IT ALL STARTED with a birthday.
Sarah Florio was turning 15 years old in her New Jersey hometown, and a group of close friends, many of them musicians, were coming over to her dad’s place to celebrate.
“They asked if they could play my birthday party,” Florio remembers. “My dad was all about it, and I thought it was a great idea.”
The bands set up in the backyard, and all in attendance had a memorable time—so memorable, in fact, that Florio was suddenly getting inquiries about her “backyard festival.”
Florio’s sister and Tyler Cutitta, guitarist and vocalist for Savannah band Omingnome, jokingly dubbed the gathering Kittenfest; the name, and the concept, stuck.
“After that, everyone kept asking when we were doing it again,” she says.
Just like that, Florio was the mastermind behind an annual music festival. For eight years, musicians, artists, and creatives flocked to her dad’s backyard to commune and soak up the sounds. Last year, the fest had expanded so much, they needed to relocate to a minor league baseball stadium; 135 bands played, and 3,500 people attended.
Now, Florio and team are trying a new kind of expansion, throwing Kittenfest in Jersey and Savannah. The fest may be new around here, but many Jersey Kittenfest attendees and supporters have actually relocated to the Lowcountry, including Florio.
“My mom bought a house here seven years ago, and my older sister moved down with her kids,” she explains. “I’m going to be honest: life in New Jersey is really hard. People are really struggling with the bills, the cost of living.”
With blood family and chosen family in Georgia (Florio and Cutitta grew up on the same block in New Jersey—“he’s like my brother; his mom is my mom,” Florio sweetly explains), she decided to take the leap.
“Down here, the quality of life is so much better,” she says. “A lot of our friends from northern New Jersey who all worked on the festival every year all moved down to Savannah. All of us are really excited about the music scene, touring, culture, and helping bands on tour, especially since 80 percent of us are in bands.”
Kittenfest Savannah is conveniently located right across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge (324 Speedway Boulevard is the proper address; locals will know it as the area behind the old fireworks stand). It’ll take place on a tucked-away, marsh side piece of land owned by a local businessman; the Florios have helped him clean up the property in the past and knew it’d be just right for the festivities.
“He spent the last four years clearing the place out—he’s actually got goats there to keep the area clear for him,” says Florio. “There’s a viewing area as soon as you pull into the property. There will be parking on the right...and once you go through the gate and past the stage, there’s a gigantic camping area.”
The Kittenfest team has been hard at work prepping the property (when we spoke with Florio, she’d just finished building a 50-foot bridge, which, she says, “Sounds crazier than it actually was!”) to welcome bands.
Florio’s always aimed for variety as a means of exposing new talent; Kittenfest Savannah highlights not only a slew of our best local bands, but also regional favorites like Archnemesis, The Howlin’ Brothers, Dangermuffin, and more.
An all-ages fest is good news for attendees and musicians who happen to be under 21, giving bands like The Anxiety Junkies and Trophy Wives a new platform in Savannah.
“For the most part, it’s all in the way we structure it,” she explains. “We have an understanding of what we have to show, as far as what kind of artists we’re looking for.”
Traditionally, Friday night is devoted to hip-hop and the heavier end of the spectrum.
“Sometimes we’ll have hardcore, metal—it’s kind of the brasher day,” she explains. “I love that kind of music, but some might think that it’s a little too hard for them. And it’s the first night, so it’s the most exciting night! It’s really high-energy.”
The scope broadens on day two, offering what Florio describes as “music that would be appreciated by just about anybody.”
Saturday is devoted to reggae and “Lowcountry, Southern rock kind of music.”
At just $50, a full pass covers everything: three days’ worth of music, art, camping, and parking, all included. The fest is all-ages, though anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent.
“There’s going to be overnight camping, live art, performance art, a walk-through gallery,” Florio says. “The Savannah Bazaar’s going to be there, and tons of local vendors and food trucks.”
There will also be opportunities to learn about gardening, woodworking, and music production and mixing in a variety of workshops. Sore from dancing? Hit the massage tent.
If you’re carless or don’t feel like driving, shuttles will depart from Sweet Melissa’s on the half hour between 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. through the fest at just two bucks a ride.
Florio looks forward to sharing the familial bond of Kittenfest with her new city.
“There’s this family aspect of it,” Florio explains. “It was at my dad’s house for the first 8 years so it’s always been a very—I don’t wanna say family-oriented so much as aunts, uncles, kids—but just the way our friends treat each other, and even people who have never heard of [Kittenfest] before, how they’re welcomed with open arms.”
When asked for Kittenfest tips for first-timers, Florio stresses the importance of remembering your ID and recommends checking out the bands beforehand.
“I think that the whole reason of putting this whole thing together is to take bands and put them in a circumstance network with other artists,” says Florio. “To pull a bunch of people together who appreciate art and music and put these worlds together.”
Jonathan Scales Fourchestra
The Cosmic Show
Late Night DJs
House of Gunt
Unicycle Escape Pod
The Anxiety Junkies
Only Living Boy
Quimby Mountain Band
The Big Drops
Late Night DJs
The Scientific Method
The Howlin' Brothers
The Savannah Sweet Tease
The Royal Noise
Corko Vato Jazz
Every kitten striking a pose with The Anxiety Junkies, Omingnome, and XuluProphet is looking for a forever home! Contact The Humane Society of Greater Savannah to learn more. Humanesocietysav.org, (912) 354-9515