Savannah Voice Festival tests the waters early with two concerts

The Savannah Voice Festival kicks off its first series of live performances since the Pandemic began on May 13 and May 16 as classically-trained international star Lauren Jelencovich headlines both concerts. The second concert, Back to Before – A Live Jukebox Experience, will be a more experimental concert set at Hospice Savannah.

The Savannah Voice Festival is a non-profit with the mission to bring classical vocal music to the city. They are primarily focused on a two-week festival in August which will be celebrating its ninth incarnation this year. Last year’s festival was virtual.

“Typically, in a non-COVID world, May would be when we announce our dates for our August concert, but this offers us a chance to dip our toes in the live-performance water,” said SVF Executive Director Maria Zouves.

Hailing from Florida, singer Lauren Jelencovich rose to prominence as a reality TV winner on Star Search with Ed McMahon in the mid-1990s. The program might not be known by many since American Idol and America’s Got Talent but back in the day, Drew Carey, Sinbad, Alanis Moisette, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera were competitors. Jelenovich won the grand prize as a high school student and was already booked in MGM Grand and Carnegie Hall by the age of 20. She was also featured in People and Teen Magazine at the time.

She has since won several prizes in the world of operatic performance but has also branched out into releasing pop albums. She has toured as the lead vocalist for New Age musician Yanni since 2010.

In her training, she has also crossed paths with Savannah Voice Festival’s sister non-profit VOICExperience which runs vocal workshops.

During her 60-minute concert, Jelenovich will be sharing stories of her time with VOICExperience and of being on the world stage.

“Lauren fits in that category like Kristin Chenoweth who was classically trained and then moved onto other categories of music,” Zouves said.

The May 16 concert will take place in the courtyard of the Hospice In-Patient Unit which is on the grounds of event host Hospice Savannah.

Hospice Savannah President and CEO Kathleen Benton came into contact with the non-profit in Spring of 2019 and was so impressed that she offered to partner with them. By August of 2019, they had their first concert at the Isle of Hope Marina. Hospice care is usually done in patients’ homes but Hospice Savannah is relatively unique in that it is done in a central location. It is also not just for the terminally ill, but houses grievers, caregivers and the chronically ill.

For the second concert, Lauren Jelencovich will be starring the stage with seven other vocal talents.

“Like any good repertory theater company, these are artists that we work with,” Zouves said. “We like to develop relationships between our artists and our audiences.”

Because she believes “in the healing power of music” as she says it, Benton finds Zouves’s programs to be a great fit for her hospital. However, most of her work with VOICExperience and Savannah Voice Festival has been done virtually because she partnered up so close to the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of gratitude that comes with being able to get out and support our programs in a way that virtual does not do,” Benton said. “Eighty percent of communication is about being in person.”

Zouves is equally excited to get back into live concerts but also notes that part of her mission as a promoter of classical music is to think outside the box.

“We’ve been forced to rethink the way we present art,” Zouves said.

Since May of 2020, SVR has presented 25 different events with a total of 51 streams across 22 countries.

“We’ve cultivated new audiences that never heard about Savannah as a city or never heard it that way,” said Zouves who made sure to overlay images of the city alongside the music.

For the concert at the Savannah Hospice, SVF will be trying out a jukebox format where people will put proverbial quarters in a box with sheet music and artists will have to perform whatever the patrons selected.

The event will be catered with food from five local restaurants. The Emcees will be Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli and his wife Rene.

“We’re inching our way back to what we used to call normal,” Marinelli said. “More and more in-person events are happening, and they are happening in all the traditional ways. Over 25,000 of our friends and neighbors are employed in the hospitality and tourism industry and make their living serving others. And yes, seeing people and organizations spending money again is terrific, but more importantly, in some ways, is the desire to get folks connecting.”

Information about Hospice Savannah can be found at and inquiries about the May 13 concert can be obtained by emailing For information and tickets about the Savannah Voice Festival, visit or call 855-766-7372.

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