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Victor Wainwright back at home for first appearance at Savannah Jazz Fest

 

Victor Wainwright back at home for first appearance at Savannah Jazz Fest

19 Sep 2017

For Victor Wainwright, life and music began in Savannah.

The native son was born into a family of Savannah musicians, and although his life took a turn away from music for a while, he couldn’t escape the family business.

Wainwright and his band The Wild Roots will headline the free Savannah Jazz Festival concert Sept. 21 in Forsyth Park. They have earned international recognition in recent years with a raucous honky-tonk, rock ’n’ roll sound. He was named the Blues Music Awards Piano Player of the Year for 2017, and won the BMA’s Band of the Year and BB King Entertainer of the Year award, to add to his list of over a half a dozen awards since 2013. Several of his songs have dented the U.S. Billboard blues charts.

However, his life in music almost didn’t happen.

Wainwright’s father, the senior Victor, his grandfather Jesse and uncle Billy were longtime Savannah rock ’n’ rollers busking in local bars, which helped shape the young Wainwright. His maternal grandmother, Anna May Anderson, taught him the basics of piano, while his paternal grandfather gave him rock, teaching him Jerry Lee Lewis.

“When I was growing up, being around all that music influenced me, but I would go down to River Street. Back then, there was a club called Savannah Blues,” Wainwright said. “It was run by Eric Culberson. I would go there and sit in with friends and learned a lot about blues by watching them. That’s what piqued my interest.”

See the full Savannah Jazz Fest schedule.

After graduating from Benedictine Military School in Savannah, Wainwright’s parents wanted him to get a college education. He followed their wishes, but with a little bit of a twist.

“I was being stubborn, I guess hard-headed,” Wainwright recalled. “I decided if they were going to send me to college, I was going to be an air-traffic controller. They called my bluff and sent me down to Daytona Beach, Fla., where I stayed for five years, learning how to be an air-traffic controller.”

Wainwright was called up by the Federal Aviation Administration for a position in Memphis, Tenn., which he took. He’s lived there ever since. Back in Florida, though, he never fully left music behind. While in school, he wrote and recorded a solo project, which opened with the track “Piana from Savannah,” a title that would became his nickname.

Once in Memphis, however, the draw to be a musician was too much, and Wainwright ventured back to his roots.

“I wasn’t chasing the music,” Wainwright said. “I was doing what my parents wanted me to do at the time: get that college degree and make a living doing something easier than making music.

“I didn’t have a choice. Destiny led me to Memphis, and the music had different plans for me. I lasted about two years doing air-traffic control, then I went full-time into music.”

Wainwright and his band are forging on. Most recently, The Wild Roots have evolved as a group and will make their recording debut as The Train next year, a name they use for live shows now. Victor Wainwright and The Train will release a new album early next year that will feature a bit of a different sound.

“It’s the same group of guys,” Wainwright said. “Every band, through time and evolution, certain members change here and there. For the most part, I’ve kept the same band. We have had a new guitar player who’s been with us for a few years. Really smoking young kid named Pat Harrington.

“When he joined the band, we started working on a new album to sort of fit the new lineup and new sound. We decided with the new album to take on a new name to give this new sound its own identity.”

His Savannah Jazz Festival debut will feature several new tracks from the forthcoming album, as well as some of his band’s regular crowd-pleasers. Wainwright also threatened to tell embarrassing stories about his family for this rare hometown show.

Wainwright is set to headline the Thursday night Forsyth Park show of this year’s festival, a night which is traditionally all blues. In a bit of a reunion, Eric Culberson is set to play the same stage earlier in the evening.

IF YOU GO

What: Savannah Jazz Fest: Victor Wainwright & The Train

When: 9:30 p.m. Sept. 21

Where: Forsyth Park

Cost: Free

Info: savannahjazzfest.com

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