Savannah Stopover launched in 2011 with a pragmatic premise: provide a way station—and a paycheck—for the dozens of bands wending their way down the eastern seaboard to play South by Southwest and create an action-packed weekend of music for coastal Georgia in the process.
The seventh Stopover opens on Thursday, March 9, with that basic structure intact—but a much higher profile. “Of the touring bands, probably 70 percent are on their way to South By,” estimates Savannah Stopover founder Kayne Lanahan, dropping the insider nickname for the annual Austin shindig.
“But that’s actually a declining trend,” adds Peter Robaudo, Stopover’s Director of Talent. The three-day festival has become a destination in its own right, for artists as well as fans. “Savannah’s such a wonderful weekend draw already—it’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists. So for music lovers, the wall-to-wall weekend might be the added nudge they need.”
With three weeks to go, Stopover had already sold tickets to fans spanning 25 states, extending to Oregon and New York. The musical map is even more expansive. The 90-strong lineup includes artists from as far away as New South Wales, Australia (Hockey Dad), Cardiff, Wales (Chain of Flowers) and Dunedin, New Zealand (Kane Strang). “We had an Iranian band on the radar, but they ultimately couldn’t make it due to visa issues,” Lanahan mentions. “A lot of international bands will fly into New York and make this the anchor for their spring tours.”
The expansive lineup retains plenty of local flavor, however. Seventeen Georgia artists are on the roster, including several from Savannah’s thriving local scene, some of whom will make their own sojourn to Austin. Athens favorite Kishi Bashi headlines Thursday night’s opening festivities. Atlantan Curtis Harding brings his soul power to a late-night Friday set, leaving enough time to catch Macon’s Floco Torres a bit earlier that evening.
Also gracing a ridiculously packed Friday lineup is Newnan, Georgia native Deantoni Parks. The onetime Mars Volta drummer has built a remarkable career as a producer, avant-garde composer, audio/visual maven and faculty member at esteemed music schools like Berklee and the Stanford Jazz Workshop. A bit further afield, indie rock geeks can’t help but note the nod to Athens’ beloved Neutral Milk Hotel in Communist Daughter, an alt-folk act hailing from St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Southeast flavor extends to no-frills Nashville rockers JEFF the Brotherhood (Thursday night) and Saturday’s set from Julien Baker, the Memphis singer/songwriter whose 2016 debut deservedly dented many best of year lists. Further complicating fans’ Friday night planning is Birmingham favorite daughter Allison Crutchfield, whose newly minted solo debut adds majestic keyboards to the gritty pop-punk she perfected as a member of PS Eliot and Swearin’.
Stopover’s musical offerings stretch across ten venues, all walkable from one another within Savannah’s central historic district. The city’s revelry-friendly open carry laws (we’re talking adult beverages, not firearms) make it easy to sample multiple acts across clubs. So do the surprisingly affordable festival wristbands.
Savannah has its share of music stages—the intimate, bar-centered Jinx being perhaps the most iconic—but the long weekend’s sheer volume of activity presses additional sites into duty. “Club One’s a really fun 1980s dance club, complete with mirror ball and mirrored walls,” Robaudo enthuses. Better known for DJ sets, the venue will host late-night over-21 bills each evening.
Ships of the Sea, primarily known as a maritime museum, “built a beautiful outdoor covered event space,” that has become an anchor site for both Stopover and Savannah Music Festival, says Lanahan. It offers greater capacity than most of the bar-oriented settings, and will play host to the all-ages opening Thursday night event featuring Kishi Bashi, as well as others on Friday and Saturday. Overall the shows are a healthy blend of all ages and over-21, with a few venues shifting to age restrictions after 9pm.
Stopover staff prides itself in providing a fun, low-risk avenue for musical discovery. “If you haven’t heard of many of these bands, that’s part of the point,” is one of their mantras. As their reputation has grown—along with the reps of many of their alumni bands—the festival enjoys the luxury of a few more bigger-name hooks while retaining that mission. Even if they’re not merely a “stopover” anymore.