SAVANTS OF SOUL

Published on August 5th, 2018

Savants of Soul

Years go by and Gainesville, Florida keeps on keeping on. Synonymous with DIY punk rock and college culture for close to four decades, the deceptively sleepy campus town has churned out some of the most beloved acts in punk and ska over the years. It makes sense — but it still kind of amazes — that as a center for cultural and educational exchange, the University of Florida environs continues to produce newer and cooler acts, not all strictly punk.

The Savants of Soul, formed in 2011, are, in their own words, a “9-piece retro-soul group performing original soul music inspired by the sounds of the 1960s, contemporary retro-soul groups and the group’s diverse collection of influences ranging from punk to hip-hop to Chicago blues to 1950s cool jazz.”

Five members are Gainesville natives, with one Texas transplant and the remaining three from elsewhere in Florida, giving the band a genuine hometown feel that carries over into its  infectious music.

Frontman Justin McKenzie — the self-proclaimed “Reverend of Rhythm” — and trumpeter-vocalist Mandy Ferwerda lead the way, joined by other veterans of the Gainesville scene: horns of Jacob Armstrong, Jordan Jones and Ray Vigil, guitarist Will Campbell, keyboardist Zack Emerson and the rhythm section of bassist John Gray Shermyen and drummer Alex Klausner.

With a handful of EPs and singles also to their credit, the Savants’ lone full-length effort to date, “Downtown Sound,” is the ideal showcase for a band that has taken the time to perfect its internal chemistry and develop an experience for its audience. Whereas someone might consider the retro-kitsch a little bit contrived, the Savants do right by their nomenclature and evangelize effortlessly; their love for the sound they’re working is genuine and respectful but not afraid to be jolted with something new.

Danceable is an understatement; they’re a full-on, out-of-body experience. That they play all kinds of engagements off the club circuit — festivals, weddings, mitzvahs — is a testament to how much they want to share their joy. Dust off your Docs, your 2-tones, your patent leathers — anything you like to move in — and catch them live.

The Savants of Soul perform with Public Sounds Collective on August 16 at Voltaire in West Palm Beach. savantsofsoul.com ~ Abel Folgar

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