Savannah Music Festival announces lineup

Artists include Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs, Blind Boys of Alabama & Angelique Kidjo

SINCE 2003, when the long-running Savannah Onstage International Arts Festival broadened its scope significantly and was reborn as the diverse Savannah Music Festival, our city has played host to one of the most interesting and unique musical celebrations of its type in the U.S.

For many locals and visitors alike, 2008’s 17-day installment of the festival (which takes place March 20-April 5 at numerous venues throughout the city) will be a must-see event which affords once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to attend several performances created specifically for this series.

Wednesday night, the SMF celebrates the announcement of their 2008 lineup with a private press conference capped by a public show from acclaimed Louisiana string band The Red Stick Ramblers at the American Legion Post on Forsyth Park (admission to the 7:15 p.m. gig is $10 at the door, though members of SNAP — an association of young music patrons — get in free). The following morning, on the festival’s website, tickets to the entire festival go on sale.

Executive and Artistic Director Rob Gibson’s knack for talking artists from disparate fields into collaborating together on unique, commissioned programs doesn’t accurately convey the palpable, electric feeling audience members often get when attending the SMF.

BBC Radio Two nailed it, however, when they called the SMF a haven for “music making of the highest order.”

“It’s not all scripted,” they continued. “People are willing to be spontaneous.”

It’s impossible to note every worthwhile event at the 2008 SMF in this preview — plus, you can find all that info on their website as of tomorrow. But, we can point out some of the most interesting and highly anticipated bookings, by genre...


Waynesboro, Ga. native and star trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (a perennial SMF favorite) premieres a new autobiographical work. Keyboardists Eric Reed, Carl “Sonny” Leyland, the legendary Hank Jones and Marcus Roberts all join forces for another installment of the popular and intimate Piano Showdown, which has become a tradition at the SMF.

Gospel & Soul

World-famous singing group The Blind Boys of Alabama return to the SMF after several years, to be joined by the “One Man Band” Adolphus Bell, a deep southern blues and R & B singer who has been accompanying himself for years on guitar, mouth harp and percussion, and has only recently begun to enjoy international acclaim. And, now that locally-raised artist Kristina Beaty has been signed to the famed Blue Note label, she’ll show off her sultry vocal skills, backed by scat/blues/acoustic soul act Scrapomatic.


Classical music fans will be thrilled to hear that conductor Robert Spano is bringing the beloved Atlanta Symphony Orchestra back to town, along with Garrick Ohlsson (the first American ever to win the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition).

Chamber Music

Eight-time Grammy winners The Emerson String Quartet will be joined by member David Finckel’s wife, acclaimed pianist Wu Han — plus, pianist/founder Menahem Pressler’s Beaux Arts Trio (a classical institution since 1955) appears on their final tour.

Country & Bluegrass

Nashville hitmaker, archivist and showman Marty Stuart returns following his triumphant SMF debut last year, and he’s bringing the legendary Porter Wagoner with him (though he’s currently battling lung cancer, we’re assured Mr. Wagoner will be here). Following a triumphant tour of Tibet and China, acoustic combo The Sparrow Quartet (featuring banjoist Bela Fleck, violinist Casey Driessen, cellist Ben Solle and guitarist Abigail Washburn) bring their mélange of Old-Time and modern string music and neo-folk to town. Mandolin great Ricky Skaggs returns as well, for a set with famed pop, jazz and jam pianist Bruce Hornsby with whom he recently released an album..


Modern Skirts, currently the darlings of the Athens, Ga. music scene bring their piano and guitar-based, Beach Boys and R.E.M.-influenced chamber-pop back to Savannah after a long absence.

Blues & Zydeco

Derek Trucks has appeared at so many SMF’s you’d be forgiven for wondering if the youngest member of The Allman Brothers Band was on the festival’s Board of Directors. In addition to a set with his own group, he’ll take part in a one-time-only summit meeting of slide guitarists from around the globe, including Jerry Douglas, Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman. Locally-based electric guitarist and singer Eric Culberson finally gets the nod and brings his fiery brand of Chicago and Memphis-style R & B to the festival, in a double-bill with another respected Georgia gunslinger, Sean Costello. Louisiana’s Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys play dance-oriented, accordion-based Cajun music.


Among the numerous standout musicians on tap for 2008 are SMF’s Associate Artistic Director, violinist Daniel Hope, as well as pianists Sebastian Knauer and prodigies Yundi Li and Yu Kosuge.

World Music

Benin’s superstar vocalist Angelique Kidjo, whom many may know from her show-stopping performance in Martin Scorsese’s Lightning In A Bottle blues concert documentary, draws on Afropop, Caribbean, Congolese, hip-hop, jazz and funk styles. Kurdish Iranian composer and musician Ali Akbar Moradi is a master of the sacred tambur (Sufi lute). Brazilian bandolim (mandolin) great Hamilton de Holanda and his Quintet make a rare single U.S. appearance at this fest. Andalusian vocalist Antonio Pitingo makes a special U.S. appearance as well. Perhaps the most exciting young singer in his field, he draws on the history and varied styles of Flamenco music to create his own, modern take on the genre.


The Divine Divas program features three-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, Portuguese Fado singer Ana Moura and Jennifer Larmore, the most recorded mezzo soprano of all time.


Fresh off the smash worldwide reunion tour by his most famous band The Police, rhythmatist, composer and indie filmmaker Stewart Copeland premieres original music, and screens his impressionistic “rockumentary” Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out. Pianist Rick Friend (an SMF audience favorite) returns to provide live accompaniment to three classic silent films by Buster Keaton and Alfred Hitchcock.

Tickets to these shows and more at SNAP membership info at: