To go with the potato latkes, kosher hot dogs and European fare at the Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival in Savannah on Oct. 27, the Georgia band Velvet Caravan will play their European redneck music for the crowds.
That's right. European redneck music.
The strange genre goes with an even stranger ensemble, made up of musicians from Venezuela, Serbia, Texas, Georgia and Massachusetts, who combine their varied backgrounds to create Velvet Caravan's ineffable sound.
Trying to define it has always been a struggle, violinist Ricardo Ochoa said.
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"People always ask us what kind of music we play, and I say gypsy jazz honky tonk Latin Swing, if that makes any sense," he said with a laugh.
Ochoa, who is from Venezuela, is a classically trained violinist and brings a Latin flair to the band. So does Jesse Monkman on the cajon, which is a Peruvian percussion instrument. Guitarist Sasha Strunjas learned jazz by practicing in bars with gypsies in Europe. Add Eric Dunn on upright bass for a bluegrass vibe and Jared Hall on piano for that ragtime, honky tonk sound.
The band formed two years ago in Savannah, with Ochoa and Strunjas as the founding members. Dunn, Monkman and Hall soon joined and the quintet began playing regular gigs around town.
When Velvet Caravan begins a set, Ochoa said he likes to look into people's faces and see that they like the music, but can't tell what it is.
"Every time I say in the microphone: 'If you are wondering what this style is, it's European Redneck music,' and they go 'Oh OK, I get it now'," Ochoa said. "I think it comes from the high energy, you know? This has that fast drive that bluegrass has, but it has that European flavor. And we play in places where the demographics are very country."
Normally, gypsy jazz doesn't include a piano. But because piano was Hall's primary instrument, the band asked him to give it a try. It added a unique element to their sound, Ochoa said.
"Sometimes he just lets us do the gypsy thing, but when he steps in, it's like you're in another part of the country or another part of the world within the same song."
The ensuing worldly sound is sophisticated yet fun and organic, just the way Velvet Caravan likes it. No song is played the same way twice.
The band had to get a little more serious in order to complete their first album, however. "Acoustic in Nature," which they just finished recording live at the Lucas Theater in Savannah, is coming out in December.
The band also just confirmed a concert with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra's "Under the Stars" show in April.
"That's a big step for us," Ochoa said.
Video: Ricardo Ochoa talks about Velvet Caravan's unique sound
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.