In its eighth year, Savannah Stopover Music Festival is beginning to shed the shadow of South By Southwest and emerge as its own notable indie music festival.
The annual March event was founded as a stopover, as the name implies, for touring bands on their way to the famed Austin festival. It was heralded as SXSW’s "grungy little sister" early on. That original earmark has been distilled into a passing note, however, as parent company MusicFile Productions digs away each year to book the best up-and-coming bands alongside more established names.
For a number of the touring bands, Stopover is an opportunity to debut a new touring setlist before playing larger shows. Athens’ of Montreal did just that this year in support of their new album, “White is Relic/Irrealis Mood.” For locals, Stopover is a chance to catch a lot of great touring bands they might not see in their hometown otherwise.
Over the last six years, I’ve watched this festival grow into itself in many respects. After this year, it seems to be bursting at the seams. A good friend of mine asked the question, where does Stopover go from here? It’s a good question.
The crowds seemed much larger this year. The Jinx hit capacity on Thursday and pretty much stayed full the entire weekend. I missed a couple of shows because I couldn’t get in, which was mostly my fault for not getting there early enough. Barrelhouse South — an exceptional venue addition this year — mirrored The Jinx in packed-out crowds. El-Rocko Lounge, which hosted most of my favorites this year, was the same story.
At one point, I got trapped at the front at Congress Street Social Club. Even the crowds at Ships of the Sea seemed larger than previous years. Yes, those are mostly the clubs and they hit cap anywhere from 150-350. But according to festival organizers, there were well over 800 people at Ships of the Sea Museum for of Montreal’s set on Saturday, which included the usual outrageous pageantry. Giant cows are fun.
Good for Savannah
This conversation leads to a rather simple conclusion in my mind: Savannah Stopover is really good for Savannah. I saw hundreds of unfamiliar faces packed into the venues throughout the weekend. Economic impact is important. Typically, when seeing live music in this city, I am surrounded by the same 20 people — the same 20 beautiful people, I should say. But for a weekend, hundreds of non-regulars get to experience what we have to offer in live entertainment. Those who travel here spend money locally and plan return trips.
I’ve written about this before, but I feel it’s worthy of noting again. Stopover also helps put Savannah on a larger map within the music industry. If booking agents, managers, label executives and the touring bands have a good experience in our scene, they will tell others about it.
Last year, Chicago’s Post Animal played a show in El-Rocko. They said they almost drove past us on their tour, but someone told them they should play here. So they did. They loved it and were upset they hadn’t been here before. Mitski is playing El-Rocko in June, in part thanks to MusicFile Productions.
If you want a good music scene to thrive, you need infrastructure. You have to have good venues, local bands, and people to show up. Stopover acts as a beacon in many respects, putting out the word. We have the venues. We can muster some crowds. (Although we could stand for more people to show up for non-festival shows.) We have local bands that are killing it, and more on the way.
I don't think it's hyperbole to say that Stopover in the near future could easily take on larger venues in Savannah. If it becomes a real thing, the Starland Village 800-person venue would be an ideal stepping stone, albeit a geographical challenge. Maybe it’s too much to imagine a Stopover with Spoon headlining the Lucas Theatre, while Jeff Rosenstock or PUP packs El-Rocko, Murder By Death rocks The Jinx, and Ruby Boots tears it up at Ships of the Sea, but it’s fun to think about. (Yeah, that sentence turned into a wish list.)
Rock 'n' roll
There was a lot of really good rock ’n’ roll this year. Allegedly, rock music is dead. Real music journalists have declared rock dead because the majority of Spotify users streamed Drake’s album last year.
If you think rock ’n’ roll is dead, you aren’t paying attention on a national or local level. This is what Stopover does best each year; they tap into the vein of the underground, the underrepresented and indie market to find acts that are on the verge of breaking into a much larger audience. Julien Baker and St. Paul and The Broken Bones are two really excellent examples. Both played Stopover right before breaking out. More importantly, Stopover books really good bands making really good music.
Out of the 30 acts I caught, here were my top five: Shopping, Bat Fangs, pronoun, Honduras, FRIGS, Illegal Drugs, Acid Dad, Wilder Maker, Rat Boys, Larkin Poe, Cory Chambers Jazz Band, Isaac Smith, Nancy Druid, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, The Pauses, and Caroline Rose. Wait, is that five? I am bad at math.
Women lead the way
Thursday was International Women’s Day. The opening night of Stopover was all about women. In fact, most of the festival was fronted by bad-ass women.
For the record, female-fronted is not a genre. I want to draw attention to women fronting rock bands, as do a lot of people, like it's some kind of novelty. But I have to remind myself that just because men have long enjoyed their names on marquees, a multitude of women have driven rock since its inception (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kim Deal, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Dolly Parton, just to name a few).
Of the 17 bands I mentioned above, 11 were fronted by women, if my math is right. The festival itself is run by women. This magazine is edited and run by a woman. Women rock and have for a long time. Personally, I am super happy to see mostly women on the marquee for once, where they have deserved to be for a long time. More of that, please.