Despite what you might ostensibly draw from their name, Empire Strikes Brass is not a celebration of "Star Wars" music. It is, in fact, a funky amalgam of a broad range of music, brought to life by a host of talented Asheville, N.C., musicians.
Empire Strikes Brass had a rather unorthodox, accidental founding that has over the years evolved into a serious brass band that keeps it lighthearted.
"The name is really funny and points to our quirky, fun-loving, dorky tendencies," keyboardist Lenny Pettinelli said. "We don't really do 'Star Wars' music. Sometimes, we wear our Jedi robes on stage."
Formed by saxophonist Pauly Juhl as a New Orleans-style second line parade for a wedding, the brass-centered juggernaut of a band decided to keep it going after the event. They played more weddings and private parties, which eventually led to festivals, sitting in with Warren Haynes, and now clubs and everything in between.
The seven- to nine-person (depending on availability of musicians) brass band will play Southbound Brewing Co. on Nov. 18. BowTie Barbecue Co. will be serving up saucy treats, and Southbound's pints and cans will be available for purchase. (This writer recommends Southbound's Scattered Sun.)
Over the past five years, as members have been added to the group, bringing with them different influences, Empire Strikes Brass has evolved dramatically from a straightforward brass sound into the funk/jazz/ska/southern rock/boogaloo/groove-tastic current iteration. Facing somewhat of an identity crisis, with the slew of sounds they combine, the band is in the midst of a growth period. They released their debut album, "Theme for a Celebration," in February this year after a highly successful Kickstarter fund raised over $15,000.
"I feel that the band really is a cross-section - especially that first album - everybody has different influences," Pettinelli said. "The term identity crisis has come into the picture. When you talk to our fans (who come out and dance their butts off to our show), that's one of the main things they love, is how diverse and how capable of giving 100 percent of everything we have into each song that we do.
"You'll hear everything from southern rock to like super funky stuff. It has been hard to determine what our sound is because we all have so much varying influences. There's a lot of different writers in the band."
Pettinelli promises "an amazing time" at the live show.
"If you pull up our record, we're kind of an experience where like, you should listen to that whole record to get a glimpse at the bigger picture. Now the challenge is, where is our sound heading? It's actually really fun to ask yourself that question and see where the process takes us."
Part of what has made the band successful is rooted in its hometown. According to Pettinelli, Asheville's music scene has been a conduit for working musicians and the bands that are forming there.
"Asheville's scene, for a real hardworking, creative musician who's willing to diversify, is one of the few places in this country who actually encourages art and where it's not too saturated," Pettinelli said. "Although it's heading there. But Asheville is sort of in the middle of that boom, even though the infrastructure can't support it.
"The community itself is the most supportive community I've ever been involved in. You have several hundred steadily working musicians and we all sort of know each other or at least know each other's camps. All the competition is very healthy. Moreover, it's such a beautiful city; I think it draws that artistic nature.
"We've very lucky to live in a community to supports arts as strongly as Asheville. Our fans are very, very supportive people [along with] all the venues. I feel like if the music is good, Asheville is going to recognize it and give you that leg up. It's been a huge part of our evolution."
Although connected to the city, Empire Strikes Brass will make their Savannah proper debut this weekend. They played Tybee Island Social Club in the past, after friends in the now-defunct Brooklyn band Les Racquet hooked them up with a show. Former Les Racquet drummer Daniel Malone - who currently drums for Savannah's Lulu The Giant - and Pettinelli are old friends. Pettinelli recently sat in with Lulu frontwoman Rachael Shaner for a gig in High Point, N.C.
"I love Savannah. If I wasn't in Asheville, I'd be in Savannah," Pettinelli said. "I even talked to my wife about being in Savannah. We're really excited. Want to thank Savannah for having us and we're looking forward to getting funky for y'all."
IF YOU GO
What: Empire Strikes Brass
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 18
Where: Southbound Brewing Co., 107 E. Lathrop Ave.
Cost: $12 in advance, $15 day of show