at 3:30 Friday afternoon.)

Dark Water Rising

Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

North Carolina's Dark Water Rising is a soul/Americana band with a serious pedigree: The frontwoman is Native American Charly Lowry, who possesses an amazingly powerful voice. In fact, as a college sophomore Lowry was a Season 3 finalist on American Idol. "I really don't want to ever be content with one sound," Lowry has said. "I want it to continue to develop and evolve. With the creativity we're bringing it will continue and be the Dark Water Rising sound. We've coined the term or genre for it called Rocky Soul. That seems to be the basis for it if you want to define a sound for the band."

The Royal Noise

At 6 p.m. Friday.

As time marches on, so does the music of the Royal Noise. While rooted in jazz fusion and instrumental R&B, the band has re-created itself into a lean and sinewy funk machine, harder and heavier than they were the last time you caught them live.

With the just-released second album, Unbreakable, the Noisemakers give up 11 tracks of electrifying electric funk, songs written (and/or co-written by) sax player Mike LaBombard and guitarist Johan Harvey. LaBombard, who also plays keyboards, wrote all the synthesizer arrangements for Unbreakable. Recorded by Shane Baldwin at Savannah's Elevated Basement Studios, it's a percolating thrill ride of a record.

"When we dropped our first album, we were already kind of evolving well past it," says Harvey, the band's founder, an exceptionally versatile guitar player. "The first album has a very jazz fusion sound, and we were already evolving into a much heavier frame of mind."

Unbreakable was cut last fall and winter. "We're already well past that into this kind of swirly sound," Harvey adds. "I like to call it retro-future funk. It's very retro-futuristic, because we've started incorporating synths and keyboards, this swirling space sound, these days. It's just the logical progression of things."

The live experience captures this fulsome quartet in all its daredevil musicianly glory.

"Rather than putting this album out and striving to push in that direction, it's almost more like a footprint of where we used to be, at the time we were recording it," he says. "And that rings true for the philosophy of the band: it's always this ever-being-improvised and moving forward kind of machine. 'Don't ever play it the same way twice,' that's the test. 'How can we take the bones of this song and do it differently?'"

For LaBombard, that footprint — washed away and re-drawn like a beach at high tide — is what puts the swing in the Royal Noise step.

"If I had to pick one favorite part of this band," he explains, "I'd say just the ability to do something on the fly, and the way we approach the tunes: Everyone will latch on to something new and just go with it. We do something one night and then that could become a new part of a song. It's a constant evolution. We'll do one little lick one night, and the next night that lick becomes a part of the tune."

LaBombard, drummer Jonathan Proffitt and bassist Darius Shepherd are Savannah residents, while Harvey lives in Pennsylvania. (Rodrigo Pichardo replaced Shepherd, post-recording, on bass). They travel the Interstate constantly and still consider the Royal Noise a Savannah band.

"I'm based in Philadelphia, but the band concept is shared between all members," says Harvey. "We really have become a regional act, because we'll meet in the middle."

What they have, and the music they create, is worth the inconvenience. "Since the beginning, Jo and I have been able to just know what the other guy's gonna do, with some strange sixth sense, and play off of that," LaBombard says. "That's always been a blast for me."

Larry Mitchell Band

Sunday at 1 p.m.

A former session and tour player, Mitchell is an insanely good guitarist who's more interested in putting across tones and emotions, as opposed to simply shredding — which he can  do, too. He's appeared in Savannah before (at the Live Wire Music Hall, in fact) with a drummer and bassist, for the full Experience (get it?) The winner of 25 New Mexico Music Awards, Larry won a Grammy in 2007 for production work on Native American artist Johnny Whitehorse's album Totemic Flute Chants. He's released six solo albums encompassing everything from world music and Native American Contemporary and/or Traditional to rap, rock and children's music. "I like to play for people and get their reaction to it," he's said. "I like to hear people laugh, smile, cry, whatever. If they enjoy it, then that's great. If they don't enjoy it, I understand that. Music is a personal choice, so I don't expect everyone to like it. I just hope I can reach a lot of different people."

Passafire

Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

After a full decade in the trenches, with one long, hot summer tour after another, Savannah's Passafire has developed into one of the most dependably creative independent reggae/rock bands in America.

It's been two years since the appearance of Start From Scratch, the band's fourth full-length, and as Passafire gets ready to open its seasonal stretch of shows with the Summer Solstice Festival, there's a brand-new set of tunes in the mixing stage.

"We recorded the drums, bass and keyboards at Sonic Ranch in Texas," reports drummer Nick Kubley, "and the vocals, guitars and other stuff at Ted's house here in Savannah."

That would be singer/guitarist Ted Bowne, who co-founded Passafire back in the day with Kubley. The drummer's bassist brother Will came on board three years into the run.

Start From Scratch found Passafire exploring new sonic territory, adding synthesizers, the odd harmonica and even banjo to the vocal-rich blend, in order to get the positive-vibe message across in colorful new ways. "We try to keep it interesting for ourselves, 'cause we're going to be playing it every night," Kubley laughs. "We just try to keep ourselves entertained, I guess. Having all that stuff in the studio to mess around with definitely helps with that. We figure if we have it available to us, we should try to take advantage of it."

The new album will take this approach even further.

A big part of the change in colors, Kubley says, can be traced to Mike DeGuzman, who replaced Adam Willis on keyboards in 2011. "Not to say anything bad about Adam, but Mike is a much, much better player," he reports. "So that opened doors for us that were previously unavailable. There's stuff that we play now that we couldn't have done before Mike joined the band. So musically, it unlocked a lot of stuff for us."

Willis — who remains buds with the band members — simply got sick of the grueling road life. DeGuzman adds jazz and funk elements to the Passafire sound, which has helped elevate the band to godlike status on the jam band circuit.

Nick Kubley says he thrives on the life. "After a longer break, I'll get a little antsy to go back out again," he admits. "But I like being home, too."

And home, for the foreseeable future, means Savannah. "We have a lot of friends and family all over the place," Kubley says, "but we've always called Savannah home, and it's been the band's home base.

"Ted and I still live here. And I don't have any plans on leaving Savannah. I love Savannah. I'd like to stay here as long as I can."

Les Racquet

Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

This eclectic rock ‘n’ roll trio — Patrick Carroll (guitar and lead vocals), Kenny Murphy (bass) and Daniel Malone (drums) — assembled in Brooklyn, but found a second home in Savannah, which they happened to visit en route to SXSW in 2011. Almost immediately, the harmony-rich electric trio became a local favorite (despite not being local). A new album, the Kickstarter-funded White Hail, is available now. (Les Racquet performs at AthFest, in Athens, on June 21, the day before their Solstice appearance.)

 

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