Kayne Lanahan put Savannah on the indie music map in 2011 when her company founded Savannah Stopover, a three-day springtime event offering bands a respite from driving—as well as an in-transit paycheck—during the annual pilgrimage to Austin’s South by Southwest shindig. Revival Fest is a whole ‘nother batch of barbecue, though. Set for its third annual staging on Sat., Sept. 12 at Savannah’s Georgia State Railroad Museum, Revival Fest is a one-day, one-venue, family-friendly indoor/outdoor hoedown. “It’s a very casual event—people can bring lawn chairs and blankets,” explains Lanahan on a quiet Sunday morning, adding that coolers are the one prohibition. “I think of it as going to a best friend’s backyard party, except with 1,500 people and 14 bands.”
As founder and CEO of MusicFile Productions, Lanahan and her team pitch a wide tent in their definition of roots music, leading to an impressively varied lineup that places classic bluesmen like Macon’s Robert Lee Coleman alongside young Americana artists like Parker Millsap. But the top of this year’s bill has a decidedly indie rock flavor, with longtime crowd pleasers Southern Culture on the Skids, the newly revived Fruit Bats and North Carolina’s gritty Those Darlins.
“Every year the bill seems to take on its own personality,“ Lanahan marvels, acknowledging 2015’s stylistic tilt. “You just put all the options in a Mixmaster and see what comes out of it. I love the juxtaposition of Southern Culture and Those Darlins, because Southern Culture was doing that edgy, Southern quirky indie rock before anybody knew what to call it and Those Darlins are sort of the modern version of that.” Lanahan is particularly tickled by the inclusion of the ever-evolving Portland-based Fruit Bats, whom she hears as a southern analog to the Shins. “Every year we seem to have one band that’s not from the South, but we adopt them for the day,” she laughs.
Despite the wealth of regional talent—eight of the 14 bands hail from Georgia or North Carolina—Lanahan credits outside influences for making the home turf safe for such an endeavor. “The resurgence in roots music, I call it the Mumford and Sons phenomenon. It took a band from England to remind everyone in America what good old foot stompin’ and harmonies sounded like. And I felt like there was a lot of music in the South that was even more real, if that’s the right word, and it would be fun to do a festival that celebrated just that.”
Revival Fest consciously aims to buck the trend of the major festivals “getting really really big—and really expensive.” Lanahan is particularly proud of its setting on the back acreage of the Georgia Railroad Museum. “We set out to find the coolest undiscovered space in Savannah, and we feel like we did it. It’s sort of half renovated,” with graffiti still dotting some of the structure’s brick walls. “The indoor portion is where the trains used to be repaired—it still has this cool old machinery in it. Then the outside is a shady grove up on a hill looking out over the Talmadge Bridge into South Carolina. We actually have to stop the music to let a train go through. It’s a nice size, and we still have a little room for growth.”
Another goal is to avoid the scheduling overlaps that often haunt festivals. With two stages—one each inside and outside—alternating sets with military precision, “you can arrive at noon and literally see the entire lineup.” This means there’s no need to stress over missing the last few tunes of Holy Ghost Tent Revival to catch the opening notes of Margot & the Pricetags. It’s a “rain or shine” event, but contingency plans are in place in case a second indoor stage is needed.
Festival maven is something of a second act for Lanahan; “I’m one of those people that booked bands in college, then went off and had a completely different career,” she shrugs. Lanahan worked in Atlanta for Coca-Cola in the 1990s, coordinating marketing plans for the Summer Olympics before moving to New York to join News Corp, where she had a hand in the launch of American Idol and a front row seat to the changes roiling the music industry. Though she had founded the music discovery website, MusicFile, in 2004, Lanahan leapt off the corporate ladder in 2010 when she founded MusicFile Productions. She relocated to Savannah that year to be closer to family and began booking shows in part because the bands she wanted to see weren’t coming through the coastal city.
One of the companies first big gigs was creating and programming an “artists’ lounge” on Austin’s main 6th Street drag for South By Southwest. “It was a huge success, but doing that kind of event in a city you don’t live in is challenging.” The experience gave her the courage to pursue something on a grand scale in Savannah and Savannah Stopover debuted in March of 2011 with an emphasis on “the discovery of emerging, independent music talent” and Revival Fest followed in September of 2013. Last December, Savannah Now named MusicFile Productions its “Entrepreneurial Business of the Year,” noting not only the successful growth of its two festivals, but also its role in assisting other events including Creative Coast’s Geekend conference and Savannah’s Fashion Night with booking its talent.
Revival Fest’s food and drink options are also in keeping with its indie and Southern themes, rising well above typical concession fare. “We’re pretty picky about our vendors,” Lanahan brags. One local restaurateur will be offering a Southern Culture on the Skids combo meal, including fried chicken and banana pudding. Another is hard at work concocting a BBQ parfait with layers of meat, collard greens, mac & cheese and I’m afraid to ask what else. On the spirits side, six Georgia beers and “all four of the Savannah breweries will be represented. All of the best bartenders in town are on board; they’re going to create Revival Fest-themed cocktails for the day.” There’s also an artisan craft component including vinyl spin art from Art Rise Savannah, a non-profit championing independent art.
As for expansion plans, “We’ve debated (adding a second day). We doubled in size between our first two years, and it’s easy enough for us to scale when it makes sense to.” Revival Fest is already inching in that direction, importing New Orleans’ Stooges Brass Band for a “Bourbon and Brass on Broughton” Friday night pre-festival street party, a thematic if unrelated extension of the “Blues on Broughton” series that’s enlivened Savannah’s downtown business district for several years. For the time being, Revival Fest and Savannah Stopover offer plenty to keep Lanahan and MusicFile busy year-round.
Music. Craft Brews. Bourbon. Southern Fare.
Sept. 12, 2015 • Georgia State Railroad Museum, Savannah
Time: Gates open at noon; music starts at 12:30 p.m.
Tickets: $45 General Admission; $95 VIP Admission. Purchase tickets here.
Artist Lineup: Fruit Bats, Southern Culture on the Skids, Parker Millsap, Those Darlins, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Christopher Paul Stelling, Horse Thief, Margo & the Pricetags, Have Gun Will Travel, Caleb Caudle, Robert Lee Coleman & the Night Owls, Missionary Blues, The Grand Gestures, Sweet Thunder Strolling Band
Listen to artists’ playlists on SoundCloud here.
All Revival Fest photos by Geoff L. Johnson