First, the bad news: You don’t have many chances to see Christa DeCicco, the fabulous front lady for “sultry Southern swing” outfit Christabel and the Jons, perform before she moves away from East Tennessee.
The good news: The band is staying together, and DeCicco, who will lead her group in its last Knoxville bar performance before she departs for St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, plans on returning to Knoxville regularly.
“We’ve been down there three times on tour, and I just really love it down there,” DeCicco told us. “I felt a real connection to it, and I’ve had a wish since I was a child to live someplace tropical, by the beach.”
When her chef boyfriend got a job offer in St. Thomas, that dream was realized. And while the sun, sand and palm trees would do wonders for any soul, she’s looking forward to easing off of a grueling tour schedule with her long-time band.
“I’ve been wanting to tour less anyway, because I need a little more home time to write songs and record some albums,” she said. “I’ve got almost two albums worth of songs now, and I’ve got this wonderful, beautiful side project with (former Black Lillies vocalist) Leah Gardner, and it’s getting to where I just can’t do that and tour at the same time. I wanted to take a little break to accomplish those goals, and this fell into my lap at the same time.”
Right now, the plan is to bring the band — drummer Jon Whitlock, multi-instrumentalist Amanda Cagle and bass player Taylor Coker — back to St. Thomas for a month-long residency during the winter (”And it’ll be easier having a car and an apartment,” she said); spending the rest of the winter playing solo beach bar gigs; and traveling back to the States to tour with the Jons roughly three times a year, in spring, summer and fall.
“We’re going to keep making music; there’s just going to be more time between gigs,” she said. “That way I can record and work on these songs and have new and interesting stuff for people. I’m just going to go down there and listen to calypso and steel drum and reggae and get a tan in the winter — ya’ll are gonna hate me — and then come back and play shows and visit with my friends and family. I’m thrilled, but it’s a big move for me, because I’ve lived here my whole life.”
This weekend, Christabel and the Jons will perform at 10 p.m. at Preservation Pub, 28 Market Square in downtown Knoxville (with The Hotshot Freight Train), as one of her final East Tennessee performances before the move in early November. (There’s always the Hilltop Dance she plays every year, which takes place in October at the Mabry-Hazen House in Knoxville; this weekend’s show is her final bar gig, she said.) Gardner will sit in with her, giving fans a glimpse of the more intimate duo project on which the two are collaborating, she said.
“It’s really simple and honest,” she said. “We grew up singing a lot of the same folk songs and country songs and blues. We have an overlapping repertoire, and our voices sound great together. It gives me chillbumps when I’m singing with her. She’s the best haromny singer I’ve ever sang with, one of those who can ingeniously match the melody, and I get just the biggest musical pleasure out of doing that.”