For the past few years, early October has held special significance to music lovers far and wide. That’s traditionally when the Savannah Music Festival -- Georgia’s largest such event and increasingly one which is viewed as one of the most impressive in the land -- officially announces its upcoming season.
These hotly anticipated announcements follow months of curiosity and speculation as to just who might be included in the organization’s roster of exemplary artists in a variety of genres, from blues to classical.
Increasingly, the festival is drawing more and more tourists from outside our immediate area, all seemingly hungry for world-class aural entertainment. As a result, folks are actually planning extended trips to our city built around the 18-day SMF, which kicks off with a bang on March 15, 2007 in the thick of our community’s massive St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
While the complete schedule for the 18th annual installment of the SMF was not available at press time, a few key headliners have either been confirmed by festival organizers or had their identities divulged in advance by another publication against the wishes of the SMF (who were no doubt looking forward to trumpeting —pun intended— their stellar acquisitions at their own press conference on October 5).
Those notable artists include The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra featuring the festival’s Associate Artistic Director, superstar violinist Daniel Hope, famed Celtic folk octet Leahy, the acclaimed Irish ensemble Flook (Best Group at the 2006 BBC Folk Awards), and the inimitable jazz icon and educator, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
While these bookings are all highly noteworthy, here at this magazine, we are particularly excited about one specific aspect of this year’s Savannah Music Fest, and that’s the Connect Americana Series.
Sponsored by Charles and Rosalie Morris, along with Connect Savannah and our sister publication Connect Statesboro, it features five unique and exceptional events, each of which spotlights a different aspect of what has come to be known as North American “roots music.” There’s something for just about everyone in the diverse makeup of this series, and with tickets to all Savannah Music Festival shows going on sale this week, now’s the perfect time to offer a brief preview of the specific performances that we’re proud to help bring to town:
SUSAN TEDESCHI& DIANNE REEVES
March 16, 6 pm & 9 pm, Lucas Theatre ($20-$45)
The Savannah Music Festival is becoming known for its unique one-off pairings of world-class musicians, specially commissioned for the festival. One past example of this approach would be the well-attended “East Meets West” show, which merged Delta blues with traditional Indian folk music. This collaborative concert brings together one of today’s hottest names in blues with one of the most critically-heralded jazz vocalists of the modern era. Tedeschi is a phenomenal songwriter and expressive guitar player who burst onto the scene in the late ‘90s after studying at Berklee, and has recently released a powerhouse album of soul tunes that posits her as one of the finer female interpreters of R & B recording today.
Reeves, on the other hand, is the only vocalist in any category to have won the Grammy for Best (Jazz) Vocal Performance for three consecutive recordings. Many will also remember her recent high-profile turn in the feature film Good Night, and Good Luck. The New York Times has described her accomplishments as “frequently astonishing,” and there are high hopes that this event will hit those heights as well. This show is sponsored in part by Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung, Inc., a Bell Company.
March 21, 7:30 pm, Orleans Hall ($15)
This show (which is sponsored in part by Hart and Dee Williford) introduces an all-female quintet that specializes in “old-time for our times.” Dedicated since 1999 to proudly bringing the legacy of bygone string bands into the modern era, their music is enriched by the rich tradition of this acoustic art form, but not defined by it. The group shifts attitudes as easily as their members trade instruments. Listeners often receive a strong dose of gospel, as well as upbeat fiddle tunes, “brother” duets and even a clogging number or two in their shows. Each member of Uncle Earl is an established solo artist in their own right, and that level of accomplishment shines through, making the band much more than merely the sum of its parts.
MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES
March 23, 8:30 pm, Trustees Theatre
This wÜnderkind of country music virtually defined the term “prodigy.” A full-time member of legendary bluegrass innovator Lester Flatt’s band at the tender age of fourteen, he came up in the music business, and has worked extensively with everyone from Johnny Cash to Doc Watson to Vassar Clements to Travis Tritt. A rather flamboyant performer, he cuts a dashing figure in his rhinestone-studded suits, but don’t let that fool you. He is revered among professional musicians as a talent of the highest order on guitar and mandolin. In addition to his own career as a frontman (and sideman to others), he’s served several terms as the President of the Country Music Association, which oversees the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tn. His aptly named backing group prominently features the jaw-dropping ace lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan (who last played Savannah with Lucinda Williams on her 1996 tour for the Grammy-winning Car Wheels On A Gravel Road LP).
STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. WITH LIVE PIANO BY RICK FRIEND
March 25, 3 pm, The Jepson Center for The Arts ($20)
The closest thing you’ll get to a time machine at this year’s Music Fest, this rare screening of a restored cut of seminal cinematic comedian Buster Keaton’s classic silent feature from 1928 features live, partially improvised piano accompaniment by a composer who’s been providing live piano soundtracks for silent films since 1987, at events and festivals across the globe, in addition to his regular role as the house pianist for Hollywood, Ca.’s Silent Movie Theatre. This is an enchanting event that’s perfectly suited for all age groups.
THE JERRY DOUGLAS BAND
March 29, 8 pm, trustees Theatre
This festival has been known in the past for presenting some of the best-loved bluegrass-related artists on the circuit today, such as David Grisman, Del McCoury and Sam Bush. Now, that tradition continues with Jerry Douglas, whom many in the know consider to be the finest dobro player in contemporary acoustic music. His tastes and his abilities run the gamut from jazz to country to new age, and he’s put those chops to use playing live and/or recording with such luminaries as Ricky Skaggs, Doyle Lawson and Emmylou Harris. He’s been prominently featured alongside country superstars like Alison Krauss, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Clint Black, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton, as well as with pop stars such as Paul Simon and James Taylor, and jazz innovators like Bill Frisell. Simply put, the twelve-time Grammy winner (in part for the fantastic compilation album Great Dobro Sessions), is the leading dobro player on the progressive bluegrass scene today. His show is sponsored in part by Megabytes Computing Solutions.
Keep watching Connect Savannah in the coming months for complete and comprehensive coverage of next year’s Savannah Music Festival!
Tickets for the Connect Americana Series go on sale (as do all 2007 Savannah Music Fest shows) online beginning Thursday at 6 pm, and in person or by phone beginning Friday at 10 am. If you purchase tickets to at least four events at one time, you’ll receive a 10% discount.
For more information, go to www.savannahmusicfestival.org or call 525-5050.