Heading across the river might be the most advantageous plan for a downtown Savannah celebration this Fourth of July.
The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra has planned one of their “best show packages” to date, according to founder, bandleader and tenor saxophonist Jeremy Davis. The Swingin’ Savannah River Fourth of July celebration at The Westin will feature the ensemble's usual exceptional big band showcase, with some special accents in store.
The band will set up stage with River Street to their backs, using one of the best and perhaps most undervalued views of the Savannah skyline as a backdrop for a night of patriotic music and classic big band tunes.
“It’s a special time of year for us,” Davis said. “We love to do patriotic music. We consider ourselves patriots. We’re thankful for where we live. Some people can go all day long about how bad certain things are. But we firmly believe there’s a good side of the story and we’re thankful for where we live and friends we have. July 4 is always special for us. This year, I can honestly tell you is the best package we’ve ever put together.”
It’s not the first time the Fabulous Equinox has played a Fourth of July concert in Savannah, but what sets this year apart is a blending of the setting and the night’s score. The band will kick off the music at 8 p.m. and play through the fireworks with a selection designed specifically to complement the city’s annual display.
As an added bonus, Paul Grassey will be Joining the Fabulous Equinox for this particular concert. The 95-year-old WWII veteran, who flew missions as a bomber pilot with the Mighty Eighth Air Force, will sing a couple of songs with the group to close out the night.
“He came and sang with us at the Mighty Eighth Gala,” Davis said of Grassey. “We just fell in love with this guy and his stories. People love Paul. He’s a man that’s lived through so much and experienced so much life. He’s the main event.”
The concert will also have a charitable aspect. Proceeds from the night will go to the Sua Sponte Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the soldiers and families of the 1st Ranger Battalion stationed at Hunter Army Airfield.
“When something, God forbid, happens to one of those men or wherever and they need something, they’re first responders,” Davis said. “I’ve heard stories of how they’ll move into a home before a soldier gets home and will have outfitted some wheelchair accessible stuff in the home, before the government even get their pants on in the morning, these guys have done it. They do great work and they do local work. I was thankful for them to hang out with us and it’s an opportunity for them to tell their story.”
One of their favorite Fourth of July pieces is the “Salute to Armed Forces,” a medley of hymns from different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“You’ll see 55-, 25-, 95-year-old Marines standing up and saluting, you get chills,” Davis said of the number. “That’s always special.”
The Fabulous Equinox story began with Davis’ move to Savannah from his north Louisiana home in August 2005, on the same day Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Davis and Johnson reunited after college to form the ensemble, with Johnson helming the vocals and Davis running the band and playing saxophone.
As a jazz big band, they hit the classics, of course, like “Come Fly With Me,” but over the years they’ve expanded their repertoire to include music not often associated with big bands. In their set now is everything from original tunes and Texas swing to Ray Charles and Neil Diamond, and most recently they’ve gone meta with a cover of Chris Stapleton’s version of George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey.”
Davis and Johnson have been busy touring their big band around the United States and Canada. Johnson recently moved to New York City, where they’ve played a number of concerts. They don’t play Savannah often these days, but they carry the city with them wherever they go.
“We’re ambassadors for the city,” Davis said. “We carry the visitor guides the chamber puts out with us. We pass them off as gifts from Savannah. Thousands of them, we put them on every seat in every theaer we went to. We really were able to tell an amazing story of Savannah.
“We don’t get to do much in Savannah because it’s not our focus, so when we do, we try to do something special. We’re still growing our audience here and still trying to do something original and cool.”