Savannah Music Festival: A Sublime 17-day Sampler

AJ Ghent Band at Savannah Music Festival 2015 - Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell

AJ Ghent Band at the Savannah Music Festival 2015 – Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell

“All of the most important American styles of music came out of the Southern U.S.”

That’s a bold statement by Savannah Music Festival Artistic Director Rob Gibson, but stepping back for a moment I realized it’s also a largely accurate one. And it’s a legacy that informs the spirit of the festival, a sublime 17-day blend of classical, jazz, world music, string band Americana, and the fringes of indie rock.

Gibson is proud of the Savannah Music Festival’s unique ability to run the stylistic gamut. “The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is great, for example, but it has no classical,” he says. “Coachella and Bonnaroo focus on rock and hip hop.”

It’s hard to do justice to the breadth reflected across SMF’s 90 events held March 24 – April 9, but here are a few namedrops: Rhiannon Giddens. The Danish String Quartet. Malian singer Rokia Traore. The Dave Rawlings Machine. Georgia homeboys and homegirl the Drive-By Truckers and Sharon Jones. Waynesboro native Wycliffe Gordon leading a 19-piece jazz orchestra in his original score to accompany the 1920s silent film “Within Our Gates.”

Venues as Unique as the Performers

Gibson allows that his program sidesteps mainstream genres due to logistical constraints. “We’re doing a music fest in a town without a concert hall.” The SMF has turned that absence to their advantage, leveraging vintage movie theaters and other intimate venues. “One of my favorite locations, the Charles Morris Center, seats 300 people,” Gibson says. The largest theater, named for Savannah’s favorite son Johnny Mercer, holds 2,500 and will host a single show this fest, featuring alt-country icon Dwight Yoakam.

Jazz on the River - Swing Central Jazz 2015

Jazz on the River is a free open-air showcase of high school jazz orchestras playing alongside Swing Central Jazz clinicians during the Savannah Music Festival.

Gibson launched the Jazz at Lincoln Center program along with Wynton Marsalis in 1990, running it until he decided after 9/11 it was time to bring his two young children back home to the South. Although the festival existed as Savannah OnStage prior to his arrival, its growth during his tenure has been remarkable — last year 43,000 tickets were sold. Still, Gibson, whose Atlanta roots are clear in his accent, insists, “I’m less interested in growth than quality.” Curation is a key to the impressive roster. “I really just kind of book what I like. I think it was Duke Ellington who said, ‘There are only two kinds of music — I play the good kind.'”

The City Beyond the Music

While that good kind of music runs from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., there are plenty of other attractions to build into a day, as well. Gibson touts Savannah’s booming foodie scene, calling out in particular The Grey, the acclaimed restaurant housed in the former Greyhound bus terminal next door to the Ships of the Sea Museum, which doubles as a 500-capacity site for several concerts. The Telfair Museum is also within walking distance. (Our own Culinary Explorer Jennifer Booker tees up several other dining options, as well.) “We use historic Savannah as a backdrop. It’s a very walkable city. You really don’t have to rent a car at all, or you can park your own and leave it for the entire visit. You can always hop a pedi-cab if you get tired.”

Gibson proudly reports that the Savannah Music Festival generates over $1 million in local tax revenues annually. “Over 40 percent of our audience comes from over 200 miles away (Atlanta and Charlotte being the biggest hubs) and stay an average of 4.3 days. Savannah is also the fourth largest U.S. port, which brings a great international flavor,” leading to significant contingents from abroad, led by Germany and Canada.

Shakespeare at the Savannah Music Festival

One event that especially excites Gibson is tied to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The British ensemble Passion & Practice will perform an adaption of “Pericles” in collaboration with the German chamber orchestra l’arte del mondo. “We have 12 British actors flying in just for this” one-time staging. The performance will be in Original Pronunciation (OP), which is easier to understand than the modern versions of Shakespeare, according to many experts.

While I can’t vouch for that last point, the international language of music over these 17 days requires no translation.

glen-headshotGlen 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

5 Reasons You Need a PULSE Pass

From January 27-31, 2016, the PULSE Art + Technology Festival will take over Savannah, offering locals and visitors the opportunity to experience the intersection of art and technology at the Jepson Center for the Arts. Here are five reasons why you need to explore the festival.

Video: PomPom Mirror by artist Daniel Rozin will be on display at the PULSE Art + Technology Festival in Savannah.

It’s completely interactive. PULSE invites guests to be a part of the art with interactive exhibitions, artist talks, performances and more.

If you’re GIF-happy there’s no other place you should be. The second annual Savannah International GIF Festival, happening during PULSE, will showcase “the best digital animations set to live music by local performers.”

Video: Recap of the 2015 Savannah International GIF Festival.

You can’t get into the evening festivities without a PULSE Pass, including the GIF Festival. Other evening lecture experiences include a lecture by Featured Artist Daniel Rozin. Medeology Collective, a performance by SCAD alumnus Helado Negro and the opening night festivities.

It’s free! If you’re a member of Telfair Museums, your PULSE Pass is free, getting you admission to the evening sessions. Non-members may purchase passes for $15. Buy your pass online via or at the Jepson Center front desk starting January 20.

PULSE at the Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah

Experience everything PULSE has to offer at the Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah.

Everyone gets free admission during the day. Thanks to several sponsors, admission to PULSE during the day is free and open to the public.

Want to experience more arts in Savannah? Check out this guide featuring art-centric destinations and accommodations within the city.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

Cooking in Savannah with Chef Joe Randall

This month, Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School in Savannah celebrates its 15-year anniversary, and a series of special classes are scheduled to mark the occasion.

Chef Joe Randall's Cooking School in Savannah

Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School in Savannah

Chef Joe Randall is an expert on Southern cuisine and a food service veteran with more than 50 years in the hospitality and food service industry. Years of working in the restaurant field have given Chef Joe the knowledge, expertise (and patience) to run his own cooking school for the last 15 years. With the motto of “Put a little South in your mouth,” he shares his extensive culinary knowledge with an emphasis on Southern, Low Country, and Atlantic Georgia Coastal cuisines in a comfortable, yet practical, setting.

Black-eyed pea cake with grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon and roasted red pepper vinaigrette

Black-eyed pea cake with grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon and roasted red pepper vinaigrette

Located on Waters Street in Savannah, Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School offers nightly classes of dinner and a show. Choose from either a hands-on or a chef demonstration-style class. During the hands-on class, you cook your own dinner under the watchful eye of Chef Joe, who is there with a guiding hand to the proper cooking techniques. If you’re not interested in working, then the demonstration dinner is for you! Just sit back, watch Chef Joe in action, and enjoy a delicious meal.

Chef Jennifer Hill Booker and her former student Kyle Petrucelli with Chef Joe.

Chef Jennifer Hill Booker and her former student Kyle Petrucelli with Chef Joe.

To celebrate the school’s 15-year anniversary, Chef Joe is calling in an impressive list of Southern celebrity chefs to teach classes Sept. 14-19, 2015, with the show stopper prepared by the man himself on Saturday, Sept. 19.  As you can well imagine, these classes are very popular with guests from around the globe interested in meeting Chef Joe, trying their hand at Southern cuisine, and enjoying a great meal. Make your reservations early!

jennifer-hill-booker-1436890751-thumb-230-230-438-151-820-444-90Jennifer is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and the author of “Your Resident Gourmet,” full of innovative recipes, cooking trends and fun kitchen gadgets. She is the guest chef at Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School Sept. 17, 2015. Click here for more content from Jennifer.

September in Savannah

Savannah Bacon Fest

Bacon Fest | Photo courtesy of the Savannah Waterfront Association

September in Savannah is filled with festivals and fun. Every weekend there’s a new reason to explore one of the state’s most historic cities!

Bacon Fest – Rousakis Riverfront Plaza plays home to the second annual edition of the popular pork-filled festival on September 4-5, 2015. While you’re in town for the festival, be sure to check out some of Savannah’s great breakfast locations where you can get bacon like Henry’s on Drayton Street.

Savannah Craft Brew Fest – On September 5 200 different beers from 68 different breweries are able to be tasted during the annual event. While you’re in town for the Craft Brew Fest, be sure to check out some of the city’s local breweries like Moon River Brewing CompanyService Brewing Co. and Southbound Brewing Company.

Savannah Craft Brew Fest

Savannah Craft Brew Fest

Tybee Island Beach Bash – Though not properly in Savannah, if you’re in town you won’t want to miss the kid-friendly event featuring live music during the day and fireworks at dusk. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the beach and pier scene at sunset.

Savannah Pride Festival – On September 12, everyone is invited to celebrate the diversity of the city during the annual Savannah Pride Celebration in Forsyth Park.

Savannah International Food and Wine Tasting – This September 13 event features 50+ wines and dishes from nearly 20 of the city’s most beloved restaurants with proceeds benefiting Meals on Wheels.

Coastal Arts Fair – The first edition of this Tybee Island festival kicks off September 26 in Memorial Park. Artists from across the Southeastern U.S. will be showcasing their work. While you’re in the area, be sure to check out local artists’ work at galleries in City Market in downtown Savannah or at Art by the Sea on Tybee Island.

2013 Savannah Jazz Festival in Forsyth Park

Savannah Jazz Festival | Photo courtesy of the Coastal Jazz Association

Savannah Jazz Festival – For eight days, September 20-27, individuals and families are invited to listen to the sounds of the festival, all for free! While you’re in town, be sure to check out Savannah’s nightlife when live acts play in local clubs and bars around town.

EileenEileen is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

3 Hauntingly Beautiful Georgia Cemeteries

Georgia Cemeteries: Myrtle Hill Cemetery

Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Photo by Sue Rodman, Field Trips with Sue.

As Halloween creeps up on the calendar, our thoughts turn to the spooky. This time of year is perfect for visiting one of Georgia’s many hauntingly beautiful cemeteries. Most are more historic than scary, but there is something about being in a cemetery at Halloween that adds a bit of gooseflesh to the experience. Here are three Georgia cemeteries worth a visit any time of year.

Linwood Cemetery, Columbus: Best known as the burial site of John Pemberton, the founder of Coca-Cola. Linwood offers guided brochures for download and tours on request. Each October, the Historic Linwood Foundation hosts a special guided tour as a fundraiser for the organization.

Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Rome: Myrtle Hill Cemetery sits on top of Myrtle hill at the confluence of the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa rivers, and offers one of the best views of downtown Rome, Ga., as well as the Appalachian foothills and Etowah Valley. The cemetery offers a mobile tour that includes text, audio, video and historical photos. The mobile tour is free and can be downloaded to your smartphone.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Ga.: Bonaventure Cemetery was made famous in the movie (and book) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but if you are looking for the bird girl statue from the book cover, it has been moved to the Telfair Museum. What you will find is the gravesite of songwriter Johnny Mercer, who wrote Moon River. Visit on the second Sunday of each month for free walking tours from the Bonaventure Historical Society. On other days, stop by the Visitors Center for a copy of the Historical Society Guide which gives a history of the property and residents.

For more fall fun, visit the Field Trips with Sue Fall Guide.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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