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Strolling the Strip in Fort Lauderdale the other night, I almost walked by Evangeline, until I heard the faint yet feverish intensity of a violin. Stepping inside, I spotted the white instrument, which was tucked under Kimberly Jaffar's chin. She wasn't alone. Right next to her was Jonathan Panks, singing and strumming his guitar. I asked around and was told that the upbeat bluegrass-country-Cajun duo is called Savana.

Jaffar and Panks started playing together just a few years ago -- first just small gigs, then bigger ones. But it wasn't until they put out their first CD, in 1995, that they realized just how appealing their music was.

"We're now getting requests all the time," Panks says, "calls from people all over the country who bought our CDs here while on vacation, then went home and played it for friends who also want a copy. It's a word-of-mouth thing. It's appealing to all age groups."

Released late last year, the ten-song Lightning Strikes Twice is the duo's second CD. The duo's debut was the fifteen-song Savana. (Both are available at Peaches Music and Video.) While both releases offer a mix of country and bluegrass, the songs aren't your run-of-the-mill tunes about being lovesick.

"Every song tells a story," Panks says. "Our songs are message oriented."
One of the best songs on Lightning is the tender ballad "Your Light," which is about "having to let someone go when you love them," says Panks, who writes the lyrics. "Only in Your Heart," a duet featuring local vocalist Wendy Pederson, showcases both Panks' gentle vocals and the classically trained Jaffar's sublime violin.

Whether fast and furious or slow and precise, Jaffar's violin perfectly complements Panks' acoustic guitar and vocals. So for a few days, forget about BeachPlace's various high-energy dance clubs and their DJs who blast '80s retro music.

For a good ol' time, walk a few minutes south to see Savana at their steady gig Monday and Tuesday (except St. Patrick's Day, March 17) at Evangeline or drive up to the Irish Cottage Pub in Delray Beach, where the pair will perform this Saturday and Tuesday through Thursday (March 17-19).

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Brian Hyman

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