For the past four years, bands heading south to Austin's premier music festival SXSW have made a pit-stop at Savannah Stopover. The event boasts more than 100 live music performances in a mere three days and brings a host of new music to the Coastal Empire.
This year's event takes place March 6-9 and kicks off with an opening night concert at Knights of Columbus at 6 p.m.
Kayne Lanahan, founder/CEO of Savannah Stopover and MusicFile Productions LLC is the muse behind this festival.
She says she got the idea for Stopover after her company did an artist lounge event at SXSW in 2010.
"Basically I lived in Austin for a month while I was on my way here to move to Savannah from New York, and I realized none of these bands are playing in Savannah," Lanahan says. "So we reached out to bands that played for us in Austin to see if they wanted to come to Savannah instead, and they all said yes.
"We thought the first year, we would have 10-15 bands and we had 55," she said with a laugh. "And from there it has just snowballed."
The event has snowballed so much that she says this year's Stopover schedule includes 106 performances - of course, she's quick to note things can change quickly, so it's best for everyone to rely on the schedule posted at www.savannahstopover.com.
Lanahan says her background isn't in music promotions, but after years in corporate marketing, she says she took a sabbatical and never went back to work.
"I wanted to do something different," she says. "I've always been a music freak. I used to book bands in college, so I started a music website up in New York and realized I could do that anywhere, so I came down here and it sort of morphed into this. It's like a second career, and then some."
With the growing popularity of Stopover, Lanahan says her company decided to launch a second music festival in September, Revival Fest.
"It was to kind of help us balance out the work load," she says. "We start with Stopover in August and that takes us through March, so now we have enough of a workload to keep a few people in year-round positions.
"We also do music productions throughout the year under the MusicFile Productions label, and we will announce three or four more shows after Stopover that will take place in April and May."
Lanahan says that Stopover is becoming such a popular venue for artists that a handful of acts are actually traveling from the west this year.
"It used to just be bands traveling from north to south to SXSW, and now we are getting bands west of here that are coming here and then routing back to Austin," she says.
"Wild Child is from Austin and Wild Party is from San Antonio," she says. "They are the only two from Texas, but we have others coming from the west, as well."
There is also another new aspect to the event this year - Stopover added five new venues to their list this year.
"Moon River is new this year," Lanahan says. "The new beer garden is a great space. It has a bigger capacity than it looks and holds close to 300 people and it's an all-ages venue."
City Coffee is also new this year. "This place is a hidden secret," she adds. "The front is a coffee place and in the back is this huge space with state-of-the-art sound and video. It's an all-ages venue also, which is a perfect complement for us since we lost Taco Abajo when it closed."
Abe's on Lincoln has been around a long time, but its space has never been on the Stopover list until this year. The venue is owned by the Gaslight Group, which also own several local restaurants and are an in-kind sponsor for Stopover by providing meals to the artists across the street from Abe's at the press lounge.
According to Gaslight Group owner Brian Huskey, Abe's was originally meant to serve as a satellite lounge to host the bands.
"When we first started talking to Kayne about how we could help, we thought we would be closed to the public and serve as a satellite lounge," he says. "We decided to be an open venue instead and we'll be kind of a speakeasy, intimate type setting for TBD acts (Secret Shows)."
Gaslight's chefs are in charge of feeding the bands this year, too.
"The menu is going to be interesting," Huskey says. "It's not a hamburger, hot dog, chicken tender kind of thing. We want to do hearty Southern cuisine, and it sounds like a lot of band members have restrictions - vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, that sort of thing - so we are going to have to cast a pretty wide net.
"Our chefs are excited ... You never know, we might be serving food to the next Eric Clapton."
Free community concert
There is also a new artist lounge on 36 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. that will host several acts and more Secret Shows, and Ellis Square will serve as new venue for the free community concert from 5-10 p.m. March 8.
"Last year, we did a massive concert at Forsyth Park," Lanahan says. "This year, we decided to try something a little bit different so that when the concert was over, people were right where all the venues are."
The concert is free to the public and will spotlight four bands.
"The concert will definitely have a sort of a blues and Southern rock feel," Lanahan says. "The headlining band is The Weeks, and they are from Jackson, Miss.
"They were kind of discovered by Kings of Leon and they are on Kings of Leon's record label and sound quite a bit like early Kings of Leon."
Event sponsors Lagunitas Brewery will be on hand with their Lagunitas Sprinter van and Barefoot Wine, Whole Foods and One West Victory will have tents at the concert, too. Steam Print Company will also have a tent where they are making T-shirts on site.
"There won't be the regular nightly music at City Market that night," Lanahan says. "We are putting up a much bigger stage, so if you're in City Market, you'll be able to hear it for sure.
"And when the concert is over at 10 p.m., you are close to other venues where shows are about to kick off."
According to Lanahan, Stopover has teamed with a new ticketing partner this year, Ticketfly, so they can map out where people are traveling from.
"We won't know the totals until after the festival, but we are definitely seeing more people coming from out of town."
So, if you go online and purchase your tickets, you will need to bring your Ticketfly receipt to the Savannah Stopover Festival Headquarters at 201 W. Broughton St. to swap tickets for wristbands or badges.
Lanahan says concert-goers cannot get into a venue with a paper ticket - you must have the wristband or festival badge.
"We do that every year and it's on our website, but people always show up at a venue with tickets anyway and we have to send them back to headquarters to get their wristband," she says.
But she says the headquarters are open until 10 p.m. so if you show up at the Jinx for a 10 p.m. concert with paper tickets, you can run around the corner quickly and take care of the problem.
Concert-goers can also purchase Stopover passes and tickets in person at the headquarters location, as well as official Stopover T-shirts and posters.
Official gear and posters
This year's T-shirt design was made by Katie Campbell.
"I was familiar with Stopover when they asked me to design for them," Campbell says. "... I even entered a design for the first poster contest, but didn't win.
"They kept the direction completely open to me. I immediately thought about the energy and fun vibes of the event, along with dropping in key elements that represented Savannah and what the Festival is all about. I've been doing a lot of merch designs for solo musicians and bands, so having the opportunity to design for a wide range of musicians and represent the beautiful city I live in was a total honor and exciting for me."
Stopover also sponsored a poster contest that offered some cool prizes for artists.
"They can make a poster for whatever band they want and we narrowed it down to the top 10," Lanahan explains. "Those 10 go up online for public voting and will be up at Blick on Broughton Street.
"We will also have the top 10 hanging at opening night at Moon River, where we will announce the top three winners, and they graciously let me pick the director's choice, which is the poster I like the most and it doesn't have to come from the top 10."
Lanahan says the contest offers great prizes that make for quite a nice incentive for these artists.
Trying to figure out which concert to go to is probably the hardest decision for concert-goers to make. The Stopover organizers tried to help fans select under-the-radar bands by creating a list of staff picks and also by posting a Stopover playlist on their website.
The Stopover calendar also contains a list of Secret Shows throughout the week at Abe's on Lincoln and The Artist Lounge. These shows will feature an up-and-coming band in a small, intimate space.
To find out about announcements for Secret Shows, you need to follow Stopover on Twitter, @SavStopover, and download the DO Savannah mobile app to get push alerts as Secret Shows are unveiled. Seating is limited for these events, so be on the lookout.