What's in store for the local music scene? 

I RAN into an old acquaintance the other night whom I hadn’t spoken to in several years. Come to think of it, the last extended conversation the two of us shared might just have been the night we took in the Bocephus and Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at the Civic Center.

He lives in Florida now painting yachts (which, according to him, is still a thriving business despite the nation’s financial woes) and only gets back to town a couple of days each year. He told me he likes to maintain a connection to Savannah —where he spent most of his youth— but he prefers to live somewhere else, returning infrequently to find solace in everything about this place which had somehow stayed pretty much the same as when he left.

I offered that part of the inherent attraction of Savannah for those of us who remain here year in and year out is that one can’t help but feel as though about 90 percent of the infrastructure and vibe of this city has remained virtually immutable for longer than anyone alive can remember — but the other ten percent is in a perpetual state of almost constant flux.

It’s that strange dichotomy of stasis and (supposed) progress that lies at the heart of Savannah’s fabled charm.

Keeping that in mind, as we shift gears and re-orient ourselves, it seems a fitting time to stop, breathe deeply, and reflect on the past 12 months — and what this upcoming 12 may hold for the local music scene in general.

On the club scene, since the not unexpected demise of Kokopelli’s on Broughton, we’re once more bereft of a dedicated live jazz venue. How many more times must someone sink a ton of money into such a venture before they finally arrive at the precise combination of talent, promotion, production value, drink prices and cover charges to make a listening room of that sort thrive?

At least a handful of other bars, restaurants and hotels —such as Jazz’d Tapas Bar, the Mansion on Forsyth, Vic’s on the River and the Four Points by Sheraton Historic District (the setting for occasional Coastal Jazz Assn. concerts)— can still be counted on to book local, regional and national jazz acts with some degree of regularity.

The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, in addition to its roster of indie film offerings, continues to offer a mixed bag of live music (ranging from old-time acoustic Americana to death metal) as well as standup comedy, spoken word and all manner of community outreach. However, as a music venue, it still suffers a bit from a lack of consistency or a cohesive vision of just what type of performance space it wants to be.

Contrary to published reports, The Jinx, our longest-running small venue specializing in alternative rock, metal, punk and underground hip-hop, did not move from Congress Street to a larger Broughton St. basement space underneath Urban Outfitters. There’s still speculation as whether they’ll shift their operations to an as-yet-undisclosed location in the coming months or remain where they are, but management has recently announced confirmed shows through May 1.

Live Wire Music Hall (which opened last year on the far west end of River Street) continues to distinguish itself as perhaps the venue most willing to think outside the box genre-wise. To date, they’ve offered Southern rock, blues, indie-pop, modern punk, jam-grass, jazz, funk, Afro-beat, neo-soul, reggae and jam acts. They currently boast one of the best in-house PAs of any nightclub-sized local venue, but are still hampered by the narrow layout of their main room and the poor visibility for patrons more than a few rows back.

New kids on the block The Distillery and The Wormhole are taking different approaches to presenting music and alcohol, but if they can survive, each seems poised to offer something to disparate, under-served demographics.

Initially billed as a 300-capacity live music room that would feature famous national acts, buzzworthy regional artists and standout local talent while also serving comfort food and a diverse selection of craft beers, The Distillery (on the corner of Liberty across from the Visitors Center) scaled back their initial goals to concentrate on what their space lent itself to best: a casually upscale pub with an impressive selection of exotic brews in bottle and on tap.

However, now that they’re settled in, they’re starting to book solo acoustic artists, duos and smallish, customer-friendly bands playing non-confrontational pop, rock, blues, jazz and folk.

The Wormhole Bar, on the other hand, took the plunge in a rather uncharted neighborhood (the Starland Design District around Bull and 41st Sts.) and are making the best of a less-than-great situation: after space renovation delays and characteristically sluggish city inspectors pushed their opening date several months behind schedule (and ate up plenty of their budget for sound and lighting equipment), they’re now booking a wide variety of ultra-indie rock, metal and punk acts and serving beer and wine (no hard liquor license yet).

They have a legal capacity of around 250, and a roomy stage — but the low ceilings of their space and its spartan interior makes the place feel more like a spacious basement jam room than a legit nightclub.

Then again, it’s been a long time since that sort of low-budget, DIY vibe was embraced by any venue in this town other than a handful of thrown-together, unlicensed all-ages dives that vanished about as quickly as they sprang up. There’s something comforting about this place that may appeal to folks who came of age in the first and second waves of the original college rock scene, when bare-bones performance spaces like this were the norm in small towns across the Southeast.

Whether enough people will embrace this space and this mood to keep such a place solvent remains to be seen.

And finally, Randy Wood’s Concert Hall, the intimate, 100-seat smoke and alcohol-free listening room in Bloomingdale (about 25 min. from downtown) has slowly but surely branched out from its usual top-notch bluegrass fare to present an increasing number of acclaimed singer-songwriters, acoustic jazz artists and the occasional blues act.

Sadly, this unpretentious all-ages venue remains perhaps the best-kept secret in the area and deserves much more of a following than it has accrued over the years.

In next week’s issue, we’ll take stock of the state of major touring acts playing our market, as well as the slow influx of independent promoters into our local club and theater scene. cs

The following week, we’ll highlight forward movement in regards to Savannah’s music-oriented festivals, as well as take a look at a number of local artists who are scheduled to release new records over the coming 12 months.


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Jim Reed

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