Ask many of the artists involved in Saturday's Groundhog Day Concert at the Charleston Music Hall what day in their musical history they'd most like to relive ad infinitum, and they often hark back to the first time they came together for the same purpose, back in 2010.
For the 15 musicians involved, the opportunity to share a stage doesn't come often, and requires a magnetic personality like Mark Sloan, director of the College of Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, to pull them together.
Local songwriter Bill Carson helped plant the seed after scoring the music for a short film about one of the Halsey's exhibits in 2009. The relationship blossomed into the idea to celebrate and raise money for the Halsey with a collaborative concert, led by Opposite of a Train, Carson's band with multi-instrumentalist Nathan Koci and percussionist Ron Wiltrout. For the trio, the goal when recruiting fellow musicians was to put together their dream concert.
Friends like Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent (Shovels & Rope), Michael Flynn (Slow Runner) and Joel T. Hamilton (Mechanical River, Working Title) joined in for a night that stood out in all of their memories as a career highlight.
"It felt like a hometown community jamboree," recalls Shovels & Rope's Hearst. "Players whom you have known for years but rarely get to play along with, all sitting together in session over exciting arrangements of unexpected material. This concert is the perfect opportunity for us to come out of our musical cave and get a little fun company and fresh air."
And the 30th anniversary of the Halsey was enough of an impetus to bring the band back together. Carson, now an elementary school teacher, led the curation of the night's selections, along with heavy input from Wiltrout and horn arrangements from Koci. Songs include original material and familiar and traditional tunes from the American songbook.
Rounding out the lineup are songwriters Rachel Kate Gillon and Lindsay Holler, trumpeter Charlton Singleton (leader of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra), bassist Kevin Hamilton, saxophonist Wilton Elder, saxophonist John Cobb, singer Stephanie Underhill and tuba player Clint Flore.
"It's a group of open-minded people who all want to find equal ground," says Carson. "You have to be a chameleon with this show."
Each artist is a constant performer, some on national touring schedules and others at local jazz venues on weekends. But for everyone, Groundhog Day stands out among the rest.
"I want every night to be special, but this show gives us a little more capital and space," explains Wiltrout. "Knowing that this performance is the only time this collaboration is going to happen makes it such a special show. We get to make a beautiful thing, once."
Bassist Hamilton glows when recalling the 2010 experience: "You'd pay to do it. I remember playing and looking up and feeling like it was just the best situation in music. It's one of those times I've felt the music to the bone."
According to Sloan, the impetus for a Groundhog Day concert is simply to celebrate "an underobserved holiday," but the musicians know better. The performance recognizes the overlap and interaction of musical and visual arts, without trying to become a hybrid display.
After all, music plays an integral role in the creative process of most painters and sculptors. With its 30th year underway, the Halsey Institute is again stepping out of its clear purview to create an event that will likely be remembered as a joyous early spring, regardless of whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Sunday.