If Bela Fleck is in the audience, you know you’ve picked a good show.

On the opening weekend of the Savannah Music Festival, Fleck attended a stunning midday performance by Trio Da Kali from Mali. Through his extensive work with African musicians, Fleck had personal and professional connections to the talented threesome.


Later that evening, Fleck was on stage with his wife, Abigail Washburn, for a wonderful show at the packed Lucas Theatre for the Arts. As the couple walked out to much applause, everyone could see that Washburn is pregnant.

“There’s been a little fraternizing in the workplace,” Fleck deadpanned.

Washburn recalled that their first child joined the couple on stage at the end of their 2014 SMF performance and rhapsodized about being part of “the Savannah Music Festival family.”

Fleck and Washburn’s diverse careers have taken them around the world and brought an international sensibility to their duo work.


Over the course of two and a half hours, the couple referenced and honored the experiences of Kentucky coal miners, Syrian refugees and Nelson Mandela-inspired activists in South Africa.

Washburn even sang one of her originals written in Chinese, which she has studied extensively. On two songs, Fleck and Washburn were accompanied by four musicians from the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, which performed in a program on Saturday afternoon.

Before intermission, Washburn announced that all the profits from merchandise sales would go to Musical Explorers, the SMF’s year-round educational program that reaches more than 10,000 area students.

I purchased a single ticket for the Fleck and Washburn show. A number of the people around me were out-of-town visitors, but, of course, familiar Savannah faces were scattered through the crowd.

Like Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, the SMF is both a major tourist destination and a gathering point for locals dedicated to supporting the arts in the city.

Of course, the fest is nowhere near over. Over the next 10 days or so, the lineup is stacked with major names, but acts that are new to you might prove the most satisfying.

I’m especially excited about Manual Cinema’s “Lula del Ray” at 8:30 p.m April 5 at the Lucas Theatre ($35).


Described in the festival catalogue as a “performance collective, design studio and film/video production company,” Manual Cinema creates feature-length pieces using shadow puppets and much more. In a rave review in 2017, the New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley said “Lula del Ray” is “dreamy in all senses of the word.”

I’ll be back next week with a column about the festival’s Acoustic Music Seminar.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.