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Spotlighted gigs and recommended shows
The Hellblinki Sextet's Andrew Benjamin
The Hellblinki Sextet

The creepy, Tim Burton-esque brainchild of former Savannah resident Andrew Benjamin, this dark, theatrical and downright addled “Pirate Cabaret” is a mesmerizing mélange of Bertolt Brecht-ian melodrama, boozy, kitchen-sink horn jazz (think John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards trying to drink a German oompah band under the table in a dimly-lit Uzbek brothel bar) and punk-tinged outbursts.

If that sounds hard for you to grasp, then it probably will be.

This is not your average bar band — especially considering they hail from Asheville, N.C. (after forming in Augusta, Ga. a few years back), a beautiful mountain town that’s infinitely more granola and micro-brews than escargot and absinthe. However, if you’re able to turn off that part of your brain that prefers neat rows of easy-to-decipher metaphor and analogy and let thematically-oriented stage shows (read: shtick) wash over you without getting caught up in THE MEANING OF IT ALL, then Hellblinki is an immensely entertaining ride through hell’s trunk room.

Eerie subject matter, diabolical vocal delivery, gruesomely gnashing arrangements and a palpable sense of the Grand Guignol are par for the course with this ultra-indie group who’s won over scores of fans via DIY CDs, internet downloads and a darkly playful and interactive website (

Still in need of a quick and easy take on their multi-faceted mood music? Just after suggesting that the band owed more of a stylistic debt to Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs LP than Sworfishtrombones (as I have often claimed in print), Benjamin offered me this pithy dissection in a recent e-mail: “Three Penny Opera meets Sesame Street, with guerilla operatics, and a southern drawl.”

Smokestack & The Foothill Fury, a sit-down one-man band (beat-up box guitar, kick drum, percussion, etc...) from Dahlonega, Ga. opens with a set of liquor-soaked, self-aware rotgut blues. Fri., 11 pm, The Jinx.

‘Chicago Meets Lowcountry Jazz’
One thing the Savannah Music Festival has excelled at over the past five years is proving that there’s exciting common ground to be found between talented musicians of all stripes.

Not that this is some kind of bold, hitherto undocumented phenomenon, but the cross-pollination that lies at the heart of many of the SMF’s more risky (and thus more intriguing) concert events often hinges on the notion that those from different backgrounds —or even cultures— who have mastered their individual instruments usually find it much easier to converse through notes than words.

That same streak seems to run through the concept behind this evening of jazz and acoustic roots music explorations featuring four noted pickers.

Celebrated mandolin icons like Mike Marshall sing the praises of Don Stiernberg, who studied at the feet of the legendary Jethro Burns. The Chicago-based artist has since applied his dazzling technique on this notoriously tricky instrument to the realm of jazz to forge his own uniquely subtle and playful style of improvisatory string music. “He swings hard,” says famed mando hero David Grisman. “Everybody’s just sitting there with their jaws dropped.”

For this gig, he’ll be joined on this venue’s tiny stage by fellow mandolin ace Tony Williamson, the lightning-fast, award-winning guitarist Jeff Autry, and Savannah’s own jazz legend, upright bassist Ben Tucker. Says promoter Randy Wood, “It would be difficult to see a show of this magnitude without paying through the nose,” and since his room only holds 100, he’s right.

There’s not a bad seat in the smoke and alcohol-free house, and those who play mandolin themselves can always try and snag a seat to Stiernberg’s intimate afternoon workshop (call the venue for more info). If you just love to listen and watch, advance tickets are only $25. Call 748-1930 to reserve yours quickly. Sun., 7 pm, Randy Wood’s Concert Hall (1304 E. Hwy 80, Bloomingdale) - ALL-AGES.

The Barry Greene Trio

The latest installment of this art museum’s monthly concert series (curated by the SMF’s Executive & Artistic Director Rob Gibson) features this Fla.-based jazz guitarist who’s been playing since the age of ten. Inspired by the work of such “clean tone” greats as Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, George Benson and Pat Martino, Greene — who in addition to teaching jazz guitar, arranging and improvisation at the celebrated Univ. of North Florida, also serves as an instructor at the prestigious National Guitar Workshop and authors book on the instrument for the famed Mel Bay Publications— has earned the respect of peers as well as critics (Just Jazz Guitar praised his “impeccable technique”).

For this early evening gig in a beautiful venue, Greene will be joined by Dennis Marks on bass and the sublime Eric Vaughan on drums. As always, attendees may enjoy the museum during the show. Free to Jepson/Telfair members or $10 to the public. Food and drinks available. Fri., 6 pm, Jepson Center for The Arts.

High Velocity

Kick-ass old-school classic and southern rock cover band with an unusually broad 150+ song setlist (they play modern pop country hits as well), and a lineup filled with rock-solid, experienced musicians. Fri. - Sat., 9 pm, Red Leg Saloon (Hwy 204 & Joyner’s Corner, Bloomingdale).

‘Ho-Ho-Honky-Tonk Tour’

This triple-bill finds two Southeastern retro and bands (Charlotte’s Hickry Hawkins —whose old backing band used to be called Side Meat— and Chapel Hill’s The Bo-Stevens) hooking up with a high-octane greaser punk-a-billy act from Charleston (The Defilers) for a rip-snortin’ night’s worth of tear-stained laments and flat-top rave-ups.

Hawkins, whose motto of late is “Hard liquor, fried chicken and you,” is often likened to Dwight Yoakam for his swampy, rock-oriented take on Bakersfield-style C & W. The Bo-Stevens (who boast a diminutive female doghouse bassist named Miss Billie) have obviously soaked up an awful lot of Merle Haggard LPs, in the best way possible. And The Defilers tear it up like Mike Ness doing his best to hog-tie Jimmy & The Teasers. Sat., 11 pm, The Jinx.

Lizzy Loeb

Considering that this young guitarist and singer is the progeny of celebrated smooth jazz axeman Chuck Loeb and Latin songstress Carmen Cuesta, it’s no surprise that she can both play and sing. What is surprising, however, is just how well-formed and bewitching her light and breezy modern pop tunes are. While the production on her DIY recordings fits snugly alongside any number of contemporary neo-folk and neo-soul artists, there’s a refreshing lack of guile displayed, and that tempers any slight mawkishness which some may feel is inherent to such material. Great stuff from a most promising artist (and no, she’s not married to Dweezil Zappa). Tues., 8 pm, The Sentient Bean - ALL-AGES.

Michelle Malone

Known initially as a strong female folkie (and early peer of the Indigo Girls), this Atlanta-based singer and ace guitarist morphed into a strange cross between late-’70s Patti Smith and early Chris Robinson for her early-’90s dalliance with Arista Records. After being dropped, she embraced her indie roots and now plays over 200 dates a year in support of almost two handfuls of excellent DIY CDs of raw modern folk and gritty blues. Lately, she’s been diving into slide guitar for the first time, and she’s already being compared to Bonnie Raitt (and rightfully so in terms of impact and balls). Shows at this venue are often hard for us to confirm, so you’ll wanna call that night to make sure it’s still on. Fri., 8 pm, Guitar Bar.

The Savannah Choral Society’s Holiday Pops Concert

With a new, full-time (and highly acclaimed) conductor on board, this revival of a long-dormant annual tradition features backing by a full orchestra, and guest performances by kindred spirits the Savannah Danse Theatre and the Savannah Children’s Choir. Tickets are $26.75 - $11.75 at or by phone at 651-6556. Sat., 8 pm, Johnny Mercer Theater.

‘An Evening with Rachel Waiters’

Said Children’s Choir welcomes this famed mezzo-soprano to town for an interactive recital and talk on her musical evolution from pop to gospel and on into opera. Can’t make this event? Waiters will also make a guest appearance Sunday at 3 pm for the Choir’s annual concert, which features holiday music from across the globe sung in five different tongues. Additional guests on hand include Trae Gurley, Morgan Grotheer and Billy Wooten. Thurs., 7 pm, Savannah Technical College’s Goodman Auditorium + Sun., 3 pm, AASU Fine Arts Center.