It's been thrilling to watch the evolution of the Savannah Music Festival over the years.

When I started writing columns about Savannah life, Savannah Onstage was already an established and well-respected arts festival.

Frankly, some of us were dubious about the future of the event when its focus was refined and its name changed.

But that 2003 Savannah Music Festival made a believer out of many Savannahians, and we have seen each year since that director Rob Gibson and his small but talented staff could attract major acts across a variety of traditional genres.

I decided years ago that I wanted to support the SMF beyond the coverage in this column. So, while I get press access to a number of performances each year, I also buy tickets to shows that I really want to see and that I want to share with friends.

When the festival schedule was announced a few months ago, a few acts rose quickly to the top of my personal list.

So you'll see me at The Avett Brothers on the Savanah Music Festival's opening night. I can't say that I've followed the North Carolina band closely over the last couple of years and I'm no fan of the Johnny Mercer Theatre, but it's still pretty exciting that the Avetts have returned for two shows.

As I write this, The Avett Brothers' show on March 21 is sold out, but there are still some seats left for March 20.

I also bought tickets early for Punch Brothers on March 22 at Trustees Theater, another show that sold out quickly.

And I jumped at the chance to hear a couple of true blues legends. The Taj Mahal Trio and John Simon will be at the Lucas Theatre on March 29, and Georgia's Robert Cray will hit the Lucas stage on April 3.

You'll also see me at Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at the Lucas for an afternoon show on March 30.

But there are plenty of other shows that I want or hope to see, including Jason Isbell, Pokey LaFarge and Kristina Train, Fatoumata Diawara and Bombino, Red Baraat and the finale of the SMF's Acoustic Music Seminar, the Stringband Spectacular.

And I haven't even mentioned any of the excellent classical or jazz performances.

Many regular festival supporters and attendees have learned simply to trust the programming. Some of the best shows I've seen over the years have been by performers of whom I'd never even heard.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com). Contact him at billdawers@comcast.net.