The seventh iteration of Savannah Stopover is tackling a new model that might become the standard for the annual indie music festival.
Parent company MusicFile Productions and its leadership - CEO/founder Kayne Lanahan and Peter Robaudo, director of talent and systems management - have reduced the amount of acts by about 24 percent from last year to 85 in all, plus eliminated one venue.
Read all of our Savannah Stopover band interviews here.
The condensed version of Stopover is what MusicFile has been striving to do for years, yet hasn't been able to achieve until this year. Ahead of the seventh year, MusicFile shifted its financial outlook, putting more money into the talent budget, which in some part helped them keep the final lineup under 100 bands.
"It's definitely almost 20 less bands than last year," Lanahan said. "We've been talking about doing it for a couple of years. Clearly, it's hard for us to say no. There's still nine bands that want to come. We just disciplined ourselves."
"Well, the budget disciplined us!" Robaudo said with a laugh.
"We definitely ran out of money," Lanahan added.
The condensed version of Stopover is not lacking in quality, however. Headliners Kishi Bashi, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Julien Baker, Lewis Del Mar, JEFF The Brotherhood and even lesser-known acts like Ezra Furman, A Tribe Called Red, Allison Crutchfield and Caveman have all been making waves in the industry of late.
Variety of venues
Those 85 bands will be showcased in 10 different venues over the three-day festival, all within a manageable walking range.
The festival's staple venues are back. The Jinx, Ships of the Sea North Garden, Club One, Congress Street Social Club and Trinity United Methodist Church will host acts curated for each of these unique spaces. In addition, El-Rocko Lounge joins the fray this year, essentially taking the place of the much-loved, now regrettably empty Hang Fire.
"It's geographically compact," Lanahan said. "We did a few, I'll call them, thoughtful things. Congress Street starts to get a little nutty Saturday night late because it's the weekend before St. Patrick's. We're going to have Social Club end by 11 p.m. There's still plenty of late-night options."
In years past, the hugely popular secret shows took place at Abe's on Lincoln, but it became clear that audience participation had outgrown the venue. Most of the secret shows in the past two years at Abe's were packed to the brim, leaving out a large number of would-be attendees.
Telfair Museums presented a solution to Stopover after reaching out with interest in being included in the festival. They opened the Owens-Thomas House garden to Stopover this year for Friday's secret show.
Additionally, Stopover teamed up with the Emmaus House Soup Kitchen as a charity partner. Saturday's secret show will actually take place in the soup kitchen, and alcohol sales from all three secret shows will be donated to the kitchen. Thursday's show will be at ticketing HQ. As in years past, the shows will be announced on social media just ahead of their scheduled time.
"We decided to take on a more local partner that needs some help and gives them a lot of visibility downtown," Lanahan said. "I love it because all three are so different. Only in Savannah could you have the former Kitchen on the Square retail shop, the Owens-Thomas House garden and the Emmaus House Soup Kitchen all within five blocks of each other."
MusicFile's approach to booking Stopover is slightly different from other festivals. Instead of picking time slots and stages and then choosing which bands play those spots, Stopover books the bands first. Once they have the lineup confirmed and solidify the venues, they take a step back and look at everything on a wall-sized board with sticky notes.
The labor to place the right band at the right time in the right venue begins. Each year they carefully calculate placement, taking into consideration many variables. Outside influence might play a role as well. If a band is only available to play on one day of the festival, that has to be considered when picking the final schedule.
"With the exception of headliners," Lanahan said. "We lock those in. We locked in more this year than we did in the past. The way we can do this festival at such an affordable price and to get this caliber of talent is because we're getting these bands on their way from point A to point B. We want to give them as much flexibility as we can."
Rest assured, Lanahan and Robaudo have gone through the torture of choosing who plays where and when to offer patrons the best possible experience. Even Lanahan has trouble with some parts of this year's schedule, though.
"Literally, Thursday night, I want to see JEFF the Brotherhood, Ezra Furman, Hockey Dad; I want to catch part of The Gibbs, and actually Major and the Monbacks," Lanahan said. "I am dying to hear them play their new stuff because they just did that album with Matthew E. White. Thursday night - I am like, how am I going to do this?"
The concentrated schedule has created a manageable ebb and flow to the three-day gauntlet of live music. While tough decisions will still have to be made, there are several lone shows this year, where only a single band is slated for the time slot.
Taze Daze, a Savannah supergroup, will have the lone spot at 9 p.m. Thursday and Tall Heights, Yoke Lore and Caveman will do the same the following days. The lineup reduction whittles down the choices, but creates a more focused event for concert goers. FOMA, essentially, is reduced.
"With Savannah, you just don't know until you see what kind of turnout you're going to get," Lanahan said. "The thought was, we'd rather pack every venue with really solid crowds. One less venue, fewer bands. Hopefully, the weather stays like it has been. Maybe this will become a new model."
IF YOU GO
What: 2017 Savannah Stopover Music Festival
When: March 9-11
Where: 10 venues throughout Historic District