Mondays can be slow in the bar business, but busy or not, Mondays at Southside Spanky's are always humming. And singing.
For at least the past 8 years, the bar and restaurant next to Oglethorpe Mall has been serenaded weekly by a dozen or so men, mostly in their 70's or older, all members of a barbershop singing group-- the Thirteenth Colony Sound Chorus & Quartets.
Each week the "barber shoppers" fill a large table, sipping Killian's draft and enjoying a late dinner after their weekly rehearsals.
Over their meals, they visit. They tell corny G-rated jokes. And every few minutes a pitch pipe sounds a solo note and they break into an old timey song, a cappella, in traditional American four-part harmony.
"I didn't know about barbershop quartet before," said Po Lin, longtime Monday night bartender at Spanky's. "I think it's pretty cool, myself."
With strains of "The Old Mill Stream" in the background, Lin noted that his favorite barbershop tune is "Goodbye, Tybee Island," a localized version of "Goodbye My Coney Island Baby."
A minute later, a deep bass "bom--bom bom--bomm" launched the table of thirteen singers into "Under the Boardwalk." Instantly, other voices joined in-Lin as he poured a drink, a foursome seated by the window, a teacher named Randall grading papers at the bar, and me. Elijah, the bar back, whistled along on Verse Two while restocking glasses. I thought I'd stepped into an MGM musical.
"Through the years the members have changed," said Lin, as "Lida Rose" from "The Music Man" wafted across the dining room. "Once in a while they have female groupies. Some come with them, sometimes they call in to see if [the singers] are here.
"They've only missed five or six [Monday nights] in the last seven or eight years. That's due to natural disasters or something."
Last Monday night proves this point. Despite the tornado warnings, heavy rains and flooded streets early that evening, by 9:00 p.m., the barbershoppers were gathered in their usual spot, seeking libation and sustenance after a lengthy rehearsal for this weekend's performance, "Barber of Seville, Georgia."
Set in a fictional South Georgia village, the "musical spoof" uses classic songs to dramatize the conflict between neighboring "dry" and "wet" counties, whose county line runs through the middle of the barbershop in the town of Seville.
"Not that the story is very important," said Milt Johnson, reached by phone last week, described as the baritone mentor of the barbershop group. "We're having some fun with it."
The point of this weekend's performances is to showcase half a dozen a cappella groups in Savannah: the Thirteenth Colony Quartets; the Moon River Chorus-the women's chorus division of the Thirteenth Colony Sound; the Sacred Harp Singers, a shape note singing group; and three choral groups from the Savannah Arts Academy.
Barber of Seville, Georgia is the group's 2008 Fall Show, postponed from last year due to renovations of the performance venue, AASU's Fine Arts Center. The delay hasn't slowed the group, whose upcoming schedule includes singing the Star Spangled Banner at two Sand Gnats games this season, appearances by several of the group's quartets at events around the region, delivering singing telegrams, and planning their 2009 Fall Show, "And the Angels Sing."
Back at Spanky's, chorus president Robert Kearns sounded the pitch pipe and called the next song-"Zip Zip!" With accompanying synchronized arm movements, the men eased into Jiminy Cricket's signature "Zippity Doo Dah" tune.
Kearns said the delay of Barber of Seville isn't a problem for the group. "We've known these songs so long we've forgotten them again."
Indeed, only two at the table referred to song sheets. One is a longtime member with rehearsal schedule conflicts, and the other is the newest group member, bass singer Nathan Daniel. At age 23, he's the youngest singer by 40 to 50 years.
"Nathan's got most of his music memorized," said Kearns, with a paternal pat on Daniel's shoulder. "I'm very proud of him. I'm thinking of adopting him if I can afford it."
"Last spring I heard them at Spanky's. I was having dinner with a buddy," said Daniel, a SCAD animation graduate. "They came in and started singing. One guy gave me his card, and the rest is history."
Barber of Seville, Georgia is this Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m.
AASU Fine Arts Auditorium. Tickets: (912) 351-7388 or www.savannahbarbershoppers.org or at the door.
I have talked with someone who dreams of this building as a place for unwed…
They have sold the soul of this little city years ago to hotels and developers…
Thanks for the thorough report!
Good reporting. I got there too late to get in. I filled out the info…
How convenient that these are scheduled when people are at work, in an "At Will"…