Westobou Festival: Johnnyswim's music is window into couple's world

Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez - known as Johnnyswim - will perform Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Old Academy of Richmond County for the Westobou Festival.



Ask Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez what their marriage is like, how they communicate and delegate, and they just might ask you to confer with Johnnyswim.

Johnnyswim, which appears at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Old Academy of Richmond County as part of the Westobou Festival, is the quick-rising musical act the pair – then just musicians with common interests – formed in 2006.

It has, over the years, evolved from Nashville folk act to something more rich, full and complicated. In many ways, the music’s evolution parallels that of Sudano and Ramirez, whose partnership began as creative, became romantic and eventually a lawful union. Ramirez said that’s no accident, that the music has always tracked, for better or worse, the ongoing story of their relationship.

“The relationship affects the music and performances 100 percent,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “To be honest, we don’t know what this would look like balanced. What you see from us on stage is just as real as you hear in our living room. There’s no wall. “

Both Ramirez and Su­dano came from musical households. Ramirez studied music at the Douglas Anderson Scholl of the Arts in Jacksonville and Sudano is the daughter of the late Donna Summer.

Sudano said coming from backgrounds that encouraged a lot of musical exploration has proven an asset to Johnnyswim. She said it allows them to become storytellers as well as songwriters, composing and arranging depending on thematic ideas instead of trying to work ideas into specific genres.

“It’s a lot of fun for us – fun to explore different genres,” she said. “It allows us to do what we want, which is to tell different stories.”

Ramirez compared the process to that of a novelist working in a variety of genres. He said songs written when they were dating and unsure of where their personal relationship was headed were far more folky while more current music tends to be more upbeat.

“It’s like C.S. Lewis,” he said. “He wrote differently for the Perelandra books than he did for Narnia and wrote differently in Mere Christianity than in either of those. That’s what we aspire to.”

Although the band has recently been featured as a VH1 Artist You Oughta Know and has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Sudano said real success for Johnnyswim meant meeting a much more modest goal.

“It’s the day we knew we could pay our bills through music,” she said. “The day when, after a year, we realized we wouldn’t have to do something else to make music work. That was so freeing.”

The secret of that success, Ramirez believes, is the ability of both the artists and the music to connect. It’s a conversation, he explained, between him and his wife and Johnnyswim and the audience.

“We are who we appear to be on stage,” he said. “Those songs sound like Amanda sang them while cooking dinner and while I was in the next room, picking it out on a guitar because that’s the truth. That’s who we are.”

Tickets are $25 advance, $30 at the gate and $75 VIP from westoboufestival.com.

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WHO: Johnnyswim

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3

WHERE: The Old Academy of Richmond County, 540 Telfair Street

TICKETS: $25 advance, $30 at the gate, $75 VIP; westoboufestival.com