What better way to kick off Day 11 of the Savannah Music Festival than by hanging out at the 2015 edition of the Flannery O’Connor Parade and Street Fair, which was held in Lafayette Square on a corner of which stands the Flannery O’Connor childhood home? Musical accompaniment was provided by the Sweet Thunder Strolling Band performing under an enormous peacock backdrop. The Sentient Bean coffee shop dispensed snacks and their namesake beverage. Vendor tables offered art, local authors’ books, and sundry items. There was a chicken bingo game, a guy in a gorilla suit, and folks wearing unseasonably weird clothes. O’Connor wasn’t exactly fond of organized socializing and never sought fame, but she might at least have gotten a gentle kick out of the hoopla surrounding her legacy.
With the sun shining brightly in the afternoon sky, I walked the few blocks from Lafayette Square to Temple Mickve Israel where the Emerson String Quartet was performing two Beethoven quartets: No. 12 in E-flat Major, Opus 127, and No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132. The quartet has previously performed at the SMF, but this was the first time with cellist Paul Watkins who replaced David Finckel at the end of the 2012-13 season. As SMF director Rob Gibson quipped in his introduction, “even Finckel thinks the quartet sounds better now.” Written in the final decade of his life when he was completely deaf, Opus 127 and 132 are two of three quartets (the third being No. 13, Opus 130) commissioned by Russian Prince Nikolas Galitzin, a talented amateur cellist. In every aspect – structural innovation, melodic variation, rhythmic texture – both works are imbued with the innovative genius of the composer, which the Emerson Quartet performance conveyed with astonishing clarity and power.
In the evening, I stood outside the Charles H. Morris Center with a long line of music fans waiting to see the second of four performances by the Giants of Texas Swing: Hot Club of Cowtown paired with Asleep at the Wheel. So, I guess this western swing thing is catching on. The earlier show was sold out and so was the one I was attending. Three people standing in back of me were in town on vacation, not for the SMF. They found out about the show by chance. “We couldn’t believe our luck,” one said, as they leafed through the program, making plans to attend additional events. Both the Hot Club of Cowtown and Asleep at the Wheel were making their debut appearances in Savannah, and both delivered the goods. Having toured together for 18 years, the Cowtown trio – fiddler and vocalist, Elana James, guitarist and vocalist Whit Smith, bass player and harmonizer Jake Erwin – were a well-oiled machine, revving up the audience with a nicely paced set of originals and genre standards. Making those 18 years look like a brief intermission, when gentle giant and founder of Asleep at the Wheel Ray Benson took the mic following the Cowtowners set, he represented a band of revolving collaborators that has been touring the country for the better part of 45 years. With a keenly polished act that mixes superb instrumental acumen with hilarious emcee commentary, Benson & Co. performed classic hits, such as “Route 66” and “Hot Rod Lincoln,” selections from Benson’s collaborations with Willie Nelson, and the band’s recently released album, Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, the latter of which pays tribute to the godfather of the western swing category. A mighty fine yeehaw was had by all. (Sunday, March 29 entry – DD)
Each day of the 17-day Savannah Music Festival, music journalist Doug DeLoach shares reviews, recommendations and musings on his adventures in Savannah. Read all of his daily dispatches here.
Monday, March 30 Lineup:
12:30 p.m. Julian Lage & Jorge Roeder – Charles H. Morris Center
6:00 p.m. Emerson String Quartet with Daniel Hope & Friends – Trinity United Methodist Church
5 & 7:30 p.m. Giants of Texas Swing: Hot Club of Cowtown with Asleep at the Wheel – Charles H. Morris Center
About the Savannah Music Festival
The historic district of downtown Savannah plays host to more than 100 performances during the annual Savannah Music Festival (SMF), which celebrates exceptional artistry in jazz, classical and a variety of American and international musical traditions. Now through April 4, more than 100 programs will be staged in SMF’s most international festival to date. A full schedule and tickets are available at savannahmusicfestival.org. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 912-525-5050 or at 216 E. Broughton Street in Savannah. For information on lodging, attractions, places to eat and tours, check out VisitSavannah.org.