Every year, Savannah Stopover Music Festival features a wide range of up-and-coming bands, and every year there is at least one band — often many more than that — audiences are sure to fall in love with.
The seventh year did not disappoint. One aspect has become clear: parent company MusicFile Productions knows good music, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of the bands.
As has become a popular motif, Stopover had several possible “St. Paul” moments this year, which represents in some fashion the spirit of the festival. In 2014, St. Paul & The Broken Bones played during Stopover at the Knights of Columbus. They brought down the house. It’s a show many repeat festival goers remember fondly. Shortly after their appearance, they catapulted to notoriety, even becoming a favorite of David Letterman.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which of the many great performances this year will be remembered as a “St. Paul” moment. If I had to guess, I’d say Julien Baker at Trinity United Methodist Church, closely followed by Ron Gallo at El-Rocko Lounge or Chain of Flowers at The Jinx.
I managed a personal best record this year, marking 33 notches on my band belt. That surpasses my original intent of seeing 30 acts. In the hazy aftermath of the three-day gauntlet, my immediate thought was that this year was my favorite. But that’s easy to say in the post-coitus-like euphoria after Stopover.
The most important question to ask after any live music show is simply, “Did you have fun?” Yes. I had a lot of fun this year. Here are highlights from my experience at Stopover:
The Saturday lineup for Trinity United Methodist Church echoed a rather wonderful sentiment, whether intentional by design or not. The bill showcased voices of the new South, standing rather ironically on the ubiquitous platform of the old South, declaring a gospel of love and acceptance. It was a new message from a generation of Southern artists born to change the direction of our country.
They are, I believe, icons of a new wave. Perhaps, in time, we will be indebted to their courage. There is change in the air.
I found Jesus in Trinity on Saturday. He goes by Christopher now. Christopher Paul Stelling put on a gut-wrenching, heart-stomping 45 minutes of rock ’n’ roll music. Bringing a band with him this time, he returned for his seventh Stopover. In between sets, he preached. It was a sermon on the mount for rock ’n’ rollers. He blessed us all with bottled water as he walked off stage. I felt illuminated.
River Whyless thankfully returned this year as well. I am one of this band’s super fans. I was stoked to hear the new album live. Toward the end, they donned the pink hats made popular by the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year and preached love and light. It was beautiful and welcomed with warmth.
Julien Baker was a spiritual experience, and I am not even spiritual. That’s all the public words I have for it. The rest is private and between me and that pew at Trinity.
Opening night and beyond
This year was my favorite opening night, for sure. Savannah’s Garden Giant was the first band to play. I am a fan already, so that was a great show. Kishi Bashi made the top of a lot of people’s lists of favorites for the entire festival. This guy is super talented and a blast to hear live. Tall Tall Trees joined him on stage for a large portion of the set, making it all pretty spectacular.
Speaking of which, Tall Tall Trees also sat in with Stelling on Saturday, which was equally amazing. And Tall Tall Trees’ solo show at The Jinx was also A-OK.
A local super group, Taze Daze, with members from Wet Socks, Street Clothes, Cray Bags and Jeff Zagers, absolutely killed it at El-Rocko, opening a barrage of great shows at the newest Stopover venue.
Chain of Flowers at The Jinx blew the doors off. They were not high on my list of must-sees, to be honest. Their recorded stuff does not do the live show justice at all, despite being pretty good. Also, they are Welsh, so I talked to them after the show just to hear their accents. They will be back, I think. If I didn’t scare them off.
Speaking of which, hopefully, we didn’t scare off JEFF the Brotherhood, either. The crowd was excited and intense. The mic was super hot. This was my one absolute must-see this year. Good, loud rock ’n’ roll. I think it helps to be a fan of this band before seeing them live, though. I was and it was a rad show.
I cannot tell you how much I love Hockey Dad. Go buy their new record, “Boronia.”
Lee Fields & The Expressions have been called the Little James Brown, and for good reason. This was a highlight for several people who I asked, and one of mine as well. Ships of the Sea was a perfect venue for Fields and his new record.
El-Rocko Lounge was a blast and is starting to rival The Jinx as a top music venue in Savannah. (Please leave the railing down.)
The Owens-Thomas House was spectacular and simply magical for a secret show. Thank you, Telfair Museums.
The Stopover HQ secret show was a brilliant pop-up venue as well. It’s all about location.
Side note: Can the people who live across from Moon River move so we can have shows there again? I also miss Knights of Columbus as a Stopover venue, and I miss Hang Fire, like mad crazy. My heart sinks every time I walk by that empty building. The former bar’s signs are still up, just to remind us all of the amazing memories we made in there.
For those who don’t see our local bands play on a regular basis, I can assure you, you are missing out. I caught more locals at Stopover this year than in previous years. Not that I didn’t already know this, but catching locals right before or after touring bands just reconfirmed how great our local music scene really is.
I was little disappointed to see some locals get small crowds, though, which for some might have been due to their time slot. But CUSSES’ set was packed, and Rude Dude and the Creek Freaks made new fans with one of my favorite sets of the entire festival. Watch for those dudes — they are what Stopover is all about, a band on the verge of breaking out.
Stopover has, since year one, given locals a stage. That’s a huge deal for our local musicians, even if they are playing for just a few tourists, me and Larry Jack.
In the spirit of the entire festival, which is to find your new favorite band, here are mine:
Chain Of Flowers: I dig Joy Division and The Smiths, so I like these guys.
Lawrence: Young kids playing soul, really well.
Allison Crutchfield: New Merge Records darling. Well deserved.
Floco Torres: Really good hip hop.
Pronoun: Best secret show ever.
High Waisted: Quote of the festival, “Do acid and get naked.”
Best Behavior: Thanks to High Waisted’s band manager for telling me to go to this show.
The Bones of J.R. Jones: One-man band of awesome.
Yoke Lore: Sometimes hipster kids do it right. Daft Punk likes this band, apparently.
Julien Baker: When you need to cry. (We all do sometimes. Let it out.)
Rude Dude and the Creek Freaks: LOCAL BAND! Go see them.
Dirty Dishes: OK. I liked this band before I saw them on the lineup this year. I love them now. I told them so at the show in between songs. They laughed and blushed a little while tuning.
Ron Gallo: Listen to that new album. He read us a script. It was strange. He’s strange. But he makes really good rock ’n’ roll.
Joshua Peacock is a freelance writer for Do Savannah. He studied playwriting and music at the University of Iowa. Contact him at email@example.com.