FROM MARCH 20 through April 5, downtown Savannah comes alive once more for the annual Savannah Music Festival. This year the Festival includes a number of performances totally unique in North America, including the appearance by the Hamilton De Holanda Quintet at the Lucas Theatre this Saturday, Stewart Copeland’s world premiere at the Trustees Theatre this Wednesday, and original compositions by Georgia’s own Wycliffe Gordon April 5 at the Lucas.
Longtime Festival patrons are still mourning the loss of Orleans Hall as a jazz and blues venue. The spacious, fun space, which hosted many a memorable concert over the years, has been converted by its owner, Savannah College of Art and Design, into a fitness club. How will the Festival replace the warm intimacy of those Orleans Hall gigs? Where else can we see a jazz show that would have the same combination of accessibility, visibility, acoustics and that hard-to-define Savannah joie de vivre?
It’s not easy to replace Orleans Hall, but the Charles H. Morris Center might not only do just that, but surpass the old venue. Located in the Hillyer Building in historic Trustees Garden behind the Pirate’s House, the Morris Center — owned by the same man who owns Connect Savannah — is not only Savannah’s newest performance space, but will actually host the bulk of Music Festival concerts, about three dozen over the course of the event.
It’s quite a gamble, both on Morris’s part and on the part of Festival Director Rob Gibson. But in a town notoriously bereft of quality small-scale performance spaces, it would seem that fortune favors the bold. And as the site of the first experimental garden in America, Trustees Garden would seem the perfect place for such a daring move.
Inspired by the great public spaces of Europe, like Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, and aided by the counsel of Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, Morris had a vision of a new space that would not only host performances, but be a part of the larger community.
Will it succeed? Check out some of the Festival shows over the next few weeks and let us know what you think.
Jim is editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org