Sarah Mac Band Continues Holiday Concert Tradition at Historic Monticello Opera House

Dec 13, 2016

Among the many holiday traditions in the Capital City area is the year-end concert put on by one of Tallahassee’s favorite bands. Once again, it will take place in the historic Monticello Opera House this coming Saturday evening (12/17).

(l. to r.) Charlie Vanture, Sarah Mac and Claire Swindell
Credit The Sarah Mac Band

Sarah Mac, lead singer and namesake of the Sarah Mac Band, is a true daughter of North Florida. As such, she has had a fascination with the Monticello Opera House as a performance space for many years.

“When I was in ninth grade, I went to the Opera House and saw Pam Laws perform. And that I think was probably the first time I’d seen jazz in real life. And the acoustics there are just phenomenal and it just shook me to the core,” she recalled.

Later in life, Sarah Mac formed her present trio with bassist Claire Swindell and lead guitarist Charlie Vanture. The group eventually started playing a special annual holiday concert at the Warehouse on Gaines Street. Swindell said the entire band had also fallen in love with the Opera House. A few years ago, a chance presented itself to relocate the year-end concert to that gorgeous 1890-vintage performance space in Jefferson County.

“We had been playing with the ‘From the Heart Music Hour’ and done a couple of their shows at the Monticello Opera House and just thought it was the coolest space and we just decided to roll the dice and move it to Monticello and see what happened,” Swindell said. “And we were super shocked and excited that people were willing to drive up there and people from Monticello come and it’s turned out really well, so we’ve kept it there.”

On top of that, Charlie Vanture pointed out, the concert has given more folks a chance to discover a significant piece of local history that they otherwise might never see.

“Because you drive by on the street and all you see is the little area underneath and you don’t realize there’s an opera house up above. In fact, I was talking to a lady today who grew up in Monticello and was familiar with the Opera House, but didn’t realize there was an (actual) opera house upstairs. And she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I see that place over there.’ And I said, ‘There’s an opera house upstairs,’ and she said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Vanture laughed.

This Saturday evening, The Sara Mac Band will return to the Monticello Opera House. Before the performance upstairs, Claire Swindell explained there will be some food, fun and fellowship in the building’s downstairs.

“They do a dinner beforehand and that’s a separate ticket for the dinner, but it always looks really nice and has actually sold out a couple of times in the last few years. And then they’ll have a cash bar downstairs, so there’s kind of a little pre-party feel downstairs beforehand and it’s festive; it’s fun!”

That starts around 6:30 p.m. The Sarah Mac Band show begins at 8:00 and Charlie Vanture predicted the set list will be a mix of old and new; originals and cover tunes in an ongoing effort to keep the program fresh and appealing.

“We know there are some people who hear us once a year. They come to the Christmas show and so we don’t want to have the same Sarah Mac Band songs and we keep track of what we have; we can go back and look at our old lists. We don’t want people thinking, ‘These guys don’t know (more than) five songs?!’”

A late-addition to the set list, Sarah and Charlie say, will be musical tribute to Sharon Jones. The Dap Kings famous frontwoman passed away last month.

“It’s a little harder for us to do Sharon Jones, because they have a whole brass section and we have acoustic guitars and violins. But we’re getting creative and doing our own version,” Mac said.

That’s along with many other creative versions of what seems a bottomless reservoir of Sarah Mac Band music new and old. Check out the Monticello Opera House web site for tickets and more information about this Saturday’s show.