Every year around this time I forget everything I said approximately 12 months before about how I’m not going back to SXSW again, and every year I promptly book a last minute flight to Austin and go, if, for no other reason, just for all of the great complaining about SXSW content. But not this year! The problems with SXSW are manifold, but, in short, it all comes down what happens to every other thing that’s good and pure in the world: it got too big. So, no I won’t be going this year (unless someone wants to fly me down and put me up!). Instead I’m hitting Savannah Stopover.
The much smaller festival, which takes place from March 5-7 in Savannah, Georgia, is meant as a literal stopover for bands on their way down to Austin, as founder Kayne Lanahan tells me. And, like in the good old days of SXSW, it’s focused entirely on actual indie bands. Bands you’ve probably never heard of for the most part mixed in with some you definitely have. Past highlights have included Grimes, Future Islands, and Oberhofer, while this year’s lineup includes San Fermin, ASTR, Diarrhea Planet, and dozens more. Scroll through a bunch of photos from years past above.
I asked Lanahan to explain more about what people can expect.
What prompted you to want to make something like this happen? Had you done anything like it before?
Savannah Stopover started in 2011 with a simple idea based on two converging trends: up and coming bands were typically skipping Savannah on routed tours and SXSW was growing larger and large with a focus on bigger, more established acts. We saw an opportunity to introduce Savannah as a great market to a lot of indie artists at once and to focus on newer bands by giving them a different experience than what they might be getting in Austin. It was really created with the band’s perspective in mind.
Timing it as a “stop over” en route to Austin came about because we were seeing a few bands that had never played the market trying to book shows the week before SXSW. Our very first show was actually The Antlers in 2010, who literally played to about 30 people as they were routing down.
I had worked on large scale events like the Olympics for Coca-Cola and The Simpson’s Anniversary at FOX, but never in the music festival world. In hindsight, not knowing what we were doing those first few years may have actually helped us. We had no pre-concieved notion of what a music festival should be, or how it should be run.
What makes it different from other similar festivals?
Savannah itself plays a large role in what makes it different, and special. The historic district is like a cross between Greenwich Village and New Orleans. We also have a great open-container law, and a lot of small venues so it lends itself really well to a walkable, fun, intimate experience in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
From the band perspective, we do things a little differently. We do big communal dinners each night and all the bands eat together and it’s great, home-cooked Southern food. You’ll also see all the bands out and about enjoying the other shows so the fans really get to interact with them. It’s definitely not a festival where the bands are in some trailer or green room and just come out to play.
To be honest, I’m burnt out on SXSW myself and this is the first year I’m not going in a while. But this, a smaller scale, appeals to me more. Do you hear that from people?
We hear it all the time. I used to go to SXSW every year, but it wore me down, financially and physically. I still love it, but I tended to stick to the off the beaten path stuff that really allows for discovery of music, and that’s what we’ve stayed true to with Stopover.
What do you think about large scale festivals, like in a field, Coachella type things? I think they suck personally, and that music is meant to be seen in a venue.
I’ll just say this: I think most real music lovers will look back on their lives and remember the great shows they saw as the ones that had an intimacy and magic that is hard to get on a massive scale. Nothing against the fields!
What are a couple of the most memorable highlights from past festivals?
Oh my gosh, there are so, so many. Here are a few. Grimes playing up on a staircase landing at our ultra modern museum, The Jepson Center for the Arts, at Stopover II. Future Islands at Stopover IV playing at Club One; a gay dance club complete with a mirror ball. I still get chills thinking about that one. Oberhofer playing a stripped down set at the festival wrap party for Stopover I and making up new lyrics to “Away Frm U” that were about Savannah. St. Paul & The Broken Bones pretty much blowing people’s minds at Stopover IV as the first concert of the festival. They played at Knights of Columbus Hall, in an old pre-civil war mansion/ballroom. Dent May sitting on the bar at Hang Fire crooning to a packed crowd at Stopover III. William Tyler plugged into the Third Man Records mobile truck in the parking lot of a venue at Stopover III.
Who are a couple of the acts you’re most excited for this time out?
It’s so hard to pick. We’re putting San Fermin and Matthew E. White in a cool old church so I’m very excited about those shows. I think ASTR at Club One is gonna be great and I’m excited for this all-female lineup we’ve got going Saturday afternoon with Ruby the RabbitFoot, Lilly Hiatt, Margo and the Pricetags and Adia Victoria.
What is Savannah like for people, like me, who’ve never been?
It’s pretty magical. It’s historic and beautiful and friendly and walkable. Lots of Cobblestone streets and Live Oak trees with Spanish Moss. And some bad ass food.
What are a couple of must-see spots for visitors?
I generally just recommend that people take a walking tour of the historic district. From the cotton exchanges along the river, to the mansions lining Forsyth Park. If you want to get campy, take a ghost tour at night in a carved out hearse. It’s a hoot.