Its been sixteen years since the inception of the Savannah Music Festival, and in that time, its made an interesting transition from a moderately known yet well respected vocal competition (known as Savannah Onstage) to its current incarnation as one of the most interesting and ambitious musical events in the entire United States.
While it is now regularly mentioned in the same breath as Charleston, S.C.s world-renowned Spoleto Festival, in truth, the Savannah Music Fest is finally beginning to step out from behind the shadow of that more established cousin, and based on the infectious enthusiasm Executive and Artistic Director Rob Gibson has for not only the newly announced 2006 roster of artists but the future potential of this annual event, it deserves to be judged solely on its own merits.
Though primarily thought of as a celebration of classical and jazz genres, the Savannah Music Fest is a much more open-minded affair. For the past several years (ever since its name and direction changed) it has been Gibsons fervent mission to present a well-rounded sampling of artists from across the globe, and one would be forgiven for thinking hed just about outdone himself this time around.
In addition to the aforementioned genres, some of the finest names in the fields of blues, chamber music, bluegrass, world music, gospel, zydeco, roots-rock and more will converge on our city for a seventeen day marathon of jaw-dropping talent. And in a surprising move that many in this community will surely hail as both extremely welcome and rather unexpected for the first time, the festival will offer tiered pricing for virtually all of its major concerts.
This means that instead of all the seats in the Lucas, Trustees or Johnny Mercer Theaters costing the same regardless of location, ticketholders will have their choice of spending more for those with the best view and sound (or as Gibson and Public Relations Manager Danette Wills call them the sweet spot), or substantially less for those farther away from the stage such as balcony seats or those in the back of the room.
This radical departure from the previous routine means that now, young people, those on fixed incomes, and just plain average folks can easily afford to see four to five times as many shows as they could at the 2005 festival.
Thats because even though most of last years events topped out at around $35 or $40, once you factor in lunch or dinner and parking, its not hard for two people to spend a hundred dollars or more on just one concert. Now, its possible to catch such legendary stars as Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller for as little as $15, or Les Ballet Africains (the National Dance Company of The Republic of Guinea), Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, or The Del McCoury Band each for as little as $10. Thats much less than youd see them for anywhere else (in a bigger room no less). Throw in a cheap meal and its the best date in town.
Mind you, these seats arent bad by any means. To paraphrase Gibson, it aint the price its the proximity.
With less than 1,200 seats available in both the Lucas and the Trustees, and less than 2,400 in the Johnny Mercer, no matter where youre parked, youve got a fine view of the stage and all three have better than average acoustics, so therell be no problem hearing the music. Compared to the 4,500-seat Fox Theater in Atlanta (an historic venue designed by the same hand as our Lucas), the back row of the Lucas is 110 feet closer to the lip of the stage, notes Gibson with a palpable glee.
Ive sat up there at the back. Its a great view, and its a great value.
This is all about inclusion, he continues. My job is to bring great music to Savannah, and a lot of that depends on tourists who come here specifically for this event. But we want to feel like pretty much everyone in town can take part in this if they want to.
Were bussing in thousands of schoolkids this year just as we always do so that they can see for free a lot of the same shows we charge for. Thats one way of giving back to the community, this is another.
The Savannah Music Festival runs from March 17 through April 2, 2006 at a variety of local venues. Many events are free of charge. For a complete and updated schedule of concerts and information on how to reserve tickets, go to www.savannahmusicfestival.org, or call the Box Office at 525-5050.