Major Crescendo

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The pandemic halted everything — but one band marched on

Written by IAN DZIURA // Photography by KRIS RAE

PAUL MCCARTNEY MET John Lennon at a church festival, and Queen came together through a college bulletin board, but The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra met when two mothers forced a friendship upon two unwitting middle-schoolers.

When band founders Jeremy Davis and Clay Johnson were entering seventh grade in Louisiana, their school accidentally printed out two identical schedules. “Clay and I happened to be the two lucky jokers,” Davis recalls. Their moms noticed the match during the school’s open house and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward a few decades, and Davis’ and Johnson’s successful band now boasts 11 members, plus a few rock-star accoutrements, including a big blue tour bus with their name on the side and a recent performance on Huckabee, a Nashville-based talk-variety show hosted by the former governor of Arkansas. It’s proof positive that hard work can pay off: During the pandemic, when many people worked in their pajamas, The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra produced three albums, performed weekly shows in a pandemic-friendly setting and catapulted their nonprofit into an official 501(c)(3) organization. 

Over the years, the big band has showcased its talents far beyond Savannah, from an amphitheater in Israel to a treacherously inclined, old-fashioned stage in New York. But whether they’re at an ancient site or making sure their drum kit doesn’t tilt over, The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra performs a grab-bag of jazzy covers, like “Luck Be a Lady” or a trumpety take of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” There are also the band’s own originals, like “Outcast Anthem,” a song from one of their new albums, Bridge, that Johnson says was written “in the frustration of the pandemic.” 

Through Equinox Global Missions, they’ve also raised money for homeless shelters, youth programs and struggling churches.

“Our future was pretty much up in the air,” Davis recalls of the early stages of the pandemic. “We lost all the work, all the corporate events, all the weddings, all the private events, because everything we do requires a crowd.” But the longtime friends were determined to forge ahead, so they began a series of weekly shows on Facebook Live, scaling the band down to a quarantine-appropriate size and playing their individual instruments six feet apart. These were free, streamed shows, of course, but through donations Davis and Johnson were able to raise enough money to keep the bills paid and the brass vibrating.

Despite producing two other albums — Victory and Charade — Davis and Johnson are most proud of Equinox Global Missions, the band’s nonprofit that serves communities in need all around the world, often through performing. “Those are the shows for kids. Those are the shows for senior adults. Those are the shows where we play for people who couldn’t otherwise afford a band like ours,” Davis says. Through this initiative, they’ve also raised money for homeless shelters, youth programs and struggling churches. Their charitable work has persisted throughout the pandemic, and with new 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, will continue.

Although the band was around before that fateful March of 2020, the pandemic kept them thriving and helping people in new ways. “That’s something that we’re proud of, the fact that we didn’t just pack it up and quit,” Davis says. “We found a way to be relevant.”