So far, the biggest no–brainer of the year has been the Savannah Stopover. With more than 50 bands and artists playing in town over a five–day period in March – most of them on travel days as they made their way to SXSW in Texas – the Stopover grabbed Savannah’s music scene by the throat, and shook it hard.
Two months later, it’s clear that a new standard has been set.
Although the premier live music clubs in town have been booking nationally–touring indie acts for years, it took a concentrated event like the Stopover to reveal just how insatiable Savannah really was.
“We thought that if we had a successful Stopover, that would show that Savannah has an appetite for really good live music,” says Stopover co–founder Summer Teal Simpson. “And the fact that we were able to fill so many venues, so many nights running, it really was a testament to that appetite.”
With their March momentum still going, and with the benefit of Simpson’s co–founding partner Kayne Lanahan and her little black book full of booking agent and musician contacts, the Stopover is sponsoring a monthly concert series.
Meet the year’s second no–brainer.
Since the Stopover, Simpson, Lanahan and company haven’t had to look too hard for the good stuff. Musicians’ reps have been calling their office, asking when they could get their artists booked in Savannah.
“As those requests kept trickling in we thought, shoot, why don’t we pick the ones that make sense for the market and just go forth with a monthly concert series?” Simpson explains.
The “toe in the water” show was the May 3 performance by singer/songwriter Ashleigh Flynn at the Sentient Bean. On May 13, Louisiana’s Givers will perform at the Jepson Center, in a concert the Stopover folks are producing for the TEDx Creative Coast conference that weekend. Tickets are $10.
Named one of 2010’s Best New Bands by both Stereogum and Paste, Givers is an high–energy, upbeat band that blends a poppy joyfulness with zydeco and reggae rhythms. The band recently released its first major album, In Light, on Glassnote Records (home to Mumford and Sons, Phoenix, Secondhand Serenade and Australia’s insanely popular The Temper Trap, among others).
Simpson is cautiously optimistic about the monthly series. “We’re just going to kind of see where it goes from here,” she says.
That was pretty much her attitude last October, when she and Lanahan dreamed up the idea for an indie festival in Savannah.
Lanahan had recently relocated from New York with her website, the musicfile.com, an online compendium of facts, news, opinions, recommendations and downloads of the hottest in independent music.
Simpson, an activist, experienced event organizer and planner, had known Lanahan for a few years, and had reviewed records and shows for the Music File site. “Instantly,” says Simpson, “I was totally in love with the fact that she was a self–proclaimed corporate dropout, and had gone to pursue her passion in music. I’m a lover of music as well, and I’m also a writer. So we talked.”
At SXSW in April, 2010, the pair oversaw a Music File–sponsored stage and hospitality area for musicians. In October of that year, they began talking about the logistics of doing something similar in Savannah. “It was Kayne’s idea,” Simpson recalls. “Why not use our time and resources here?”
Lanahan understood that numerous east coast bands would be schlepping their equipment up or down I–95, and across I–10, as they headed to Austin. Maybe they’d want an extra gig? A Savannah stopover.
“Kayne and I started out thinking we were going to bring 10 bands to town over two or three nights. And quickly we recognized that the timing was right, and the logistics were right. We had so many bands skirting town that we could fill just about every music venue in town over several nights, if we could bear that weight.”
Simpson used her considerable organizational skills, and local contacts, to get the wheels in motion. An enthusiastic volunteer staff was assembled.
“We wouldn’t have taken that on if we didn’t have faith that we were on to something,” Simpson reflects.
“We were definitely surprised by how big it got. Literally, from cradle to grave – from the first phone call to the final show – it was four months. I guess ‘grave’ is the wrong word.”
Like Lanahan, Simpson is quick to share the credit for the success of the Stopover. “There’s been a lot of people, over a lot of years, doing a lot of great things that have laid the foundation for this,” she says.
“Timing is everything, and it really took the grunt work of the venue owners and music promoters in this town, and the local bands who’ve helped build the music culture that’s here.”
Plans are well underway for the next Savannah Stopover. The dates are March 8–12, 2012.
“A number of our freshman class – the first year of bands that came through – have already said ‘We really want to be a part of it next year,’” Simpson reports.
“So there’s no way that it’s not going to. There’s no way that 2012 is not going to be bigger than 2011.”
With Little Tybee, General Oglethorpe & the Panhanders
\Where: Jepson Center, 121 Barnard St.
When: Friday, May 13
Tickets: $10 at showclix.com
Info: savannahstopover.com, thecreativecoast.org, giversmusic.wordpress.com, themusicfile.com