Magnolia Sons, the face of the Motown Renaissance

by J. L. James

photography courtesy of Magnolia Sons

Take the soulful Motown sound, add a big band horn section topped with a little ska salsa, and then garnish with wedding suits, bowties and go-go dresses; yields one wicked soul, rock and blues 10-piece big band experience. They call it Magnolia Sons. On Saturday Oct. 3 on the Ouachita High Country Main Stage at Hill Wheatley Plaza in Hot Springs, Magnolia Sons will funk up the Hot Water Hills Music and Arts Festival.

Drummer and bandleader J. Austin Aguirre established the Nashville-based crew in 2011. With as many band members as players on a basketball court, one would assume that getting everyone on the same page would be difficult, but the members pride themselves on their ability to get all the pieces to come together nearly seamlessly – and when they fall short of seamless, they’re content to make everyone have a great time.

“It’s challenging to have a band, period,” Aguirre said. “We all have one major goal in mind: To make music that’s new, fresh and fun.”

Guitarist and vocalist Dustin Sellers added, “What makes our music most fun is that we’re all adding to a sum.”

“So, it’s challenging,” vocalist Keshia Bailey said. “But it’s definitely more rewarding than challenging.”

Bailey is the newest member of Magnolia Sons, having been with the band less than two years. She had moved to Nashville to attend law school when Aguirre asked her to audition for the band. They all quickly became family. “I don’t know if I’d be doing what I’m doing without them,” Bailey said. “Now I have eight big brothers and a sister. I can honestly say it’ll be one of the joys of my life.”

Benjamin A. Harper, Alexis Saski, Jared Cooper, Travis Eidson, Ryan Latham, Eli Hall, and Anthony Jorissen, complete the band’s roster.

In 2013, Magnolia Sons released its first studio produced music video for crowd favorite single “Baby That’s You.” A fastpaced, foot-tapping Motown pop track, “Baby That’s You” embodies the groovy fun spirit at the heart of the Magnolia Sons project. Aguirre had a vision of an all-original soul renaissance when he founded the group, and it’s safe to say that vision has come to fruition.

“Run Baby Run” is the band’s second studio music video production, released earlier this summer. More than 1,000 viewed it in its first two weeks on YouTube. The song is an original composition that could serve as a tribute to 60s psychedelic pop. The video was a project long in the making.

“The idea we came up with was specific,” Aguirre said. “We had so many production crews back out because the idea was overwhelming.”

Finally, Gear Seven Creative, also based in Nashville, was able to share Magnolia Sons’ vision. The video is an homage to Quentin Tarantino’s “Foxy Brown” and 1970s black exploitation flicks. Foxxy Fox, played by vocalist Alexis Saski and Dynamite Jackson, played by Bailey, join forces to take out the “jive turkey” men, played by the rest of the band, who’ve developed a plan to “set women’s lib back 20 years.” Even in studio productions, Magnolia Sons is dedicated to keeping it light and fun.

But the way they shine is as a live act. Nashville Lifestyles named them one of the “25 to Watch in 2015,” and they’ve toured around the country, making homes at venues like The Drinkery in Cincinnati. The Hot Water Hills Festival will be their first trip to Hot Springs, but they have played in Little Rock.

As a fresh neo-soul band, Magnolia Sons’ biggest influences are classic Motown. They’ve shared the stage with several big names in the Nashville scene, but their most memorable moment has been opening for Cee-Lo Green and Salt N Pepa.

When they take the stage on Oct. 3 at Hot Water Hills, it will be more than a concert; it’ll be an experience. Austin calls it “60s retro-soul, retro-pop,” A new take on an American classic. And it’ll be a crowd participation kind of experience.

“It’s very fun,” Sellers said. “We encourage people to get up and dance and dress up. We like a dressed up crowd.”

So don your snazziest retro three-piece and short little retro mini-dresses and get up to Hill Wheatley Plaza this fall.