See a slideshow of photos by Adriana Iris Boatwright with Joshua Peacock's Empire of Sound column HERE.
After a whirlwind three days running around downtown listening to practically non-stop music from 100+ bands, Do caught up with Savannah Stopover’s crew as they wound down their festival work.
We chatted with Kayne Lanahan, founder and CEO of MusicFile Productions, which hosts the fest, and Peter Robaudo, director of talent and systems management. The topics included the crazy amount of walking that goes on and everyone’s favorite moments from this year, but there were a few low notes to hit as well, including a certain hip hop artist who refused to perform. Read on for the details:
So, now that Stopover 2016 is wrapped up, you and your crew don’t just get to sit back and relax till next year like the rest of us. What’s post-festival week like for your staff? Do you start planning for 2017 immediately?
Lanahan: It’s a pretty crazy week. We have a wrap-up party on Sunday and then head into three straight days of load-out, breakdown and post-festival accounting and bill paying, sifting through photos, thanking bands and sponsors, etc. You’ll see Peter Robaudo or Jared Hall in a big U-haul truck picking up barricades and running around town. We try to keep our energy up by just plowing through it and having fun and eating a lot of junk food and macaroons. Macaroons from Paris Market were big this year!
We don’t start into 2017 for a few months but we do a lot of debriefing; what worked, what didn’t, what can we do better, all while it’s fresh in our heads.
Though Stopover itself and Savannah as a whole is very walkable, I’m sure many attendees still woke up Sunday needing a foot massage. I joked with Caila Brown, your creative services manager, that someone should wear a pedometer to track their steps, and she showed me she was wearing one. Do you know how many steps she took during the fest, or have a guess on your own mileage?
Lanahan: Caila tracked her steps for each day of the fest. Thursday: 15,162; Friday: 15,928; Saturday: 18,307.
Every venue is unique at Stopover. I really love seeing shows at Trinity church; their sound can’t be compared and it’s just a beautiful space in general. On the other hand, I, like some of the performers, wasn’t happy with Ampersand’s downstairs techno music seeping into the second floor during shows. How does the festival team deal with the challenges of such a variety of venues?
Robaudo: We generally just embrace the nuances of each venue because they make Savannah so unique and for the most part, it works. We supplement with our own sound and production where it’s needed so that we meet the needs of our bands and generally things go really smoothly.
That said, we’ve been dealing with this issue of sound bleed from the first floor at Ampersand for a few years now and we are not happy about it at all. We talked to Ampersand’s manager about it the night before the festival and reiterated our concerns and were promised there would be no DJ music before midnight and it would be kept to a minimum when bands were playing.
I personally was there for a small part of the PWR BTTM set. I immediately realized that the venue staff had disregarded our agreement and asked them to please keep the first-floor DJ sound to a minimum, which they proceeded to do. Unfortunately, it seems as though the minute we leave the venue, they turn it back up. We sincerely apologize, not only to fans but to the bands that encountered this issue. If it can’t be solved, we won’t be using this venue in the future.
Lanahan: Yes, it was about him not wanting to play a gay nightclub and no one was more angry, upset and shocked by it than we were. Scotty ATL was already in town, had checked in for his artist credentials and had gone to the venue when Peter started getting texts from his manager: “I’m not sure I’m going to allow him to perform there. I have to protect his brand,” and “It’s not about the crowd, it’s the connotation of the venue.”
They asked us to move him to another venue, which we refused to do. They kept telling us that their hearts were in the right place and they didn’t want to cancel but that they wouldn’t play the venue so canceling was the only option. But out of every bad situation comes something good. Sunglow and French Horn Rebellion stepped in and filled his time slot with longer sets and turned the night into a celebration of music and diversity.
Well, enough about that. There were more than 100 bands that fulfilled their duties and shared their sound with Savannah; I want to focus on them. I saw most or all of 23 bands’ sets for the fest, which is nothing compared to what I know some of the real troopers accomplished (looking at you, Bill Dawers.) How many acts did you actually get to see in between organizational duties?
Lanahan: Not enough! I saw at least a little bit of 19 bands across the three days and I heard Quiet Hollers’ secret show from the sidewalk while I was trying to deal with the Scotty ATL situation. We always joke that we’d have to go to SXSW to actually see half the bands we book. The good news is that both Jared Hall and Peter Robaudo will be in Austin this week for SXSW and might just get to do that!
My personal favorite shows were Say Brother, White Reaper, Susto, Sweet Crude and Capsula (both performances). I also thought locals Damon and the ‘Kickers had a great set and crowd to kick off Saturday night. I know it’s hard to choose, but what were your top acts for 2016?
Lanahan: Of the shows I got to see, Shilpa Ray, Susto, Lucy Dacus, Dosti, Twin Limb, Mass Gothic and Beverly all blew me away. But Prince Rama might have been my favorite, just for the sheer energy and fun of it. And I thought Blitzen Trapper put on one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them do.
There were plenty of bands I’d be interested in seeing again. Any acts you’re hoping to bring back next year, or even for one-off shows throughout this year?
Lanahan: Actually, emails came in today from both Muuy Biien and Sweet Crude about summer shows. And I talked to several bands during the festival who all want to come back later this year. As for 2017, much of the booking process depends on a band’s availability during that window and it’s a bit too early to know that yet.
I didn’t anticipate the young crowd who showed up fanatical over Rainbow Kitten Surprise at Trinity. They sang along to every song; I’m not sure even the band expected that kind of fandom. What was your biggest surprise of the festival?
Lanahan: We’d been getting calls for weeks from all over the Southeast about the Rainbow Kitten Surprise show, so we knew a lot of their fans were traveling to Savannah so we were prepared for it. We actually switched their venue so we could have it be an all-ages show.
One surprise this year was how many people came in from out of town: Over 50 percent of attendees. And not just from around Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. We had people attend from 35 states. It’s really rewarding for us to see Stopover become a destination music festival. It’s great for the city and it’s great for so many people to get exposed to our local bands.
Another surprise was how big the crowds were at Ships of the Sea. We tried a different layout there and it’s a space we hadn’t used for a few years and it just surpassed all of our expectations by a mile. For one weekend, it turned into that 500-700 capacity venue that Savannah is missing!
The RKS show brings me to another point: It’s clear we could use more all-ages shows and venues in Savannah. Is that an important consideration as you organize the lineup, whether to put a band on a 21+ or all-ages stage?
Lanahan: It is important and it’s why we don’t lock bands into venues when we first confirm them. We made a lot of late switches to the schedule to get certain bands into all-ages venues, like Porches, Alex G, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, etc. but we just don’t have enough. For example, we would have liked to put Mystery Skulls in all-ages club.
Absolute favorite moment from this year’s fest for me was helping Coni of Capsula crowdsurf at The Jinx to end three days of rocking out. Can you choose one top moment? I know that might be hard to do!
Lanahan: I always seem to remember the small, special moments. For me this year, it was Lucy Dacus taking the stage at Wild Wing and my jaw just dropping at how good she was live. Everyone was over at Trinity for the David Bowie tribute but I just couldn’t leave the room. There was this electricity in the air and you knew you were witnessing a special moment. I saw everyone there texting and tweeting about it and within 20 minutes, the room was packed. That’s how fast the music business moves in 2016!
I’m not sure everyone realizes how much those VIP tickets are worth in the end, since it allows access to the Artist Lounge. It’s such a cool space to hang out during and after the shows and possibly rub elbows with the musicians themselves. Prince Rama DJing ‘90s hits was fun; I think it was also the night limbo was happening under the bar. Any favorite moments from the late-night shenanigans, or does what happens in the Artist Lounge stay in the Artist Lounge?
Lanahan: What happens in the Artist Lounge stays in the Artist Lounge!
Any other thoughts to add as Stopover 2016 begins to fade to a memory?
Lanahan: Just how lucky we are to live in Savannah and have a Historic District that is tailor-made for this type of intimate, walkable festival. There was just a palpable joy in the air as people moved from venue to venue all weekend and we hope everyone had as much fun as we did!