For a handful of days in June, the historic Lucas Theatre has adopted a new set of rules.
Attendees just show up (no advance tickets), sidle past the marquee entrance and slip through the back door instead. Upon the hush-hush entry, they find a seat on the stage and have their own bottle of wine, brought from home, or order beverages and hors d'oeuvres at the bar. But most importantly, all are advised to leave the stilettos and stiff oxfords at home, because the rollicking Velvet Caravan won't have them seated for long.
Week two of the Lucas Theatre Speakeasy Cabaret highlights some of Savannah's most noteworthy and talented musicians: violinist Ricardo Ochoa, guitarist Sasha Strunjas, keyboardist and accordionist Jared Hall, percussionist Jesse Monkman and bassist Eric Dunn. Hailing from all corners of the globe (Venezuela, Slovenia, Texas, Boston and Tifton, respectively), and boasting impressively eclectic resumes - a little symphony orchestra here, a gypsy bar band there - they unite under the moniker Velvet Caravan for a delightful vintage gypsy jazz performance laced with traces of Latin, honky-tonk and swing. The music is tight but playful, admirably executed but never inaccessible, and has garnered a devoted local following.
At The Lucas's intimate show (no more than 100 people will be admitted), don't expect to find a quiet background band, tucked away in the corner playing stuffy old tunes.
"The problem with that music is it's been done so many times," Ochoa said. "We want to sound different and choose the right standards. We don't play anything slow. We keep it super-high energy."
Ochoa and company are extremely selective, carefully adapting familiar tunes to represent their diverse influences - Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt and Edith Piaf covers are all fair game.
Summer is gearing up to be a busy time as Velvet Caravan records its first album, an LP of original songs and re-envisioned standards. There will be a few numbers written for the band by friends and Lowcountry composers - Savannah Philharmonic oboist Andrew Ripley (perhaps he's lovingly cracked an egg into your handcrafted whiskey sour at The Sparetime?), vocalist Julie Wilde and jazz guitarist Jackson Evans among them. Ochoa expects the album to be available by the end of summer.
And while many a Velvet Caravan show features a guest performer or two, the stage is about to grow significantly as plans to collaborate with a full symphony orchestra are in the works. Monkman, who will soon be moving to Boca Raton, Fla., to complete his master's degree in music composition, will write the arrangements.
What's it like having so many people contributing and collaborating?
"It makes me feel like a caravan," Ochoa said with a laugh.
IF YOU GO
What: Speakeasy Cabaret - Velvet Caravan
When: Doors open at 7:30 p.m., music at 8 p.m. June 20
Where: The Lucas Theatre
Cost: $20 general admission, $10 students, BYOB (bring your own bootleg - wine only, no liquor please.) $10 corkage fee.