When the cloying heat becomes just too much and you find yourself itching to ditch live oak for mountain hemlock, break out your trail maps and leave your phone charger at home, pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea and escape to the porch with Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends' handmade EP.
With a voice as cool as mountain water over mossy logs and as comforting as a tended fire, North Carolina native Stewart hearkens Gillian Welch, Patsy Cline and the classic ladies of country and Americana with soothing melodies, warm guitars and twinkling mandolins and banjos.
She and her band, The Boyfriends, make their Savannah debut June 7 at The Sentient Bean.
A Japanese restaurant may be the last place one would think to find an aspiring Americana singer honing her craft, but that's exactly where Stewart found her voice.
"The truth is, I was kind of really into karaoke growing up," Stewart reveals. "My parents used to take us to a little Japanese restaurant every Friday night and do karaoke there."
Her fifth-grade go-tos included anything from The Cranberries to Olivia Newton-John.
"I got used to performing in front of people really young that way," she says.
Guitar would come shortly after.
"I started playing when I was 15. I just wanted to do my own music and got tired of playing in bands with the high school boys who just wanted to play Sublime covers."
She taught herself how to play and gigged in coffee shops alone before seeking members for a supporting band.
"I think when you play with a band, you learn a lot more about how to play around each other and how to hold back more," she says.
After jamming with a diverse collection of locals - Don Raleigh of The Squirrel Nut Zippers among them ("still a very good friend and mentor") - Stewart assembled a court of Boyfriends comprised of bassist Nicholas Vandenberg, guitarist Mario Arnez and fiddle and mandolin player Omar Ruiz-Lopez.
The Boyfriends' grasp of theory, blended with Stewart's dedicated DIY know-how, results in a sound that is pure mountain music, both in composition and in lyric.
"I feel like the songs are kind of like patchwork," Stewart says. "Some weren't written with a certain theme in mind, per se, but the common thread is the sense of feeling like I didn't belong in North Carolina. I've lived here most of my life. I felt like I needed to get away ... because I was too cool to live here or something.
"So I moved to Seattle and I lived in some other places - I lived in Sweden for a while - and I ended up realizing this is really where I was meant to be. I think that resonates in a lot of the songs."
Stewart's single "Wake Me Carolina," a breezy yearning for her mountain home, was recently a finalist for Our State Magazine's songwriting competition.
Evocative imagery and sultry Southern details make Stewart's longing the listener's own as she waxes poetic about "sweet tea on a front porch swing/I could not ask for more" (hey, neither could we). She also embraces songwriting as a means to tell other people's stories, coal miners and cowgirls alike.
Currently, the band plays songs Stewart has been performing by herself for at least five years.
A preschool teacher by day, Stewart looks forward to using summer break to focus on writing songs as a full band after their first full-length record is released June 21.
What can Savannah expect from the Sentient Bean show?
"We'll have three very handsome fellas who are incredibly talented," Stewart promises. "We've been playing out a lot lately, and we just really connect with each other on stage. There's a great live energy between us. We're really well rehearsed, but there's an element of rawness."
They're looking forward to visiting the Hostess City for the first time.
"I love the South and all the old homes, so I'm really excited," Stewart says. "I'm kind of a nerd about that stuff."
With the rising heat index and Savannah's unwavering adoration for all that is rootsy and raw, Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends will be right at home.
IF YOU GO
What: Steph Stewart & The Boyfriends
When: 8-10 p.m. June 7
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.