Velvet Caravan

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Velvet Caravan is a musical ensemble of artists worldwide 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.”

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Imagery provided by Velvet Caravan.

Recently I met one of Velvet Caravan’s bandmates 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 was 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 vast 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 a Velvet Caravan musician and his girlfriend, who 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 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

Mark Thomas Studio transforms and beautifies with their royal treatment and southern hospitality

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Photography of beauty parlor provided by Mark Thomas Studio.

Mark Thomas Studio will transform and beautify your hair, scalp and skin with their royal treatment. All guests will leave feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and more polished than ever before with the salon’s all-encompassing and luxurious products. Mark Thomas Studio provides exquisite services inside a fun, playful and relaxing atmosphere located in the heart of downtown Austin off West 38th Street.

This high-end salon is the only location in Texas that offers Philip Kingsley products and FACE Stockholm makeup together in one boutique. Mark Thomas Studio bestows exceptional service reminiscent of a lavish boutique infused with Southern hospitality, permeating luxury and gentility into one location. You will not find another boutique like it within all of Texas or the Midwest.

“For those unaware of Philip Kingsley, he coined the phrase ‘bad hair day’ and is the world’s most respected authority on hair and scalp health. With over 55 years of Trichological experience, Philip Kingsley’s past and present clientele include politicians, royalty and celebrities. Called the ‘Hair Doctor’ by The Sunday Times and the ‘Hair Guru’ by The New York Times, Philip has written many publications on both sides of the Atlantic. Philip has recognized the need to bridge the gap between science and hairdressing as well as providing solutions for the most extreme hair and scalp problems, and those who just want the best from their hair.”

Whether you are in need of a new cut and color – or whether you seek a bikini wax and a deep pore facial – or whether you simply want to have a makeover. Mark Thomas Studio will cater to your every need without the stress. This intimate salon is perfect for men and women of all ages. And they offer the best products and services– striving for every client to leave satisfied.

For more information please visit their website at www.markthomasstudios.com or call Mark Thomas Studio at 512-459-6900. 

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Photography of beauty parlor provided by Mark Thomas Studio.

The Driskill Hotel hosts holiday traditions in Texas for more than a century

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December flowers at The Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

On the first of December at six in the evening, The Driskill Hotel initiated its annual holiday celebrations beginning with the lighting of the tree and a double quartet of singers from Austin Opera. A decorated tree is positioned in the center of the marble floors and columns within the main lobby closest to the grand stairwell. This holiday tree is illuminated and glowing the entire month of December. The tree is so substantial in size that the gold star on top nearly touches the stained glass dome of the ceiling.

Throughout December, for nearly 130 years since it was built in 1886, The Driskill Hotel hosts annual time-honored traditions to celebrate the holiday season. Notably, The Driskill is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, Texas and the architecture is Romanesque in design. When you enter the hotel it’s like going back in time, or finding a magical hiding place in town, because there is something otherworldly about the building’s energy. Yet you know you’re in Texas by all the lone stars, leather, cowhides and southern hospitality. Even horse carriages still wait outside to take guests and locals for a stroll through downtown. An artistic infusion of different periods; there is no other structure in Austin quite like it. Blocks away from the Texas State Capitol, The Driskill is a Historic Landmark, and its European design carries a prominent, unique presence amongst modern-day architecture in the downtown vicinity. This refined hotel is aesthetically beautiful and elegant, inside and out. However, every December, as the holiday season arrives: The Driskill shines brighter than ever with its festive, colorful decorum and sparkling tealights. Even before entering the hotel, dozens of homemade gingerbread men can be seen dangling happily in the windows of 1886 Cafe & Bakery. The gingerbread men are reasonably large, decorated with smiles of white icing, red candied buttons, green checkered stockings, and eyes made of chocolate.

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In addition to the lovely holiday decorum on display the month of December, The Driskill will also feature holiday events on selected days and nights: seasonal music from a live string quartet, Afternoon Tea, an Afternoon with Santa, and Christmas Day in The Driskill Grill. Prices per event do vary. The Driskill Bar upstairs, which was recently named the best cocktail bar by The Austin Chronicle, hosts live music as well. Guests can escape the cold and warm up with snacks and a libation, or an apple cider, within the lounge area while enjoying the lyrics and melodies of various singers and songwriters. Don’t forget to try the mejdool dates wrapped in bacon!

Furthermore, on December 13th at 2:00 PM, Cookies for Caring is another holiday-related charity event at The Driskill. “In collaboration with the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring, The Driskill is hosting a holiday cookie swap. Guests can create their own holiday cookie collection and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring charity drive.” Cookie tins cost $25 per person and will be waiting for guests upon arrival to the event.

Seasonally decorated gourmet cookies can also be purchased at 1886 Cafe & Bakery, a premier restaurant within the hotel named after the year The Driskill came to life. “The Driskill Hotel opened on December 20, 1886, to great fanfare and applause from Austin’s 20,000 residents. Since that time, the ‘grande dame’ of Texas hotels has remained a magnificent gathering place for locals, Texans and others to celebrate the holidays and other special moments of their lives in Colonel Jesse Driskill’s splendid Romanesque masterpiece. We invite you to recapture a nostalgic memory from a holiday season long past and to create new memories for your family and friends during our holiday celebrations.”

The Driskill Hotel holds 189 guest rooms and suites. Guests may also admire The Maximilian Room, the Governor’s Boardroom, the Mezzanine and the Victorian Room. For more information about holiday events, hotel reservations, catering, or The Driskill Bar and Grill: please visit their website at www.driskillhotel.com or call 512-439-1234.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in December 2015.