Savannah is no ordinary town, and Savannah Stopover is no run-of-the-mill music festival. From its low-key 2011 beginnings offering bands a respite from driving and an in-transit paycheck en route to the now-behemoth South by Southwest festival in Austin, Savannah Stopover has grown each year yet retained its homey vibe.
Its shows take place across a diverse set of 10 intimate venues with capacities ranging from 75 to 600, all in walking distance from one another in the historic district that captures what Savannah is all about. Best of all, according to festival founder Kayne Lanahan, “It’s very easy to show-hop because of our open container laws. You can grab a beer at one venue, hear a few songs and take your go-cup down the road and right into another club! We have people who brag about how many shows they manage to see over the three-day period.”
The three-day shindig sets a self-imposed cap of 100 bands despite receiving seven times that many applications to play. This, of course, means the acts are increasingly top-notch and diverse. Headliners for this year’s Thursday, March 10 to Saturday, March 12 lineup include bands from both U.S. coasts (Ra Ra Riot, Blitzen Trapper), one from the U.K. (Yuck) and Athens’ own Futurebirds. There are an all-time high 25 Georgia bands playing this year, including 14 from a Savannah scene that “is really on fire right now,” says Lanahan. She sounds particularly excited about two young Atlanta standard bearers: up-and-coming hip hop artist Scotty ATL, and the re-imagined Phil Spector-esque pop of Sydney Eloise & the Palms.
The homespun hospitality extends to bands as well as concertgoers. Rather than feeding musicians the quick pizza or to-go burger stipulated in a typical contract rider, festival coordinators bring them together for catered communal meals. “It’s kind of like being at a big dinner party. They get great Southern food, interact with lots of other bands and often find friends they haven’t seen in a while. It’s like a big homecoming with musicians all high-fiving and hugging each other,” beams Lanahan, a Coca-Cola marketing exec during the Atlanta Summer Olympics who eventually relocated to Savannah to be closer to family.
Although Savannah Stopover offers plenty of musical immersion, with mornings and Friday afternoon free, it’d be a shame not to take in some of the city’s other unique charms. Lanahan offers her top five:
- A ghost tour in a sawed-off hearse is always a hoot. Since these are most popular at night after the music has started, a walking tour in the historic district is another great way to both see the city and experience its colorful history.
- You’re gonna need coffee after a late night of revelry, right? The Coffee Fox is a great option.
- Vinyl fans should check out Graveface Records and Curiosities in the Starland District (the schedule includes a Graveface Records label showcase on Saturday afternoon at the Congress Street Social Club.)
- Abe’s on Lincoln is the oldest bar in Savannah, rumored to be quite haunted and the site of the fest’s Secret Shows.
- For a nice dinner, I’d recommend Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar, which is on Congress Street, in the heart of the Stopover performance venues.
(Further suggestions are available at the festival site.)
And by the way, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Savannah Stopover takes place the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, allowing the town to catch its breath before the party starts all over again.
Glen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as GeorgiaMusic.org.