Chris Desa, president of the Savannah Folk Music Society, recently announced the 24th annual Savannah Folk Festival is set for Oct. 11-13.
However, audiences who love folk can enjoy shows every month thanks to 17 years of First Friday for Folk Music, currently held at Stewart Hall at First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue.
Desa serves as the opening act, host, sometimes featured perform and booking agent, but he squeezed in time to chat with DO about the folk music scene in Savannah.
DO: How did the idea for First Friday for Folk Music come about?
Desa: The very first "First Friday for Folk Music" was held on July 5, 1996, at the Savannah Coffee house (which is now The Lady & Sons). The concept was to provide a showcase for Savannah Folk Music Society members to perform at a venue open to the public in a coffeehouse-style concert and share their talents and promote the society. Our then-president, Hank Weisman, was instrumental in hosting and running this show till he relocated to Atlanta in late summer 2011.
Now, we greatly appreciate the good relationship we enjoy with the minister, Dr. Stephen Williams, and his staff at First Presbyterian.
DO: What has been the response to First Fridays?
Desa: First Friday for Folk Music is well attended by a loyal, music-loving audience from the Greater Savannah area, including Beaufort, Hilton Head and Bluffton.
We typically have around 100 to 130 persons in attendance (some of whom are members of SFMS) who appreciate a family friendly, smoke- and alcohol-free coffeehouse-style concert.
Over the past three years, there has been a marked increase in attendance, largely dependent on who the performers are each month. I try to feature one local and one traveling act at each First Friday, and being personally known to most performers, am able to schedule acts whom both the audience and performers themselves will enjoy. I have the show booked up for six to eight months in advance. All performers play gratis at First Friday but are able to sell their CDs and merchandise.
DO: The Savannah Folk Music Society is nearly 30 years old. How has the organization changed/developed?
Desa: The Savannah Folk Music Society is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 cultural arts organization, which originally began as a group of friends who met often for potluck picking jams and then featured monthly Old-Time Country Dances, with a live band and callers. Gradually, around four ticketed concerts per year were offered, where traveling folk musicians were featured.
For the past 24 years, we have hosted the annual Savannah Folk Music Festival, with financial support from the city of Savannah and other in-kind sponsors like the Gretsch Foundation, Portman's Music Superstore, Q 105.3 and many others. We are seeking additional sponsors/donors to help us continue to put on the free annual Savannah Folk Music Festival for years to come.
At one time we had over 200 members, and though our current membership is about half at this time, we actively encourage new members to join the society and help us in our mission to be a forum for folk music and dance as well as promote the preservation and continuation of the living art of folk music. I actively encourage young people to participate and join SFMS, as we will need to pass the torch to them in a few years to keep folk music and dance alive!
DO: What else do you have planned for this year?
Desa: The 24th annual Savannah Folk Music Festival will take place Oct. 11-13 at four locations in Savannah. Two concerts, a Youth Songwriting Competition, Folk Songwriting Workshop, Old-Time Country Dance and our largest fundraiser, the Noteworthy Art and Guitar Auction, are part of the festival. This year, our headliner is Peter Yarrow of the famous folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.
DO: What can people expect at a First Friday?
Desa: Attendees at First Friday for Folk Music can expect a top-notch coffeehouse-style concert ... where two groups or solo artists take the stage and share some of the best original as well as covered tunes.
Our sound system is excellent and every seat is a good seat both from a viewing and listening standpoint. We do offer coffee, soft drinks, water, cookies. etc. at nominal cost, proceeds of which benefit the society.
DO: Can you tell us about this month's performers, Lauren Lapointe and duo Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb?
Desa: Lauren is an accomplished Savannah-based singer/songwriter who accompanies herself on acoustic guitar, and will probably play original tunes from her new CD "Superhero." Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb are much-sought-after performers (hailing from New York and New Zealand, respectively), and easily one of the best international guitar duos who excel on stage and demonstrate their amazing guitar-playing skills.
I know them very well, and in fact, will be bringing them back for our 2014 Savannah Folk Music Festival next October.
DO: How would you describe the folk music scene in Savannah?
Desa: While many small venues sometimes host "folky" or "Americana" performers, these artists essentially perform in a small bar/coffeeshop as background music for the establishment's customers. There are many groups encouraging singer/songwriters to perform original music, e.g. Savannah Songwriters, and that is good. The singer/songwriter is the past, present and future of folk music.
DO: What do you feel could be done to improve it (and our music scene in general)?
Desa: ... People should consider joining and supporting organizations like the Savannah Folk Music Society and the Coastal Jazz Association, both of which have been around for over three decades and host annual free folk music and jazz festivals for the past 25 years.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and I serve as host as well as soundman and begin the concert with an opening tune, some announcements and then bring up the first act on stage. I feature two acts, each of whom perform a 50-minute set, and we end the evening with a closing song. We request a minimum suggested donation of $5 at the door to help support SFMS activities and help defray the cost of renting the hall, production, etc. for our event. Last month, I was one of the featured performers, as was folk icon Michael Johnathon.