Articles & News
Jazz Fest Coming to Strand Park & The AMP August 7 & 8
30 years ago, it started as a birthday celebration. We don’t know if the early organizers had any idea that the Alex City Jazz Fest would still be around today as one of the few non-ticketed festivals left, but it is! Those who follow the Alex City Jazz Fest know that it is always held the second weekend in June and also know much has changed this year.
We are super excited that the Alexander City Jazz Fest will go on this year. This two-day event runs from 6pm until around 10:30pm on Friday, August 7, downtown in Strand Park and Saturday, August 8, at The AMP on Lake Martin. Things may be a little different this year, but the lineup of talent is awesome. Friday night, we are kicking things off with a local Jazz Band.
Friday, August 7
Strand Park, downtown Alexander City
Benjamin Russell Jazz Band
We have heard these impressive young musicians play at several events around the area and were excited when they agreed to play this year’s Jazz Fest. First-up Friday night, under the direction of Dale Bloodworth, is the Benjamin Russell Jazz Band! You really will be wowed by what these band members can do!
Tragic City, a young group from Birmingham has been tearing it up with their modern take on jazz-funk fusion led by a stellar horn section and the ripping guitar of Will Cash. The band originally started as a quartet in 2014 and has slowly transformed into their present seven-piece group. As an all-instrumental group digging everything from hints of rock and hip-hop to New Orleans-style dance grooves, the septet has been making a name for themselves as some of the most accomplished young musicians on the scene in recent years.
Sweet Lizzy Project
Closing the night on Friday is the Sweet Lizzy Project (SLP)! One of the most culturally significant bands to emerge from Cuba in recent years, they have a distinctive sound with overtones of classic American indie pop-rock touched with a Latino flair. Lead singer Lisset Diaz’s incomparable voice captures listeners’ imaginations leaving them enthralled.
Sweet Lizzy’s songs—all original and penned in English—are reflective of the members’ wide range of ages, from their 20s to 40s. In 2017, they were showcased on PBS’s Havana Time Machine alongside Grammy award-winning group, The Mavericks. It was a great pairing and gave them an opportunity to forge a relationship with Raul Malo, the Mavericks’ lead singer, who invited them to Nashville. SLP has performed coast-to-coast.
The group was featured on PBS’s Emmy award-winning series Bluegrass Underground and has been touring the nation with The Mavericks.
Saturday, August 8
The AMP on Lake Martin
John Bull Band
He was a River Boat Captain, but after getting caught in a storm in the Gulf of Mexico while piloting a paddle wheeler he was delivering to Montgomery, he gave up the wheelhouse for a harp and has been playing his brand of blues since. A member of the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame, John Bull is used to entertaining and has put together a talented band of blues musicians that will have you tapping a toe!
Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics
Formed in Gainesville, Florida, in 2006, they soon left behind the college town and headed for Atlanta, where they found a vibrant and eclectic music scene that embraced them with open arms. What is their genre? Good question! SOUL! Or how about deep, raw funk. Stax-style southern soul. Uplifting Motown-channeling anthems. Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics are much more than just a group of soul revivalists trying to create a period piece. Powerhouse singer Velle and her band will settle for nothing less than bringing these classic sounds glimmering into the now with a fresh new modern sheen.
They have made a name for themselves captivating audiences with their stirring live performances. They are a world-class modern soul revue topped off by Velle’s sultry voice as she smoothly moves between R&B tunes and expertly belted, barn-burning get-downs that can instantly change a roomful of wallflowers into a wild dance party.
As the band continues to evolve, their goal is to try to “separate ourselves from the soul-revivalist set,” Velle says. “We’re bringing new things to the table while still being soulful and authentic. You might not expect it, but a lot of my affinity for singing comes from Paul Simon. I want to be a storyteller. I’m not afraid to bring a folk mentality into the soul genre. We set ourselves apart with our lyrics and our unerring stance for positivity. We want to be a pillar of the soul genre, not just a representation of what it once was.”
Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics will take the stage at 7:30.
A Nashville-based blues rocker from Florida, Gillis is the complete package as a guitar player, lap steel player, songwriter, singer and arranger. She and her band have the stage presence and confidence to appeal to a variety of musical tastes be it rock, soul, jazz, roots or gospel. At 23 years old, Heather has not only formed a following at a local level but has played alongside and befriended members of The Allman Brothers Band, Col. Bruce Hampton, The Lee Boys, North Mississippi All-Stars, Matt Schofield, and many more.
In 2015, Gillis was recruited by legendary Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks to be a member of his touring outfit, Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band. During this time, people saw that Trucks had a secret weapon in his band, and a buzz started about Gillis’ talents. In early 2017, The Freight Train Band had a full touring schedule, and Gillis had planned to spend most of her time on the road touring with them throughout the year. That’s when she received the shocking news of Trucks’ untimely death.
Without warning, Gillis had to switch gears and come up with a game plan. She relocated from the Tampa area to Atlanta and put together an all-new band. Now, she has settled in with the music community in Nashville.
“My songs come to me in different ways. Sometimes, I’ll be walking around the house and I start singing. Then, I’ll add a melody later. Other songs might start with just a riff.
“My live show is mostly originals. I do play two covers— songs by Willie (Nelson) and Waylon (Jennings). I’m touring now with a four-piece band—bass, drums, a second guitar player, and me. It’s a really good band.”
Heather’s set begins at 9pm on Saturday night!