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Greener pastures
Local musicians react to River Street shocker
Local blues band Bottles & Cans plays Jazz'd Tapas Bar

If you’re one of the lucky few to belong to the Facebook group Savannah Area Musician’s Exchange, you know that one of the hottest topics among this feisty collection of local players is the last–minute decision to have no live music on River Street on St. Patrick’s Day this year.

While there will be live music within private establishments on the River, for the first time in a very long time there will be no outdoor acts.

Replacing the usual slate of outdoor live bands this year will be what’s euphemistically billed as “nonstop live entertainment” — i.e. DJs with iTunes and a PA.

For the posters at the Musician’s Exchange — founded specifically to give local musician’s “some leverage,” in the words of founder and local bandleader Gordon Perry — it was something close to the last straw.

But not one that many didn’t already see coming a long time ago.

“If anyone wonders why I travel so much, this is a great example,” posted one high profile local musician who, despite being born and raised in Savannah, has to tour regionally to make a living.

Other baffled and outraged quotes from the group include:

“There are other ways to cut costs. Not by killing tradition and the heart and soul of any festival, which is always live music! Let’s cut some city official paychecks and see how that goes over,” said one local bandleader.

"If the [Savannah Waterfront Association] has decided not to put any money into entertainment this year, so be it,” said one local tech support person.

“Keep it in your pockets, but don’t look to the music industry to forget and keep playing all of the cheesy gigs down there for ‘the exposure’ at discounted rates anymore,” he finished.

One local singer/songwriter wrote, “Not only does this put musicians out of work, but it puts the sound companies out of work such as Capitol A Productions, Stagefront, etc. during the biggest money-making event in Savannah.

“You’d think since our city prides itself on ‘ART’ (writers, poets, music, musicians, producers, photographers) that we would have never seen this happen.”

Indeed, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been the single most profitable day for local musicians by far — a windfall that enables them to continue playing for Savannah’s notoriously anemic local rates the rest of the year.

“That was the one day of the year you knew you’d get a good paycheck,” says Perry. “But now it’s gotten so greedy it’s almost funny. That’s why you’ve got so many people going to the outskirts of town and working. A lot of musicians now take the day off and stay away from downtown.”

While there are still plenty of live acts around town during the St. Patrick’s celebration — including in City Market — the erosion of the live scene on St. Patrick’s Day has sparked a quiet annual exodus of local musicians on what was once their favorite day to play here.

Perry, for example, will be playing pedal steel at Gillie’s in Hinesville. Annie Allman will play in Richmond Hill, at 69 East. Georgia Kyle Shiver will also play outside Chatham County, at The Pit in Rincon.

“I’ve maneuvered away from playing on St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah,” says Perry. “It’s not worth the aggravation anymore to wade through the crowd and get beer spilled all over your gear. And now, in the last five or ten years, it’s just the absurdity of what’s required for musicians to go down there now.”

For Perry, the development is part of the general erosion of pay and respect for local musicians, which prompted him to set up the unifying effort of Savannah Area Musicians Exchange on Facebook.

“Think about it: In 1990 the federal minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. Today it’s $7.25. That means your friendly neighborhood dishwasher got a raise of over 100 percent between 1990 and 2012,” says Perry.

“But in 1990 the average musician here was paid $100 a gig. Today it’s even less. Someone explain to me what that dishwasher’s doing so much better now, and how they’re able to bring in people to spend money in establishments like musicians do.”

Part of Perry’s message — and indeed most other posters at the Exchange — is for local musicians to stop accepting less than they’re worth.

“When a club owner or somebody asks me to take half what I usually charge, I say, ‘Sure, just let me take three strings off my guitar.’ If you want to pay half what I’m worth, you should only get half the music.

“They look at me like I’m crazy. But not a single one of them ever told a beer or liquor distributor, ‘Hey, I can only pay you half what you’re charging for that load of alcohol you just dropped off.’”

Support Local Musicians!

Partial list of locals performing downtown on St. Patrick’s Day, either off River Street or within establishments on River Street. For comprehensive listings see Soundboard and Noteworthy this issue.

• Bottles & Cans@Jazz’d Tapas Bar

• Hitman@Bayou Cafe & Conch House

• Thomas Claxton & Myth@Bayou Cafe

• Eric Culberson Band@Conch House

• Train Wrecks + Passafire@Live Wire

• Liquid Ginger@Wild Wing

• Eddie Wilson, Trae Gurley@Ruth’s Chris

City Market Schedule

• Friday: Jeff Taylor Noon–3 p.m., Chuck Courtenay, 3–6 p.m., Eight Mile Bend 6–9 p.m., High Velocity 9 p.m.–Midnight

• Saturday: Jeff Taylor Noon–3 p.m., Bounty Hunter 3–6 p.m., Eight Mile Bend 6–9 p.m., High Velocity 9 p.m.–Midnight

No Control ‘Halftime Show’:

Get out of downtown 3-6 p.m. Saturday at this $5 all ages show, featuring MCs like KidSyc, Electric Grandma, and Mack Knife.  East 40th St. between Abercorn & Drayton.