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Savannah Music Festival Review: Shakey Graves/Shovels & Rope

IT was a sold-out house at the Ships of the Sea Museum, and no wonder:

Savannah. Loves. Shovels & Rope.

While they could have packed the higher-capacity Trustees Theater easily, the laidback elegance of Ships of the Sea suited this sensational double-bill.

Shakey Graves (birthname Alejandro Rose-Garcia, FYI—he was crowned “Shakey Graves” while scheming up Indian guide names by the light of a campfire with friends) set the mood perfectly with his Texas-strong alt-folk.

While Graves can shake it fine solo—and he did, when his bandmates slipped off-stage about halfway through the set—the power trio he’s assembled is a true delight.

Watching a Shakey Graves show is akin to watching adolescent boys egg one another on while playing outside: taut tempos, a type of energy that feels like everything’s on the verge of explosion, Graves throwing that wild-eyed “I’ll-do-it-if-you-do-it” look at his drummer.

Graves is a fine type of percussive guitarist, with a strong, lightly stripped voice and affable energy about him; here’s hoping he finds his way back to Savannah.

Isn’t it funny what can happen in four years? I was mulling this over as Savannah Stopover founder Kayne Lanahan moseyed up to me while Shovels & Rope played “Gasoline,” a track from their first collaborative LP (titled Shovels & Rope, released under Cary Ann Heart & Michael Trent).

“Long way from 20 people at The Jinx, huh?” she posed with a grin.

Amen. The last time Shovels & Rope were in Savannah (Dare Dukes’ Thugs & China Dolls CD release party at The Jinx), it was the crucial moment, teetering on the release of their surprise smash hit record O’ Be Joyful, before their Letterman appearance, before a documentary about their breakout success was released.

Their Savannah Music Festival performance was so representative of their growth that it made for the perfect return; Shovels & Rope would be right at home back on that boot-scuffed stage at The Jinx, but they can also play a world-class music festival and make the entire room fall in love with them.

Their set kicked off with a good chunk of O’ Be Joyful, their barn-burner of a “first” LP released under the Shovels & Rope name, and eased into fresh cuts from their latest, the spectral Swimmin’ Time. Though more brooding and slow-creeping than O’ Be Joyful’s boot stompers, Swimmin’ Time shows Hearst and Trent on their game when it comes to harmonies, their voices entertwined in one chill-inducing call.

Boy, does it translate live. The S&R show, in the early days, was always known to be a rowdy, unpredictable time, and, despite the polish of years of gigging, there’s still an authentic DIY spirit there: they still mix it up, swapping instruments, Hearst’s dress strap slipping off her shoulder while she beats the devil out of the drums while wailing in harmony with her partner in music and matrimony.

Early S&R gigs had this tightly-wound feeling that they could completely fall apart at any moment, a ramshackle attitude that makes the show so mesmerizing and the cheers so loud when the duo succeeded. There’s a rock ‘n’ roll spirit there, a love of punk and strong narratives.

The crowd was a pretty even split between seated patrons and fans flanking the stage, dancing and singing along to every word. Hearst encouraged everyone to work together so that everyone could see the stage, noting that a good Shovels & Rope show consists of both sitting down and relaxing and dancing your tail off.

Let’s hope it’s not three more years until we see Hearst and Trent again in SAV; they may be outgrowing most of our year-round venues, but we sure haven’t outgrown them.