The Thursday Night Opry will bookend another successful Trinity Sanctuary Concert Series season this week with a mix of local and regional acts, featuring a variety of voices and styles.
Trinity United Methodist opened its doors to concerts several years ago when the church's music director, Jared Hall, wanted to engage more with the community utilizing the historic building and its exemplary acoustics. This year, the Trinity Sanctuary Concert Series shifted formats to help grow the series.
"Things have been great," Hall said, adding that sponsors, both corporate and individuals, have helped the series grow. "Our Elvis show [Trae Gurley's 'How Great Thou Art'] was nearly sold out. That one was a killer.
"Trinity is an interesting space. It's not a bar. It's not a restaurant. People have to decide that they are physically going to make themselves come to a show. I didn't know if that was going to sell, but I had a good feeling of it. We had triple the ticket sales from the other shows. It was just hotcakes."
Once a monthly concert, the Thursday Night Opry has downshifted into the single-season event, which features the series' most popular edition, the singer/songwriter showcase. Early on, Hall teamed up with singer/songwriter and photographer Jon Waits, who's helmed Opry operations since the beginning.
Waits set out to showcase singer/songwriters in the area, both local and regional, who don't frequent larger venues like Trinity. Waits has also worked to build a bridge between his hometown of Atlanta and Savannah.
Over the years, that format has evolved a little with focus shifting to touring acts, but highlighting locals is still at the heart of the concert's ethos. In addition, Waits wanted to intentionally showcase more female voices, in part due to the national conversation around gender equality.
"This year, I wanted to make sure we had as much a 50/50 male-female split," Waits said. "I felt like we were getting, not intentionally, heavy on the guy's voice. Especially, and not to pay too much attention to the sexes, one or the other, but I did feel that given everything that was going on, it felt right that we had a nice balance."
The mostly Georgia lineup this year features solo performances from Atlanta's Rachael Petit (Cold Heart Canyon), Miguel Olascuaga (Blood On The Harp), Chattanooga's Caleb Warren (Caleb and The Gents), and Savannah's Eric Britt, Josephine Johnson, Britt Scott and Waits himself.
"I am real excited about this," Hall said. "Finally, we got Jon on board to do some tunes. I am excited about that. Jon has taken the Opry under his wing. He's really curated this himself.
"It's such a great lineup. I love the variety of people. The vast differences in age, male to female, and we have some from Atlanta. It's going to be a strong Opry, I think."
The touring guests are all frequent performers in Savannah. Olascuaga's band, Blood On The Harp, played The Jinx the last week of December. Caleb and The Gents have played an Opry before, and Petit's Cold Heart Canyon have visited Savannah regularly.
Of the locals, Scott and Johnson will perform solo on the Trinity stage for the first time. Scott will share the stage as a solo performance with her former American Hologram bandmate Eric Britt.
Scott took a break from performing after leaving American Hologram, due to a new job which required more of her attention. She began hosting the open mic night at Abe's on Lincoln last year, which gave her a platform to continue playing. As she's acclimated into her new job, she's begun to move back into performing more steadily.
"There are some newer songs that I want to play," Scott said. "It's cool to play something like the songwriter series at Trinity, because that's what it's about. Like, a show at El-Rocko, I feel more inclined to have a band and jam and be more energetic. This is a venue that people are actually listening and listening to the lyrics, and the songwriting aspect just as much as the performance aspect.
"When I was thinking about songs I wanted to do, I was like, OK, cool, I can do songs that are slower and morose, or something that has more of a story behind it. I think it's important to have different types of shows in a town, that people can do that with."
A frequent performer in and around Savannah, Johnson recently returned from San Francisco, where she recorded her next album.
"Trinity United Methodist is one of the premier venues in Savannah, the best place to hear solo, duo, trio acts," Johnson said. "I'm over the moon that I get to be part of such a stellar line up in such an acoustically awesome place."
In reformatting the series, Hall also looked to add a charitable aspect to the events. A portion of ticket sales from each of the series' four concerts was donated to a different charity. They raised over $3,000 for the charities this season, according to Hall.
Proceeds from the Thursday Night Opry will be donated to the Savannah chapter of Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit "dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her potential," according to their website.
"It's something that's huge and important," Hall said of the organization. "It's nothing for someone to come and be entertained and have a little of their money go to a good cause."
IF YOU GO
What: Trinity Sanctuary Concerts: Thursday Night Opry, Singer/Songwriter Showcase
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18
Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, 225 W. President St.
Cost: $20; proceeds benefit Girls on the Run
Info: trinitysanctuaryconcerts.com, tikly.co/sanctuaryconcertseries