Kerra Holtgren graduated from SCAD in 2008, with a BA in Media and Performing Arts; she minored in Music for Performance. All of those fancy words pretty much boil down to "Kerra likes to be onstage."
She’s good at it, too, as anyone who remembers her work in the Savannah Actor’s Theatre production of Clive Barker’s Crazy Face back in 2006 can attest. She also did a number of student movies, and SCAD stage plays.
“I always thought I would do acting — theater, TV, film—but it didn’t really work out for me in that way,” says Holtgren, who moved back to Baltimore (the ol’ hometown) after graduation.
“I was kinda better at being a musician, I guess. I actually found my jazz voice while I was living down in Savannah. I was singing a lot of show tunes and stuff like that, but then I found out ‘Hey, I can sing jazz pretty well.’ I actually wrote my first song, ‘Whack-a-Mole,’ in Savannah.”
In Baltimore, she’s part of several bands; one just plays weddings and the odd special occasion; another is called Voodoo Pharmacology, which combines robust theatricality with what Holtgren describes as “psychedelic Americana.” Voodoo Pharm will perform at Barrelhouse South on June 28.
She’s in town this week, for three solo performances — the Sentient Bean June 5, the Wormhole (part of the First Friday Art March) June 6, and Ampersand June 7. Visiting her former stomping grounds, as it were.
Holtgren sings and plays baritone ukulele. Her songs are non-linear, elliptically lyrical and, well, kind of captivating (see “Her Father and Her”). She’s both odd and charming onstage.
She bought the big uke as a Christmas present for herself, she says, because once she started singing she couldn’t stop, and doing open mics a cappella was a strain on the ol’ performance skills. “Then I started writing really weird songs,” Holtgren says. “I taught myself; I’m not classically trained or anything. Half the time I don’t even know what chords I play.”
Here’s the best part: Her solo “persona” is called the Swedish Fist.
Why the Swedish Fist, you ask? Why not?
“My friend was doing roller derby at the time,” Holtgren explains, “and I used to go to her matches. I was like ‘Wow, this is so cool. I would love to roller skate.’ But I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never had a cavity, so I was like ‘I don’t think this is really a sport for me.’ I’m so unbalanced; I’m clumsy as all hell.
“But everyone’s got their cool names, so I was just like ‘Man, if I ever DID do roller derby I would be the Swedish Fist.’”
Just like that. See theswedishfist.com.
Blues you can use
The big Blues Weekend is upon us, with Blues on Broughton Friday (June 6) and city-sponsored blues and jazz shows Friday at City Market, and Friday and Saturday at Rousakis Plaza on River Street. All the music is free, and there’s some really great stuff on the ticket (of course, Ruthie Foster on Broughton, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue, is the main attraction).
Run, do not walk, to check out Doug Carn Friday afternoon at Rousakis. A keyboard player, composer and arranger, Carn (who co-headlined the Savannah Jazz Festival in 2013) is a legend in jazz and funk; he arranged and played on the first two Earth, Wind & Fire albums in the early ‘70s, and was the cornerstone of the Black Jazz record label (in those days, as part of a duo act with wife Jean Carn).
Hitting the Rousakis stage Friday at 8 p.m. (following a set by our own kickass Eric Culberson Band) is the AJ Ghent Band, which you might have seen in Forsyth Park last year, at the finale of the Midnight Garden Ride.
It’s a sacred steel band. Unlike other sacred steel players, Ghent plays the brutally raw-sounding slide guitar strapped around his neck. He drapes his left hand, his fretting hand, OVER the neck. “It was definitely something I had to develop,” he told me. “Because I was used to playing sitting down, for so long, when I started standing up it was like learning the instrument all over again. It was a lot of trial and error, but I got the hang of it. I wanted to do something so new, and so fresh, and bring even more excitement back to the instrument.”
Did I mention that Ghent, whose family tree includes some of the great architects of Pentecostal sacred steel, was at one time the star guitar player in Col. Bruce Hampton’s band?