Velvet Caravan is a musical ensemble of artists from around the world based in The Deep South of Savannah, Georgia. Their genre is often described as “European redneck” music: an infusion of Southern, Gypsy, Latin and Honky-tonk styles all morphed into one band. Jared Hall (piano and accordion), Ricardo Ochoa (violin), Eric Dunn (bass), Jesse Monkman (cajon and percussion) and Jimmy Grant (guitarist) will be touring together this year and showcasing the unique style of Velvet Caravan.
“If one were to name one Savannah-based musical act that most exemplifies this time-honored, eclectic and adventurous city, they’d be hard to find a more appropriate ambassador than Velvet Caravan. This unorthodox, high-energy, acoustic-based quintet of guitar, violin, standup bass, percussion and keyboards (including accordion) has, over the past few years, emerged as one of the shining lights of Savannah’s burgeoning music scene. In that time, the band has grown from a somewhat informal instrumental combo which routinely drew enthusiastic and loyal followers at raucous restaurant and bar gigs to a respected and admired touring act that’s as comfortable in an attentive listening room or large concert hall as they are in a crowded nightclub. Velvet Caravan’s unique ability to subtly shift musical gears without sacrificing their integrity as composers and performers is rare indeed.”
Recently I met one of Velvet Caravan’s band mates during my brief stay on Tybee Island, Georgia; a small beach town about 20 miles outside Savannah. Living waterfront at a beach house for two months, my downstairs female neighbor at the time was dating a key musician of the band. We all met around the time of Hurricane Matthew. It was a turbulent and exciting period in the weather and somewhat of a bonding experience for me: everyone talking about whether or not they would evacuate under state mandate or ride out the storm. Years ago I lived within Savannah while I was a writing student at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Another turbulent time in my life, but not nearly as foreboding as the potential fury of the wide open sea and what may come if it decided to strike a direct blow to the coastline… As I rekindled my time in Georgia and relived my bittersweet nostalgia, as I faced one of my greatest fears of being caught in a hurricane or a curfew zone from dawn to dusk. I also met new faces and artists, such as the musician from Velvet Caravan and his girlfriend whom loves to surf the waves.
One night as the three of us all got to talking, I realized that Velvet Caravan had performed during the 2016 SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The same year that I was on the Press list for the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. A festival in my hometown. Immediately I became more curious about the band Velvet Caravan. The Texan in me wanted to know more about their time in ATX: the alleged “Live Music Capital of the World”.
After we all returned back from Hurricane Matthew, in October I came to hear that Velvet Caravan was booked to perform at a rock-n-roll venue I’ve frequented for years, The Jinx. The show was for a Halloween event called “Jinx-o-ween”. [The Jinx is one of the best live music venues in Savannah, if not the best in the city. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the vast majority of the locals in Savannah. The Jinx is a venue where I learned of bands like Baroness and Lucero. The Jinx is where I once sang “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash and “Alone Again Naturally” by Gilbert O Sullivan on karaoke night in front of the red curtains on stage. The Jinx is my favorite place to play rock-n-roll bingo.]
Velvet Caravan also closed for an after official party in October 2016 for the Savannah Film Festival. They’ve even obtained several awards and won titles like “Best of Savannah” in the Local Jazz Band/Artist category. Ultimately, if you live in Savannah, chances are you’ve heard of Velvet Caravan and they are surely making their name known tour-by-tour.
After I left Savannah and continued my journey to Saint Augustine, Florida: I followed up with Velvet Caravan for an interview. Thankfully after losing touch in Las Vegas, I had the chance to briefly interview the violinist of Velvet Caravan, Ricardo Ochoa, via email. The short interview continues as follows:
Nicolette Mallow: I really like the music played by Velvet Caravan, off the top of my head it reminds me a tiny bit of the movie Chocolat, specifically the song “Caravan”.
Ricardo Ochoa: Thank you. Yes, it is kind of like that movie but with a mad twist combined with honky-tonk, gypsy and Latin. It’s European redneck music at its best. Each of us have different flavor individually from around the world: Southern, gypsy, Latin Honky-tonk. I often try to explain the style at shows and after all the rhetoric I simply say: “Just listen to it. It’s European redneck music, you will get it” And suddenly the audience seems to know what it is upon hearing the music.
NM: How did Velvet Caravan come to be involved with SXSW? Does the group intend to return to Austin, Texas any time soon?
RO: We love Austin. Jared Hall (our pianist) used to live there. He played keys with Colin Gilmore and other bands such as the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash. Jared signed us up to three festivals without telling us and we didn’t get invited. Then he did it again two years ago (in 2015) and were invited to played at the Elephant Room, which we did. Later he signed us up again in 2016 and we were invited back. This time we were at the Victorian room. During this time Larry Kosson for Kosson Talent came to seek us out and signed us to his roster. Since then we have been increasing our schedule like crazy. We are playing concert venues, Jazz clubs and festivals more and more. Not bad for a group that started playing casually, and mostly drunk, at a little restaurant in Savannah, GA.
NM: With such an unusual ensemble of Gypsy, Honky Tonk, Swing and Latin–does Velvet Caravan aspire to integrate more musical styles into the mix this year, or no?
RO: We can help to include different styles to our original tunes. We play acoustic instruments primarily, but don’t forget that we have a Hammond organ in our arsenal. Jared is a Hammond artist and his chops are monstrous. There is a hint of gypsy-lounge with a touch of madness on some of our new tunes. We like aggressive tempos and changes, so the songs are never at ease.
NM: I read that your musicians are from all over the world: Slovenia, Texas and Venezuela. Where did the band mates meet and decide to come together to create Velvet Caravan?
RO: GypsyMingle.com.We all met very organically at a restaurant in Savannah. It started with violin and guitar as a Thursday and Friday gig. Then Eric showed up with a new bass, later Jared brought an accordion, so it was all 4 of us. After a couple of weeks Jesse showed up with a Cajon and it was the 5 of us. Next thing you know we are playing too loud and found ourselves fired from the place.
For more information regarding the band, tour dates and other miscellany, please visit their website at www.velvetcaravan.com.
Note: This story is also published on Rank & Revue.