Savannah is one of those mysterious places that I imagined coming to life in the dusty pages of antiquarian books. Other than what I saw in Clint Eastwood’s colorful depiction of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and some Civil War trivia, I didn’t know much about it. So when the opportunity arose to check out a new music festival, Savannah Stopover, I jumped at the chance to experience the Southern legend firsthand.
My hostess, interior and event designer Rebecca Gardner, provided me with a taste of Savannah (her shrimp-and-pork-filled red rice required thirds) and a to-do list of local sights, scenes, and indulgences—of which I barely completed half. Since my Northern work schedule trumped my Southern adventure itinerary, my first experience was more of a surface scratch than a true exploration of Savannah’s culture.
Even as a novice, I saw glimpses of Savannah's soul in many places—in its food, its architecture, its history, its art, its residents—but it was in its sounds that I discovered its real depth. The city has its own distinct timbre—the chorus of conversations echoing from the park squares, the rhythmic clomp of horseshoes on the cobblestone roads, the eerie silence that hangs in the Spanish moss. And the 10th annual Savannah Music Festival (SMF), which runs through April 7th, is a celebration of both the spirit of the city and the varied sounds that comprise its soul.
Georgia’s largest musical arts event, SMF is a 17-day festival that features more than 100 productions (full schedule here) and stretches across 23 genres, which means your daily itinerary could include a Beethoven string quartet, a jazz tribute to Cole Porter, a blazing banjo hoedown with Béla Fleck (or the man who taught him the ropes, Tony Trischka), and a Zydeco dance party in the streets.
As SMF’s Artistic Director Rob Gibson put it, “The old world atmosphere of historic Savannah and our festival’s annual confluence of music virtuosos, creates a paradise for music lovers.” Although I regret not having enough time to slow down and soak up more of Savannah’s culture this time around, SMF's 17-day music lover's marathon sounds like the perfect reason to return next March. Rebecca assured me that she has a Georgia peach Bellini with my name on it.
SAVANNAH: UNDER THE RADAR
Eat: The Godfather sandwich at Zunzi's, whose husband-and-wife duo combines Swiss, Italian, South African and Dutch cuisines to create what can only be described as a gourmet paint splatter of flavors, is fit for an epicure.
Drink: Music geeks should stop into The Sparetime, a new lounge that opened its doors just in time to host Stopover's after-parties, for a vinyl-only soundtrack and a taste of Harry Nilsson—a lime-and-coconut cocktail that's a tribute to the Nilsson Schmilsson hit.
Do: You can't spend time in Savannah without experiencing its art. Check out Leo Villareal at the Jepson Center (through June 3) for a stunning exhibition that uses LED light sculptures to display the artistic circuitry behind computer technology.
Stay: Spend an evening at the Stephen Williams House chatting with Dr. Albert Wall, who restored the historic 1834 mansion and converted it into a charming five-room B&B (which has operated almost entirely by word-of-mouth since it opened in 2003). Be sure to ask about his collection of antiques; he describes the distinct character and storied past of each piece like a proud, adoring parent.
Watch the "For the Hooves that Gallop, and the Heels that March" video from Brooklyn-based quintet The Loom (pictured above), one of Savannah Stopover's featured acts:
Kristina Ensminger is a freelance arts and culture writer. You can follow her on Twitter @kristinakme.