Posted: January 24, 2013
By Jason Kendall
Once upon a time, they were the Cartoon Orchestra — six folks who met through open mics and Craigslist to form a good ’ol Southern string band. Then they were The Southern League — “paying homage to Grayson Stadium and the beginnings of professional baseball,” explains bassist Anthony Teixeira. Under that label, they played the Savannah circuit and gained a steady following.
But the name still didn’t fit.
“We realized that patrons and venues would see the name and think we were a Southern rock cover band,” Teixeira says. “Couple that with the fact that once upon a time an organization called the Southern League, later renamed the League of the South, was affiliated with the Klan, and change was inevitable.”
And so Savannah’s City Hotel was born: Teixeira (bass), Cory Chambers (mandolin), Colleen Heine (fiddle), Jay Rudd (banjo) and Aaron Zimmer (guitar and harmonica). The five-piece folk outfit with the exuberance of the Soggy Bottom Boys but a pluckier, Appalachian sound will be playing back-to-back shows this weekend in support of their new record, “Savannah Grass,” which will debut Jan. 26 at a Blowin’ Smoke release event.
“Our friends Georgia Slim and I Want Whiskey from Atlanta are coming to help us celebrate on Saturday night at Blowin’ Smoke,” Chambers says. “Slim is a modern day Woody Guthrie-type.”
The next night, Jan. 27, City Hotel will join innovative cellist Chris Bell at The Sentient Bean.
“Savannah Grass,” which features City Hotel originals plus a cover of “My Name is John Johanna,” was recorded at local Elevated Basement studios.
“We were looking for that live, unpolished, string band sound,” Chambers says. “We recorded the EP in about 16 hours or so. Most of the tunes on there are one track-one take.”
“We are certainly looking forward to this spring,” Zimmer adds. “We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. Things seem to be moving along gently but persistently for us, and that’s exciting. ... Everyone has been so appreciative and supportive of our sound.”
Luxury, reasonable rates
City Hotel is Savannah's newest acoustic string band (from Connect Savannah)
By Bill DeYoung
With equal measures of bluegrass, talking blues, country and folk, City Hotel's music straddles and blurs the lines of Americana, acoustica and old-time wit and whimsy.
Not even two years old, this eclectic four-piece band has an imminent self-titled EP, cut here in town at Elevated Basement, containing five songs that would make any long-term string band proud.
There are two celebratory shows this weekend - the band will be at Blowin' Smoke Saturday, Jan. 26, and play the next night at the Sentient Bean alongside the touring cello wunderkind Christopher Bell.
Like any string band worth its tuning pegs, they'll play and sing gathered ‘round a single microphone.
Mandolin player Corey Chambers and standup bassist Anthony Teixeira came together when they both answered a Craigslist ad from singer/songwriter Brandon Nelson McCoy. They formed the nucleus of McCoy's Sad Bastard String Band.
McCoy decamped for Athens, which is when Chambers ran into guitarist Aaron Zimmer. "Anthony and I were looking to keep playing music," Chambers recalls. "I met Aaron at an Open Mic at Tantra. He's just an amazing singer and songwriter and harmonica player. So we just started jamming with Anthony."
Next up was banjo player Jay Rudd. "Jay was a buddy I knew from around Atlanta," says Chambers. "He'd just got a job down in Brunswick, so as soon as he moved I called him up and started asking him to jam with us. At that point, we'd already had some shows at Blowin' Smoke and Lulu's Chocolate Bar. He jumped right in, and we were a four-piece string band, before we knew it really."
Chambers had relocated from the Atlanta area when his wife, an art teacher, got a job at Godley Station School in Pooler.
There are, he says, a lot of fine musicians up in the big city - he'd studied flatpicking guitar from one of Atlanta's best, and taught himself mandolin - so the prospect of moving to Savannah was ... a leap into the unknown.
"I was freaking out," he reports. "I was kind of depressed at first, and didn't know what to expect. I thought I pretty much was done playing in bands.
"And I couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, there's been more opportunities down here to actually play in venues and get paid. It's been a really pleasant surprise. And meeting these other guys has been a real blessing."
Funny story: The band was originally known as the Southern League.
"We found that over time the name was affiliated with some white supremacist groups," laughs Zimmer. "One of us did a YouTube search, to see if any of our videos were getting hits. But it also pulled up some white supremacist rants and stuff like that.
"And people were showing up at the shows expecting us to be a Southern Rock band, and being really disappointed that that was not the case. So the name switch was the healthiest option."
Built in 1821, the City Hotel was the first such structure in Savannah. It was also home to Savannah's first post office.
Moon River Brewing Co. occupies the space today.
City Hotel - the band - has already gigged in Atlanta, and the guys are hoping to get to Charleston and points further once the EP gets around.
Accomplices fiddler Colleen Heine has been joining them onstage as of late, and word is she'll play the Blowin' Smoke and Bean shows, too.
It's all about chemistry and vitality and contagious love for the music. Check ‘em out.
"The instrumentation is definitely typical string band, as far as the material we cover," says Teixeira. "A lot of Americana, we're a string band.
"But there's even some hip hop that gets thrown in, and other random things that get pulled out."
Thursday Night Opry at Trinity – a review
On a colder than usual evening last week, musical camaraderie and soulful performances warmed the crowd that found their way down to Telfair Square, and through the tall doors of Trinity United Methodist Church. A concert series spearheaded by music director of Trinity and Velvet Caravan keyboardist, Jared Hall, broke new ground by inviting the public into the sanctuary to hear acoustic performances by three of Savannah’s finest bands. Based loosely on the old school style of a single microphone centered amongst the entertainers on stage, the Thursday Night Opry was something that Savannah has been missing.
First up were The Train Wrecks, who offered a tamer version of their usual bar-stomp & howl, which has earned them the honorary title of ‘Savannah’s hardest gigging band’. Drummer Jeremy Hammons played snare standing up in the Stray Cats style, with Stu Harmening showcasing his skills on the dobro, sans pedal & effects. As usual, Eric Dunn gave his double-bass that proper thumping that you don’t hear with an electric, and Jason Bible stretched his legs and range with more focus on nuance than volume. As a wonderful surprise, well known violinist/fiddler Ricardo Ochoa of Velvet Caravan lent his expertise, rounding out the Train Wrecks’ sound for the night.
Next in line were The Accomplices, whose natural ability and experience with performing in all types of arrangements was obvious from the get-go. With a new album almost completed, they salted their set with tunes that the audience knew and loved, but also peppered in new material that fit the feeling of the night perfectly. Their unique blend of lowcountry string music, a touch of jazz & blues, and an edge of rock n’ roll attitude produced the ideal tempo (driven by Stan Ray’s imaginative percussion via brushes and an old cardboard box) to get everyone ready for the last set of the evening. Colleen Heine, Zach Smith, and Matt Eckstine gave it their all, and delivered.
Meanwhile, in the green room (see church fellowship hall) City Hotel was banging out the bluegrass in anticipation of their turn. Hopping onstage they quickly wowed the audience with hot banjo licks and the more traditional sound that they’re known for. This was music meant for an attentive & appreciative ‘listening room’ crowd, and they brought it in spades. Anthony Teixeira’s upright bass provided the slap, Cory Chambers’ mandolin brought the high pickin’ notes, Baby Jay Rudd’s banjo followed calls from Aaron Zimmer’s rhythm, and a harmonica wailed across the room. At one point they acknowledged that they might be pushing the time limit of their set, but decided that the crowd would be treated to a few more. Nobody complained.
At last, all musicians (Jared Hall included) came back up and treated everyone to a ‘super-jam’ performance which brought the evening’s sound and emotion to a crescendo. Listening to the voices and instruments harmonizing, one might have thought they were watching a single band, but it was simply good friends & great musicians doing what they do best…picking and grinning together.
For more information concerning the concert series, and upcoming performances please visit the Trinity United Methodist Church website.
Written & Photographed by Jon Waits / Photo Use courtesy of Trinity UMC