LAST year, Kristin King wanted to explore the musical road less traveled. The concert harpist and co-owner of New Arts Ensembles Music Agency plucked several big names from her Savannah music rolodex: guitarist Bill Smith, mandolinist Cory Chambers of "Savannahgrass" band City Hotel, in-demand vocalist JJ Collins, crooner/guitarist Trae Gurley, and upright bassist Linus Enoksson. Top performers in their varied genres, the troupe came together to perform unexpected interpretations of a cornucopia of tunes.
King booked the fledgling band two shows: one in Bluffton, one in Savannah. Originally, she expected the concerts to be one-offs, just a chance for some of Savannah’s most seasoned players to get out of their usual gig circuit and cut loose.
To the band’s surprise, audiences couldn’t get enough.
“The first show we did in Bluffton, we asked the producer, ‘Are you happy?’” King remembers. “They said, ‘Are you kidding? This is a band no one’s heard of, because you created it last month, and no one’s heard or seen you, and you basically sold out the show.’ I think people are just intrigued because it’s a unique combination of instrumentation.”
Rather than stick to a traditional holiday program of classic carols and tinsel-clad tunes, Uncommon Collective has dreamed up a selection of songs inspired by the theme “On the Journey” for their Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah return. Every song, chosen from a variety of genres and eras, is inspired by homecoming or travel. As you prepare your home for holiday guests or pack your bags to hit the road and enjoy some festive out-of-town time, Uncommon Collective’s musical musings will put you right in the mood.
“I feel like it’s going to be really fun,” says King excitedly. “We’re going to put in a couple holiday pieces, too.”
The diverse musical choices span genres from indie to rock, including the classic “Me and Bobby McGee,” Iron & Wine’s heart-wrenching story-song “The Trapeze Swinger,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Stairway to Heaven,” David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s dreamy rendition of “Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy,” Southern favorite “Ramblin’ Man,” and many more.
The song selection process was a collaborative affair, and King wanted vocalists Collins and Gurley to shine in the set.
“When you’re singing, you want the audience to be able to tell that you’re excited and love the music,” she says. “These are all songs that they have fallen in love with or came up with in brainstorming sessions. It’s been so smooth and organic in rehearsal, and there’s really no clear person driving the bus. Everyone’s singing their thoughts, but not in an overwhelming way—it’s everyone’s different nuances.”
Since the last Uncommon Collective gig, bassist Enoksson moved from Savannah. Lowcountry newcomer Marc Chesanow takes his place on the upright bass. Since his arrival, the former Southeastern Community College professor and Eastman School of Music alum has helped arrange music for the Savannah Philharmonic, performed with Damon & The Shitkickers, and has melded right into the Savannah scene.
“He’s super-cool and super-professional,” King praises. “He can just jump in and be amazing! He does a lot of jazz, but he’s an amazing arranger, too, so a lot of the music we’re playing he’s arranged.”
With jazz professionals, roots musicians, and many an impressive resume and college degree among them, Uncommon Collective has forged a sound that is their own blend of optimistic, fine-tuned, warm, and charismatic tone.
“It’s palatable and acceptable to anyone,” King describes. “People love hearing something familiar they can connect with, but hearing it in a different way. There really is nothing wrong with a lot of people having a good time and leaving a crowd with smiles on their faces from a really fun performance.”
Plus, the band’s enthusiasm is tangible. It’s important for musicians to break out of their norm, and King says Uncommon Collective’s bucking of tradition is a refreshing change for the band of professionals.
“As a classically trained musician, you think we have to be very serious and proper, but this is different and totally outside the box from what most classical musicians do,” she shares. “That’s been a really fun part for me, and I think that’s part of its success. It’s a fun outlet for us.”
As an Uncommon band with an Uncommon schedule, this could be the last time Savannah sees the super-group; only time will tell.
“I don’t plan on us doing it again, but I didn’t plan on us doing it again the last time!” King laughs. “You never know. This might be the last little thing, and that’s fine.”