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The SMF drops it like it’s hot 

Savannah Music Festival announces 2009 lineup, releases tickets

Much to the delight of all manner of folks throughout our community —and elsewhere— 2009 will mark the seventh installment of the Savannah Music Festival.

Initially known as the Savannah Onstage International Arts Festival, the long-running spring event changed dramatically in 2003 with the entrance of Rob Gibson, a noted music scholar and promoter who had previously been the first Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Under his artistic and business leadership, the SMF quickly became one of the most celebrated and diverse musical celebrations in North America, and easily the largest in the state of Georgia.

One of the only showcases of its kind (in that it boldly presents classical, jazz, world beat, blues, gospel, assorted roots genres and even a bit of rock and pop alongside each other), it has won praise from critics and the ticket buying public alike for an unswerving devotion to quality and a dedication to discerning, tracking down and presenting some of the finer exponents of their respective genres — the overwhelming majority of which would otherwise never perform in Savannah, and, in many cases, would likely never appear in the Southeastern U.S. either.

In past years, audiences have been treated to stellar recitals and intimate, supper-club-style shows by everyone from classical legends such as The Beaux Arts Trio and pianist Andre Watts to Creole zydeco sensation Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. and from iconic blues guitarists like Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin to sitar British/Indian phenomenon Anoushka Shankar and African funk-pop superstar Angelique Kidjo.

The festival is also known for commissioning brand-new works (such as last year’s debut of “Celeste” by Police drummer and rhythmatist/composer Stewart Copeland) and orchestrating unique, one-time-only collaborations between disparate artists who may have no prior connection to one another.

Wednesday night, the SMF celebrates the announcement of their 2009 lineup with a private press conference at the Charles H. Morris Center, capped by a low-dough public ALL-AGES show by rising bluegrass stars The Infamous Stringdusters.

The following morning at 8 am, tickets to the entire 2009 SMF go on sale, and considering the buzz which increasingly surrounds these annual announcements, it’s something of a safe bet that by later in the week, the best seats to some of the more notable shows will have been snatched up.

“It’s definitely the most diverse season to date,” says SMF Communications Manager Ryan McMaken — and this pronouncement is borne out by the thrilling list of veteran and rising artists on tap for the 18-day showcase.

While the upcoming festival’s lineup has been a closely guarded secret for several months now, the full roster and schedule can be found online Thursday morning. However, Connect is thrilled to be able to offer our readers a tantalizing glimpse at some of the highlights:

AMERICANA & ROOTS ROCK: Alt.country darling Neko Case (known to many as a key member of indie-rock band The New Pornographers) makes her Savannah debut bolstered by the opening act, Crooked Fingers — led by Eric Bachmann, formerly the vocalist for early ‘90s N.C. college-rockers Archers of Loaf. Pianists Marcus Roberts and Sebastian Knauer interpret a bevy of tunes from the George Gershwin songbook.

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Here's a great clip of Neko Case from a few years back on the esteemed PBS show Austin City Limits:

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BLUEGRASS, ETC...: Connect sponsors an exclusive SMF production of Long Time Travelin’. Hosted by noted singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale, this revue features appearances by International Bluegrass Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, traditional ballad singer Tim Eriksen, Uncle Earl’s fiddler Rayna Gellert, multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sauber and The Tattnall River Shapenote Singers. Nickel Creek co-founder Chris Thile returns to town with his latest project, The Punch Brothers, a near-virtuosic “country-classical” string ensemble featuring members of Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters and players who have worked with Jerry Douglas and Tony Trischka.

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Here's a recent live-in-the-studio performance by The Punch Brothers:

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BLUES & ZYDECO: Georgia’s own Beverly “Guitar” Watkins has been playing publicly since the ‘50s, learning at the feet of the famed barrelhouse blues keyboardist Piano Red. She’ll share a bill with the beloved Piedmont blues exponents Cephas & Wiggins. La.-based fiddler, accordionist and singer Cedric Watson and band heat up the Morris Center as the backbone of the annual Zydeco Dance Party.

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Here's the duo of Cephas & Wiggins with their rendition of an old Muddy Waters classic, at the 2007 Smithsonian FolkLife Festival:

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CHAMBER MUSIC: The Prazak Quartet (one of Europe’s most revered groups) offers a program featuring all-Czech compositions from Dvorak, Janacek and Smetana.

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Here's The Prazak Quartet performing Smetana's String Quartet, Allegro moderato.:

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DANCE: Tony Award winning Savion Glover (believed by many to be the single greatest living tap dancer) combines both of his unique collaborative combos, The Otherz and Marshall Davis, Jr. & Maurice Chestnut in this special performance based around several different musical genres.

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Here's a British TV feature on Savion Glover's London debut in June of 2007:

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JAZZ: Four-time Grammy winning vocalist Dianne Reeves returns to the SMF, backed by her all-star trio. Famed West Coast jazz luminaries The Clayton Brothers Jeff and John (on sax and bass, respectively) make their Savannah debut with a quintet that also features the up-and-coming pianist Gerald Clayton. Nine-time Grammy winning pianist Eddie Palmieri brings his fiery brand of danceable Latin jazz back to town once more. Renowned guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Aldean and Howard Paul join forces with reed man Ken Peplowski for an evening of cool, clean melodies. And, in perhaps the SMF’s most exciting announcement for jazz fans, Chick Corea (of Return to Forever) and John McLaughlin (of The Mahavishnu Orchestra) join forces for the first time since their stint in Miles Davis’ band four decades ago. Their Five Peace Band also includes saxman Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade.

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Here's a fan-shot clip from the front row at the Five Peace Band's recent Nov. 3 show in the Netherlands:

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ORCHESTRAL: The Atlanta Symphony returns after a triumphant appearance at last year’s SMF for their final performance of jazz pianist extraordinaire Marcus Roberts’ original arrangement of Gershwin’s Concerto in F for his trio and orchestra, which the Berlin Philharmonic debuted in 2002. Plus, the Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of harpsichordist Richard Egarr (called “the Bernstein of early music” by NPR), offers a Baroque period-correct recital of J.S. Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos.

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Here's a section of Handel's Messiah as interpreted by the Academy of Ancient Music:

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ROCK & POP: Guitarist and former Berklee professor Bobby Lee Rodgers is best known for leading the rising jam-fusion trio The CodeTalkers, but this special engagement finds he and his bandmates augmented by the likes of Widespread Panic member Jimmy Herring and B3 organ badass Ike Stubblefield, who’s gigged with everyone from Eric Clapton and Jerry Garcia to Marvin Gaye and Al Green.

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Here's an intense and spacey groove from Bobby Lee Rodgers & The CodeTalkers live at Charlotte, N.C.'s Double Door earlier this year:

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VOCALISTS: Immediately following their appearance at Carnegie Hall, tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake offer a program of Franz Schubert’s 19th Century German romantic art songs. The great cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci makes her Savannah debut in a special commissioned program of works by our very own native son, the late, great Johnny Mercer.

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Here's Ina Bostridge (accompanied by Julius Drake) performing Schubert's "Die Forelle":

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WORLD MUSIC: One of the most highly anticipated bookings at the 2009 SMF must surely be Mariza, considered the premiere singer of the passionate Portuguese style known as fado in the world today. Mandolin master Mike Marshall (a familiar face on SMF stages) joins forces with fiddling sensation Darol Anger and Sweden’s most celebrated acoustic string trio VÄsen, for a fiery collaboration highlighting the similarities between Appalachian mountain music and Swedish polskas. Once more, the SMF presents stunningly talented Indian musicians — in this case, tabla drum icon (and original member of the pioneering Indian/jazz fusion project Shakti) Zakir Hussain and santoor (akin to a hammered dulcimer) master Pandit Shiykumar Sharma. Versatile banjoist Béla Fleck celebrates his recent immersion into the history of his chosen instrument with a concert featuring an all-star cast of African musicians.

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Here's a recent music video from fado superstar Mariza:

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Want to learn more about the dazzling array of talent lined up for the 2009 Savannah Music Festival? Head here for our exclusive interviews with Executive and Artistic Director Rob Gibson, and members of the SMF staff.

See you at the shows!

The Savannah Music Festival

When: March 19 - April 5, 2009

Tickets Released: Thurs., 9 am

Info & Sales: savannahmusicfestival.org

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