Soul/funk-rock band Lucky Five is hoping to roll a lucky 13 Tuesday, March 13, when the Charlotte-based band performs a 40-minute set during opening night of the taste-making South By Southwest Music Festival and Conference in Austin, Texas.
With its mix of youthful energy, musicianship well beyond its members’ early twenty-something years, and a passion for danceable, yet meaningful songs, Lucky Five is as likely as any unknown act on the schedule to catch the ear of someone with industry clout.
Lucky Five take elements from several genres but blend it in the way artists in the `70s and `80s did before categories were so stringently defined. There are moments of Dave Matthews Band-style pop, Stevie Wonder’s `70s piano funk, classic soul, anthemic rock grit, and colorful jazz that filter through the chops of a jam band.
Vocalist/keyboardist Marques Nash, who casts himself as the pop-rock piece of the puzzle with equal allegiances to “dirty” rock and underground hip-hop, keeps the jazz improvisations and tendency to jam in check for the sake of a good pop song.
“From an instrumental point we can get carried away,” says drummer Jesse Williams, gathered with three of the five members at the Wesley Heights home dubbed Sewercide Mansion that Nash shares.
“Marques keeps us grounded,” says guitarist Shago Elizondo.
Adds Williams: “He solves the Rubik’s cube in every song.”
Bassist Andy Mormimoto, who learned playing classic metal, drives the funk element home, while guitarists Shago Elizondo and Jonny Fung bring blues and jazz to the plate, respectively. Williams, a livewire of hair and arms on stage who played his first gig at age five, covers “everything else” in their musical makeup.
Not only is Lucky Five’s music a seamless melting pot of styles, the multi-racial group also represents a cross section of modern America with members of African-American, Asian, and Hispanic backgrounds. That’s exactly what Nash was looking for as an 11-year-old watching gospel musician Kirk Franklin lead an all African-American choir and band.
“He had no white people. I told my mom I wanted to play the piano because I wanted to do what he did, but I wanted to do it the right way. I come from a mixed family. My step dad is white. As a little kid (Kirk Franklin’s band) bothered me,” recalls Nash, who abandoned his goal to be a top praise and worship leader. “When I realized my vision was bigger than the church I walked away from that. There’s people hurting next door and at the gas station. I want my music to fix those hearts, not necessarily the people that are spoon fed every Sunday morning.”
“That’s probably why everyone is a different race in our band,” adds Nash. “It makes you realize one race doesn’t run a genre of music. I think people enjoy seeing that. No one ever guesses what we’re going to sound like. They assume I’m the bass player, which is just racist,” he laughs. “Or they assume I’m a rapper with a live band. When that doesn’t happen and we get to blow their minds - that’s probably the most satisfying feeling.”
Lucky Five, who attracted the attention of a SXSW scout at the Mid-Atlantic Music Conference in October, isn’t the only Charlotte act heading to SXSW. Hip-hop act the ThoughtCriminals and pop singer-songwriter Jon Lindsay also play Tuesday. Wretched and Young and in the Way play metal showcases Thursday and Friday, respectively. Indie rock act Junior Astronomers will also play parties in an unofficial capacity.
South By Southwest, which marks its 26th anniversary, has grown to include film and interactive media and technology. It now stretches for 10 days with six of those focusing on music. It’s gotten so big that stars like Bruce Springsteen, who doesn’t need the gig to get noticed, are booked alongside a small phone book of unknowns.
The 19-hour trip is an expensive gamble for the band, who failed to reach its goal with a Pledge Music (http://www.pledgemusic.com/artists/7716) campaign. That isn’t the only wrinkle. Mormimoto was already committed to a school trip to Canada. Instead live guest Adrian Crutchfield (Anthony Hamilton) will handle key bass and saxophone duties.
Regardless of whether Lucky Five lives up to its name at SXSW, locally it will return to play Charlotte’s second annual AWOL: the Benefit festival at South Park’s Symphony Park April 21. Robert Randolph & the Family Band, a multicultural band whose leader brought his own church-learned music to a wider secular audience, is set to headline. His is a career Nash would like to emulate.
“Robert Randolph can do whatever he wants,” he adds. “It’s soulful rock. I want to be allowed to do that. Not lose my roots. Not lose my culture. I want to be mainstream and have our sound.”
(Photo Credit Daniel Clark Cunningham. Pictured from left: Mormimoto, Fung, Elizondo, Nash and Williams).