Welcome to 2014, a time in which you can still open Rolling Stone and count the photos of women holding instruments on one hand (thanks, Taylor Swift, for upping that number in recent years). Though mainstream music still seems to find it mind-boggling that females have been forming bands, stagediving and busting strings while shredding since rock 'n' roll began, Savannah Stopover's 2014 lineup essentially serves as a lexicon of the hardest-working women in the indie scene today.
When I read the lineup, I was thrilled to see such variety: from young newcomers with fuzzy demos on Soundcloud to Pitchfork favorites to established alt-rock heroes, you're going to want to grab your comfiest shoes (the '90s music and fashion revival makes your Tevas completely cool again, y'all) and plan out your show calendar down to the minute; these bands are not to be missed.
And this is but a small sampling of the all-female or female-led acts in this year's lineup - learn more at www.savannahstopover.com.
7 p.m. March 6, Moon River Beer Garden
Twin sisters Brooke and Brit Graeff honed the sounds of their folk-pop duo as 16-year-olds playing the streets of their Florida hometown. Ten years later, while Brit was living in Vietnam, Brooke flew to join her, brought her guitar along, and Good Graeff was revived.
Their 2013 EP, the aptly named Better Half, fuses a Belle & Sebastian approach to baroque-pop, late Tegan & Sara tempos, and the most upbeat cello riffs you've heard. I'm a sucker for acoustic music you can dance to, and Good Graeff's infectious pop delivers (and is a great fit in Moon River's casual and intimate Beer Garden.
5 p.m. March 7, Hang Fire
One of my favorite thrifted records in my collection is "Best of the Girl Groups,' a double-LP compilation of '60s pop hits. Hearing the addictively fun Tweens single "Be Mean" off their first LP, due April 7 on Frenchkiss, I was instantly reminded of one of my favorite "Best of the Girl Groups" cuts, Joanie Sommers' "Johnny Get Angry." While Sommers delivers cutesy croons to gently tell her man she wants him to grow him a spine and speak his mind, Tweens vocalist and guitarist Bridget Battle delivers the same message like a not-meant-for-these-times Switchblade Sister with bossy, spitting orders to be "Mean! Mean! I want ya to be mean to me!"
You can't sit still while listening what Tweens has dubbed "trash pop," a perfect amalgamation of doo-wop, punk and '60s grit. With vintage, vocal stylings that crackle and pop and rambunctiously messy guitars, they sound like the kids who sold their Adderall in the locker room instead of taking it and ran home for band practice in their parent's garage.
Midnight March 8, The Jinx
Speedy Ortiz's "No Below" was a surprise summer bummer single. On blog mixes full of shimmery, summery bliss tracks, "No Below" took ambling yet angular guitars, a breezily catchy hook and vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupris' wounded vocals to tell a familiar story of growing pains and middle school torture.
LP Major Arcana has all the undertones of Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and even a pinch of Veruca Salt, but Dupris' approach to noisy indie-rock is fresh and always unexpected. Maybe it's because she began writing for Speedy Ortiz while teaching writing at a summer camp, but Dupris is a master of reminiscing about the tougher sides of adolescence, with some occult imagery and and bitter breakup dealings thrown in for good measure.
After a busy year of well-deserved hype, touring with alt-rock idols The Breeders and releasing February's "Real Hair" EP, Speedy Ortiz has earned its place at the top of the "must-watch" lists; catch 'em at The Jinx while you still can.
12:30 a.m. March 8, Knights of Columbus
While I love discovering new bands at Savannah Stopover, I was ecstatic to see Those Darlins as a headliner. When I heard the line "I got drunk and I ate a chicken" on their 2009 self-titled debut, they instantly became my new favorite band (that first listen may have resulted in a few late night sing-alongs with my bandmates after devouring Parker's chicken tender biscuits).
The party-country sound of their first record and 2011's snarky garage-pop release, "Screws Get Loose," paved the way for 2013's "Blur The Line." On their latest, the Darlins keep the gain cranked up on their amps and Tennessee bend in their strings, but the tone has turned darker and more introspective. Their days of clever and catchy pop songs may have grown into vulnerable and brazen lyrics and slower tempos, evoking Bruce Springsteen and longtime Darlin heroes The Velvet Underground, but the snarling fighter spirit remains.
"Songwriting always changes over time - things always change, and you grow as a person," said guitarist/vocalist Nikki Kvarnes. "It's always a reflection."
She, guitarist/vocalist Jessi Zazu, and drummer Linwood Regensburg have historically written and composed both together and separately, but the intimacy of "Blur the Line" was a new step.
"It's hard to write really personal songs and share them with the band ... 'help me write these lyrics that aren't about you,'" Kvarnes said. "Next album, we could be writing together again or separately."
After years of hearing about Those Darlins' infamously unpredictable, crazed house-party-style performances, I saw them share a bill with Savannah favorite Rachel Kate in Charleston, days before they went in to record "Blur the Line." It was a powerhouse performance, but not in the sense that I had expected; while Zazu seized the mic and jumped on wall dividers to sneer lines from "That Man" in the faces of audience members, the intensity was all in the lyrical delivery.
Instead of making the band's focus the exhaustively wild performance they were famous for in their hometown of Murfreesboro, Kvarnes now hopes that the audience will "sit back and listen to the lyrics."
"It's a different kind of confidence that we think developed in our musicianship," she said. "There's less encouragement to have your performance exceed your music - that's what's changed."
Midnight March 9, Hang Fire
In the throes of indie rock's 1990s revival and the formation of new bands who grew up on the Merge and Matador Records catalogs, it's great to see new projects from the decade's key musicians. After the dissolution of supergroup Wild Flag (comprised of members of Helium, Sleater-Kinney and The Minders), Helium's Mary Timony has come back strong with Ex Hex.
The band's debut 7-inch will be released by Merge Records on March 18, and single "Hot and Cold" is a perfect example of the way Timony pays tribute to her beloved past projects while taking a straightforward approach to retro rock 'n' roll. Timony's inimitable strong-yet-airy vocals coast over bold power chords, making the ideal car-windows-down addition to your springtime playlist.