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Hidden gems 

Before we begin, I should make one thing clear. This piece is geared toward those of you who are visiting our fair city for the Saint Patrick’s Day holiday.

Now, that’s not to say that folks who live here year round won’t find some valuable information contained herein, but the truth remains – this is a primer for those unfamiliar with our local nightlife.

The idea itself was deceptively simple. You see, we’ve been expecting you. In fact, some folks have been waiting on you for just about a year.

This is the single biggest week of the year for many of the businesses in Savannah that deal with the tourism industry. It’s when both kinds of green can be found blanketing the town like so much confetti. And, as a result, many people have come to rely on this five or six day period as though it were a life preserver.

For some of them, it certainly serves as one. Many taverns and eateries would most definitely have a rougher time making a long-term go of things if it weren’t for the almost overwhelming influx of visitors this holiday draws to the city each year.

So, you’re here now. And we’re obliged to show you a good time.

Now you’ve probably heard tell about the wild times to be had on River Street, and many of those tales need no embellishment. It’s understandable you’ll want to check out the scene down there and get a gander for yourself. In fact, I encourage you to do so. It is a Savannah tradition and something to behold. it’s not for everyone, but even those who don’t normally go in for that sort of thing can get a tremendous kick out of it in small doses.

It’s always intrigued me how the mood and overall tone of the crowd by the river can shift almost imperceptibly while you’re actually taking part in it.

At one moment it seems like a full-on party – wild, unpredictable, and raucously festive. Then, you’ll turn away for a moment, speak to a friend or buy something to eat or drink, and by the time you focus your attention on your surroundings again, you find the whole place has become rather sheepish and mild.

I suppose that has a great deal to do with herd mentality. Regardless, it’s incumbent upon the folks who plan the free, outdoor entertainment by the river (and in the City Market area) to select acts which they feel will appeal to the widest swath of the public. That’s why you have so many middle-of-the-road acts featured in that milieu.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s the nature of the beast. And, to their credit, there’s usually a few oddballs thrown into the mix each year to keep the more adventurous among us intrigued, while the less adventurous head for the Port-O-Lets.

But with those understandable restrictions in mind, it would stand to reason that if you want to really get a feel for what nightlife and entertainment in Savannah is truly all about, you’d have to ditch River Street or City Market at some point in your travels, and head indoors.

You’ll have to find a place with its own feel, it’s own vibe. The kind of place that has a personality all its own, and whose proprietors work hard to maintain that personality day in and day out, all year round. The sort of place that looks forward to the extra income that tens of thousands of visitors bring with them, but isn’t that interested in shifting gears to acommodate strangers. A take it or leave it sort of place.

As I said, the idea for this piece when hatched was deceptively simple. We’d simply shine a bit of a spotlight on some of the more idiosyncratic nightspots that feature live entertainment on some sort of regular basis here in town, and make sure our newfound readership knew how to easily locate the edgier side of Saint Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia.

So, we came up with the title “Hidden Gems,” as seeking this stuff out is a bit like searching for an emerald in a pile of fiberglass. But, that implies that each of these options are incredibly valuable – which is not necessarily the case. Rather, it’s the fact that these options exist which makes them so valuable.

The fact that you could wander the streets buying floppy hats and deely boppers, and never know that just around the block and a few streets down was a terrific rockabilly band, or a memorable blues singer.

So, with all apologies to anyone or anyplace we haven’t included in this half-cocked list, here are some of the more interesting diversions adventurous revelers can locate this holiday weekend.

Starting on Wednesday, as things always seem to around this time of year, Voodoo Soup plays JJ Cagney’s on River Street. You’ll have to duck inside this dark, stone-walled rock club, but if you do, you’ll catch a terrific jam-oriented band with a killer rhythm section, a soulful vocalist and a passionate lead guitarist. Their repertoire is mostly classic rock and funk covers, but they’re not afraid to take chances and let the chips fall where they may.

A few blocks away on Congress Street at The Jinx, Savannah’s premiere punk, alternative and metal venue, they’ve got Lock And Key, a highly touted post-hardcore band that just released their debut CD on the prestigious Deep Elm Records. It’s a blistering thirty-eight minute slab of raging, emo-influenced indie rock that many critics are saying is the best such release to emerge in 2005.

Next door, the Mercury Lounge presents the Eric Culberson Blues Band. Eric’s our town’s best-known electric blues guitarist, and he tours frequently up and down the East Coast. If you enjoy the work of Albert King or Buddy Guy, you’ll want to check them out. Thursday and Saturday, they’ll head down to Cagney’s and share the wealth.

Back on River Street, one of Savannah’s most promising original bands plays Fiddler’s Crab House. They’re called Passafire, and they dig deep into the danceable grooves of both reggae and hip-hop, incorporating them into a traditional rock band format. They too, are starting to tour regionally, and seem on the verge of bigger things. They’re playing a number of venues over the next few days. Check our Soundboard Club Calendar for all the details.

Skipping to Thursday and getting away from the river a bit, local songwriter Jan Spillane plays a free 1 pm show at the Elysium Wine bar near the corner of Bull and Liberty. She’s released two indie albums of soulful, blues-oriented tunes.

The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse off Forsyth Park continues in this vein with acoustic bluesman Michael Amburgey at 8 pm. MIchael’s an excellent bottleneck guitarist and vocalist, and mines rural folk blues of the ‘30s through the ‘60s.

Now, heading back to The Jinx a bit later on, things start to get really interesting, with a double bill North Carolina’s raunchy psychobilly semi-stars Jimmy & The Teasers and The Pietasters, an eight-piece ska/punk band from the Washington, D.C. area that’s been around for fifteen years, and has been on the Warped Tour and opened for the late Joe Strummer of The Clash. This show will likely be one of the wilder ones of the weekend, as every time the Teasers come to town, debauchery seems to occur.

Another up-and-coming local act that mixes up a variety of unusual influences (from jam to rock to punk to reggae) is Argyle. They’re playing Cagney’s on Thursday and Friday, and then moving to Savannah Blues (an cozy underground club beneath City Market) for a gig on Saturday. They’re an engaging band that’s well worth a listen for fans of unpredictable, energetic alternative rock.

Friday at The Jinx, The Dangerfields, a retro punk band from Belfast – who are favorites of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson – open for South Carolina’s The Independents, a horror-core band that has toured with The Misfits and was managed and produced by the late Joey Ramone.

For fans of instrumental jazz, Eat Mo’ Music, a local funk quintet plays both Friday and Saturday nights on Bay Street at the Moon River Brewing Company. No cover, and the shows start at 8:30 pm.

For those who dig on adult entertainment, across the bridge on the way to Hardeeville, The Gold Club throws a Friday night bash with popular Beaufort metal band Souls Harbor acting as human jukeboxes.

Also on Friday, Where is Willis, an exceptional, keyboard-driven jam band from Colorado that cites Herbie Hancock and Medeski Martin and Wood as influences, make their debut at Cagney’s.

Finally, for those looking for something completely different from the overwhelming majority of live music options going on around town this weekend, here are two real curveballs.

On Friday at Club Oz, a giant, warehouse space-turned hip-hop and rap club on Indian Street a few blocks West of Montgomery, is hosting a hometown performance by neo-soul singer Anthony David, who is best known for his collaborations with india.arie.

And also on Friday, Atlanta poet and singer Kodac Harrison plays a rare trio show at Tybee Island’s Caribbean restaurant The North Beach Grill. If you’re a fan of John Prine or Tom Waits, you’ll want to consider checking out Kodac.

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Jim Reed

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