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Cruel, cruel summer

For those of us who love live music, the next ten days present a serious dilemma.

Option A for the next week or so: in the spirit of summer, continue making the rounds of Savannah’s music venues, listening and dancing to the likes of Bottles and Cans, The Train Wrecks, Eat Mo’ Music, and The 8 Tracks.

Going out to hear locally-based bands supports talented Savannah folks squeaking out livings as full time musicians, or performing every week while also clocking in at “real jobs” as carpenters, business owners, waitresses, school teachers, and even an arborist and a writer. Each show is like a party, with musicians and audience members mixing it up at sophisticated nightclubs or funky beachy bars. The drinks flow and the bartenders and waiters are happy too.

Thinking about those fun times waiting to be had makes Option B sound terribly sensible and serious: stay home watching Law and Order reruns, go to bed early, and save your nickels and dimes in an attempt at delayed gratification, preparing for a steady blast of critically recognized touring musicians that will hit Savannah beginning next week and continuing through the fall.

On Aug. 24, Rory Block and the Straightway Ministries Choir bring a night of blues-meets-gospel out of Mississippi to the Trustees Theater, showcasing Robert Johnson blues classics with Block’s slide guitar and deep vocals that get good and gravelly in the higher notes, backed by a 38-member choir from Utica, Mississippi.

Two days later, at Coastal Jazz Association’s monthly showcase, Atlanta-based jazz singer Audrey Shakir reincarnates Ella Fitzgerald at Tubby’s Conch House on River Street (formerly Cobblestone Conch House).

In all, Savannah will host at least seven concerts and four music festivals between next week and mid November. The lineup is heavy on Americana, with Canada’s folk and country trio the Wailin Jennys sponsored by the Lucas, and The Lovell Sisters, (a young bluegrass trio from Calhoun, Georgia) and the return of The Wiyos’ vaudeville-old-timey sound sponsored by the Folk Music Society. Randy Wood brings two September shows to his Bloomingdale concert hall--Claire Lynch and longtime Savannah favorite Mike Cross.

The week-long Savannah Jazz Festival is scheduling events in venues all over the city in September. October brings the return of the Savannah Folk Festival, this year back in Grayson Stadium as part of Daffin Park’s 100th anniversary celebration.

Then in November, two blues festivals hit town less than one week apart. The marketing of the Savannah Blues Festival in the Civic Center Arena on November 3 suggests a touring show rather than a locally organized event. The annual Blues and Barbecue Festival at the Roundhouse on November 9 and 10 looks like a mix of strong touring acts (Wanda Johnson with Shrimp City Slim, and Johnny Winter) and Savannah based bands (Amburgey & Hanson and The Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love.)

Option A: Go hear local bands? Option B: Plan for the big fall line up?

How about a write-in candidate, Option C: Throw caution out the door, and do it all. Today’s local bar band may be tomorrow’s national touring headliner.

Yang love, first love

While you’re filling in September calendar dates, be sure to include my new favorite musician, rock violinist Bobby Yang, who’ll be appearing up the road at East Georgia College in Swainsboro on September 14. Yang’s first Savannah appearance was at this year’s Asian Festival in June. Road trips to Athens and Decatur this summer gave me the chance to see him in full force: two hour shows with his band the Unrivaled Players, at decidedly more intimate and more acoustically friendly venues. Yang is developing a following for his interpretations of classic rock and R&B/funk. A classically trained violinist, Yang is making his name interpreting the work of others (U2, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder) with passion and energy, wrapping every show with a Yang version of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

At East Georgia College, Yang and the Unrivaled Players will have an additional backup band-- the Atlanta Pops Orchestra. My recollections of “pops” orchestra concerts conjure selections that were technically masterful but just a tad bland, by composers like Henry Mancini and Rodgers & Hammerstein.

There’s no telling what Yang and company have planned for the East Georgia College concert, but no matter whose melodies he chooses, they’re bound to be arrangements not imagined by the original writers. Yang’s website promises, “Watch Bobby and the band rock orchestral style!”

Email Robin Wright Gunn at rgunnsav@bellsouth.net

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Robin Wright Gunn

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