Day 2 – Savannah Music Festival

(L-R) Paul Thorn, Ruthie Foster and Joe Ely

(L-R) Paul Thorn, Ruthie Foster and Joe Ely

What a beautiful day in Savannah. Once the sun rose high enough to burn off the morning fog, the temperature started easing up into the seventies, and the storm jacket went into the closet.

This morning, I taped a couple of interviews with Emily Jones, Morning Edition host and reporter for GPB Savannah, which are scheduled to air during ME on the next two Mondays, March 23 and 30.

They don’t call this a tourist town for nothing. It took two maps (including Google) and three random inquiries before I found a concierge who could direct me to Angel’s BBQ. Admittedly, it’s a bona fide hole-in-a-side-alley joint, but dang, y’all, doesn’t anybody around here live around here!?

It turns out Angel’s is all of about three-and-a-half blocks from my hotel. I first heard about Andrew Trice’s ‘cue on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. I sampled the pulled pork, which was scrumptiously smoky, with a couple of Trice’s half-dozen homemade sauces. My fave was the vinegary-pepper Lexington-style. The brisket will have to wait for another day because today I was there for the famed deep-fried smoked bologna sandwich. A thick-sliced round of meat, dressed with a brushing of the house sauce, held in a white hamburger bun – it was amazingly delicious. Ditto for Angel’s justly famous collard greens cooked in a peanutty pot liquor. I can’t wait to go back and try everything else on the menu.

As a digestive, I ventured a few blocks in the other direction to the childhood home of Flannery O’Connor. From the time she was born (March 25, 1923) until 1938 when the family moved to Atlanta for a two-year stint, the only child of Edward Francis and Regina Cline O’Connor lived in a three-story townhome at 207 E. Charlton Street. The house sits on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square directly across from the French gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where O’Connor was baptized, took her first communion and was confirmed. A brief tour of the house, splendidly guided by John Harris, included gawking at the screen meshed “kiddie coop” in which baby Flannery was placed to protect her from mosquitoes and in which Flannery the youngster raised backyard chickens. I also set a longing gaze on a couple barrister bookcases originally belonging to the family in which were displayed first editions of Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away and A Good Man Is Hard To Find.

After the tour, I sat on a bench in Lafayette Square facing the O’Connor house. Listening to an ornate water fountain gurgling a few feet away, I read a few chapters of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which is the assignment for a book club I just joined. Somehow, the whole thing seemed like a natural convergence, and about as sublime an afternoon as I’ve spent in a long while.

Tonight, first up, I’m heading to the Trustee’s Theater to catch a triple bill called “Southern Troubadours” featuring Joe Ely, founding member of the legendary Flatlanders; Ruthie Foster, whose kickbutt blend of R&B, rock, gospel and blues is as sweet sounding as it comes; and Paul Thorn, known for his authentic take on the southern roots rock thing.

Then it’s over to the Charles H. Morris Center where none other than Buckwheat Zydeco, the Creole accordion wizard who has accompanied Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Ry Cooder, among others, will be presiding over a zydeco dance party. I’ve seen Buckwheat parlay his swamp boogie a couple of times – and can’t wait to see how he’s doing it now. – (Friday, March 20, Entry Two – DD)

(Friday, March 20, Entry One)

The wet stuff held off while the first day of the Savannah Music Festival wound up with a rousing set by the Wood Brothers at the Ships of the Sea Garden Pavilion. The mostly young crowd couldn’t get enough of the performance, which featured brothers Chris (on bass) and Oliver (on guitar), joined by Jano Nix on drums, keyboard harmonica, and a DIY stringed percussion gizmo that sounds much better than it looks, conjuring up the spirit of Sixties and Eighties jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic (I’m not sure what happened in the Seventies). For a couple of songs including an old school setup with the musicians gathered around a single stage mic, the Woodsy trio was joined by vocalist and violinist extraordinaire Kristina Train. Born in New York, Train was raised in Savannah, and attended UGA before embarking on a full-time music career. Chatting after the show with SMF Executive and Artistic Director Rob Gibson and his son, I learned that Train used to babysit for the family.

At the Trustees Theater Mavis Staples managed to evoke some of her fabled mojo, but the reality is the 76-year-old singer and civil rights icon has already given more than most of her peers, and now works within a fairly limited range. Her performance was affable and professional, but largely symbolic. The most compelling moment came when she sang “Freedom Highway,” reminding the audience that she was a young girl at the time of the Selma to Montgomery march, “a living witness” to events that inspired her father, Pops Staples, to compose the gospel-infused song that became one of the era’s most poignant anthems.

(2nd from left) Daniel Hope, the Mr. and Mrs. Curtis G. Anderson Associate Artistic Director of Savannah Music Festival,  and friends present the "Around Beethoven" program, which was bookended by two of Franz Schubert's greatest works, on March 19, 2015 at Trinity United Methodist Church. (Photo courtesy SMF)

(2nd from left) Daniel Hope, the Mr. and Mrs. Curtis G. Anderson Associate Artistic Director of Savannah Music Festival, and friends present the “Around Beethoven” program, which was bookended by two of Franz Schubert’s greatest works, on March 19, 2015 at Trinity United Methodist Church. (Photo courtesy SMF)

Speaking of old school setups, the opening day SMF highlight for this reporter was the enthralling rendition of Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major by Daniel Hope and friends at Trinity United Methodist Church. Almost certainly the Austrian composer never got a chance to hear his masterpiece performed before his untimely death in 1828 at the age of 31. It’s equally probable no five musicians have ever taken Schubert’s four magnificent movements on a more inspired, exuberant outing. DD

Each day of the 17-day  Savannah Music Festival, music journalist Doug DeLoach shares reviews, recommendations and musings on his adventures in Savannah.

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.

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