Once Great Estate is a band that was born out of the landscape and history of North Florida, the lifelong home (apart from a four-year college stint) of the group’s driving force, Tracy Horenbein. Along with fellow travelers Jeffrey Chagnon (bass), F. Matthew Burns (guitar and mandolin), Christopher Ash (fiddle and guitar) and drummer Steve Burke, in 2018 Tracy migrated to particularly southern Americana territory.
After a career in music that touched on many different genres, even punk rock (back in the late 1980s), Tracy took a new direction in order to bring her songwriting to the fore, as she explains: “I really just wanted to get back to what I originally fell in love with, which was songwriting. To me, the Americana genre is where that shines the most.”
Her approach to songwriting is uncomplicated. “I basically just go somewhere by myself and start imagining little scenarios in my head, little mini-movies, and just start putting it down on paper—and hope that it translates…” Apparently her songs have translated quite well, even being described as “cinematic southern rock” by one reviewer.
The band’s name arose directly from Tracy’s experience while walking “out in nature” on the 20 acres where she lives near Tallahassee, which has been in her family for generations. “I was just walking around one day, observing how the property had changed…It’s a ‘once great estate’ but there’s still beauty in the decay…It’s transitioned into a different kind of beauty; not so manicured as it once was, but still lovely.”
The band has released an album, an EP and five singles, and performed regularly around the southeast region. The most recent release, the album Even the Undertaker, was scheduled to be recorded with the whole band in the studio, to get a completely organic feel. The pandemic, however, changed that plan. Instead, each musician recorded their parts individually in the studio, with some guest players also submitting material remotely. Despite that limitation, the result clearly has an authentic sound, with the title track even hitting #1 on the country chart in South Africa.
The title is from a quote by one of Tracy’s favorite writers, Mark Twain: “Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.” She sums up it succinctly as an exhortation to “try and make your time here count.”