The Savannah Stopover festival, a three-day music fest held within multiple venues all over historic downtown Savannah, was a blast—and not only because of that infamous open-container law.
I was invited to head down to Savannah for what has become one of the most desirable stops on many American band tours before Austin's SXSW festival, the Savannah Stopover. In 2011, after noticing that for the last number of years many bands had chosen to stop in the little North Georgia city on their way down the East coast towards Austin, the music folks in Savannah decided to collaborate and put together a music celebration that fits their style of Deep South partying, incorporated multiple small venues across town as well as some bigger outdoor staging areas, all that make use of one of the most unique things about Savannah—the fact that you can walk with alcohol from bar to bar without worrying about a ticket of any kind.
Since this fabled city of drinking is just a hop, skip, and a jump, from Chucktown (about 2 hours straight down Highway 17), Grit photographer Anna Ward and I decided to make the trip and check this eclectic mix of well-known and up-and-coming bands out for ourselves.
I arrived on Thursday night and immediately headed to The Florence, an Italian restaurant a little further out than the typical downtown tourist area, to hang with my bartender friend Tart and grab some of their delicious pizza.
After filling up on grub, I drove to their house, parked, and sidled over to Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum for my first line-up of bands. I wasn't able to catch the new local Savannahian band Breakers open the festival, but I did get there in time to see Sun Club. Their rollicking, tripped out music is a treat in a big crowd, and you could tell they were enjoying themselves, looping vocals over blissed-big-guitar riffs and drum solos. It was a fun show to watch because the Sun Club guys are so performative.
Next up was Ra Ra Riot—this band was actually one of my favorite bands in high school, so I was pumped to see them. They didn't disappoint, rolling out a collection of their most popular releases from the last decade as well as newer stuff from their recently dropped 4th studio album, Need Your Light. It was great to see them live, the glossy sound they've always had has definitely matured over time, and the strings—always a big part of Ra Ra Riot's sound—are more integrated with the rest of the band these days.
After getting my weekend off to a great start (with some beer from festival sponsor Lagunitas Brewing Company) I stepped out to check up on another friend, with whom I was staying the night. I walked down the street to The Grey, Savannah's James Beard Award-nominated food and drink destination in an old Greyhound Bus station, and grabbed a cocktail with my old neighborhood friend Scott. The interior of this place was incredible, and the drink I got—the Palmetto—with rum, Campari, and house-made orange bitters, was great too.
We then proceeded to head on a wild tour of all of Savannah's divier local bars, but that's a list for another time. I eventually passed out to prepare for Friday's action-packed list of bands.
I got up around 10am since it had been a fairly late night and walked from where I was staying on Forsyth Park to The Collins Quarter for an amazing brunch of lamb burger and an iced cold-brew coffee. Next, I spent some time exploring town, hanging in the press lounge, and getting a feel for Savannah. It's definitely has a character completely different from the Holy City, one that I had not anticipated. The Riverwalk is an awesome opportunity to see how shipping used to occur along the river, and the streets and squares lend a definite city feeling to the town.
I finally made my way to Congress Street Social Club, or "Social" for the afternoon's selection of bands. First up was Motel Radio. This band was the surprise winner of the weekend for me. Their Americana sound was a little more funky than a lot of what country-folk music aficianados are hearing right now, and it worked. I enjoyed the set immensely and would highly recommend the band to anyone. These guys are gonna be big.
Social, which, by the way, is a fun spot with a great outdoor patio/bar and some of the friendliest staff I have met at a drinking hole anywhere. For the massive crowds they had, I am still shocked by how kind and open my servers were throughout the weekend, offering me suggestions on where to go and even bringing me a Stopover guidebook when they noticed I was covering the festival.
After Motel Radio was Sydney Eloise & The Palms, a fun folk-rock band backing up a great female vocalist with a booming, throaty voice and unique style that I found reminsicient of rock-n-roll women like Janis Joplin or Bonnie Raitt. Finally, right as Tedo Stone, an Atlanta rock band with some good rhythm and fierce vocals, was getting into the second half of their set, Anna Ward arrived into town and we went to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
After we changed and arrived back downtownvia Uber we headed back to Ships of the Sea to see Great Peacock. This is another funky Americana band (seeing a trend in my music choices here?) Anna was able to start snapping some great shots of them in action, and the dude in the poncho was a real treat to see jamming out live onstage. Listen to their song "Making Ghosts" here.
Great Peacock — photo by Anna Ward
Next we saw Brooklyn-based Hollis Brown, another great group. The crowd was picking up at this point, and Hollis Brown did their best to get the attendees involved in the show, with fast-paced fun guitar and a really strong stage presence from the lead singer. Their sound was smoother than the more Southern-rock tinged jamming preceding them, but they fit right in to this Americana lineup.
Mike Montali of Hollis Brown — photo by Anna Ward
Finally, the moment we had been waiting for—Blitzen Trapper. By this point both Anna and I had indulged in a Deep Eddy cocktail, and we were feeling good. We were excited for this band. If you haven't heard of this folk-rock outfit, you've probably heard their 2008 hit song "Furr" from the album of the same name. Their experimental country tunes are a great live concert, and the crowd really responded to their most recent tunes as well as their older stuff. Check out their new single EP Mystery and Wonder.
Eric Earley, lead singer/songwriter of Blitzen Trapper — photo by Anna Ward
After going wild for Trapper, we left Ships of the Sea and walked towards the main drag of bars and venues—Congress Street. We had really seen all the bands we thought we wanted to for Friday night, but we wandered into The Jinx anyway. And that's when we saw the best show of Savannah Stopover. Wild Powwers.
The drummer for Seattle-based grunge/shoe-gaze trio Wild Powwers, Lupe Flores, is truly a treat to see live. She loves what she is doing, and damn, is she GOOD at it. She sings the harmonies on almost every song! She smiles and flips her hair back from her eyes as though it were nothing! The whole experience just seemed like she was pulling raw power out of the air and thrashing it onto her drum kit. We were in love from the first rip-roaring song. Anna had a major girl-crush on this badass, and took upwards of 40 pics, but here's a taste.
Lupe Flores of Wild Powwers — photos (2) by Anna Ward
The next day we woke up for the Lovitt Records label showcase at Social. We were pretty hungover, but we got there and were all set up to see see Ancient Warfare as well as The Stargazer Lillies. Both of these bands have big sound and a semi-ambient liltingness to them. They drew a big crowd, but weren't necessarily my cup of tea. A little too sleepy for the middle of a hot Savannah Saturday.
We were starting to feel the real affects of our Friday night as we saw The Stargazer Lilies play their blissed-out shoe gaze on the patio. After they finished their set, and right as the evening crowds were slamming in, we called it quits and admitted that the Savannah drinking crowd had defeated us.
The Stargazer Lilies and the crowd at Congress Street Social Club — photo by Anna Ward
All in all, it was a great weekend of awesome live music. I saw some groups I was familiar with, and got acquainted with two new bands that I will be grooving to all summer. We got to see a wide variety of talented musicians jam out in one of the most fun places I've ever been to. Definitely a must day-trip for any Charlestonians. I hope to see more of you there next year.
Check out Savannah Stopover here for more info on next year's festival.