FridaysUpdate: Swing, jitter, hop: Acme manufactures good times

acmeAcme hearkens back to vintage sounds.

"A lot of these songs are from the Great Depression– and I don't have to tell you we're economically challenged right now," vocalist Mary Beth Revak says. "Hot jazz is definitely not dead, nor is the call for it."

Indeed, the celebratory, often romantic tunes of 1930s-era swing jazz has found a growing local population to charm, according to the members of the Acme Swing Mfg. Co. The eight-member ensemble has been playing swing tunes together for a year and are just cranking up the heat on their high-energy ditties.

Discovering a mutual love for old-time music through interactions in the local scene, Acme founders Revak and her vocal partner Susan Rosen along with guitarist Jackson Boylan united to focus on the genre of their passion: swing. In 2003, the band slowly began to recruit other local jazz and bebop musicians, going through several ups and downs before stabilizing with its current lineup of a clarinet, guitar, saxophone, bass, drums, and two vocalists. Coming to swing from sundry influences– bebop for some, rhythm and blues or country for others– the members of Acme have come to the conclusion that swing is the key to unlocking the evolution of American music.

"Swing hooked up with R&B– it was the birth of rhythm and blues," clarinetist Victor Lee explains. "Dancing to R&B evolved naturally out of swing dancing– it all cross-pollinated."

According to Acme, swing progressed into big band, which in turn eventually lead to the beginnings of rock 'n roll– and it's perfectly acceptable to swing-dance to rock (especially according to this YouTube production).

"Swing permeates everything– except the Bee Gees," says percussionist Jim Howe.

"And disco– there's no connection between swing and disco," Lee adds.

And for a band that's decidedly of a vintage look and feel, Acme is not alone in bringing what is considered a niche sound to a larger local audience. Working alongside Swing C'ville, a dance studio headed by a group of Lindy Hoppers (one of the oldest, and most complex, version of swing dance), Acme is hoping to boost swing back to its former 1930s glory.

"We've discovered a new and growing audience for this music," Lee says.

"The age group is not limited at all– we have 18-year-olds who are sorry because they can't come into the bar," Revak says. "Then there are people who are 75 and older, dancing nice and slow, reliving the memories."

Although Charlottesville is no stranger to niche entertainment, Acme is certain its sounds can speak to all audiences, no matter age, disposition, or economic state. In hearkening back to the music of the Depression, Acme's swing can transport you back to the days of cheap and simple entertainment.

"It's accessible– you don't have to concentrate to enjoy it," saxophonist Haywood Giles says. "It makes you want to dance, the lyrics are pertinent today, and it's sincere."

Not hooked yet? If a free evening of spirit-rousing tunes doesn't stir your penny-pinching budget, we aren't sure what will.

Acme Swing Mfg. Co. plays Fridays After Five on July 10. The Judy Chops open. The show starts at 5:30pm and admission is free.