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Free Fridays: Savants of Soul


Savants of Soul: 

Soul, Blues, Jazz, Rock, Punk, Ska 

The Savants of Soul Plays at the “Free Fridays” Concert Series Aug. 12


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Savants of Soul will play at “Free Fridays” Friday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m.

The Savants of Soul is a 10-piece Motown soul band built on a foundation of blues, soul, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, punk and ska. In the past three years, they’ve shared the stage with notables such as the Wailers, Thomas Wynn and the Believers, Morning Fatty and Bells and Robes. The band released their debut album, “Downtown Sound,” in November 2014.


According to the band, “Soul music, like all great American popular music, is the blues cleaned up for a specific audience. In this case, divorced from its rigid 12-bar structure and filtered through jazz with a healthy dollop of rock ‘n’ roll, it retains its gritty heart but moves from the delta into the city as dance music. The Savants of Soul, in this tradition of genre melding, have taken southern deep soul and seasoned it with Motown, added some punk energy, jazz and modern R&B to end up with a sound that reveres its traditions without slavishly emulating them. The Savants of Soul are here to spread their gospel their way.”


The influences of the band’s musicians cover a wide range.  Horn players Mandy Moo, David Rinehart, Matt Rossmann and Ray Vigil were all classically trained in Florida’s band rooms. Vocalist Justin McKenzie and bassist John Gray Shermyen cut their teeth musically as a part of Gainesville’s ska scene. Drummer Alex Klausner credits his frantic energy to a childhood spent studying ‘60s and ‘70s rock performers such as Freddie Mercury and Keith Moon. Guitarist Austin Van Wie grew up listening to everything from The Beatles to The Fall of Troy. Keyboardist Jason Bontrager makes his living performing gospel and jazz. The band’s newest member, vocalist Chelsea Oxendine, came up singing in the churches of Live Oak, Florida, before eventually finding herself studying classical vocal performance in college at Stetson University, and then singing two operas in Rome, Italy.


The 2016 “Free Fridays” concert series is produced by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department and funded in part by grants from Visit Gainesville and Culture Builds Florida. The concerts play each Friday night this year from Friday, May 6 through Friday, Oct. 21 from 8-10 p.m. at the Bo Diddley Plaza, at 111 E. University Ave. in downtown Gainesville. To view the complete “Free Fridays” 2016 schedule, please visit the Cultural Affairs Division website at For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact David Ballard at 352-393-8746.