Savannah gathers every autumn between the rows of oaks on the south lawn of Forsyth Park, spread out before the bandshell with blankets and chairs, and family and friends, to enjoy a picnic party that only a city like Savannah could throw.
And yes, there will be cannons.
Four years ago, the Savannah Philharmonic — now celebrating its 10th season — took over hosting duties in collaboration with the City of Savannah and a corporate sponsor. Before thousands of locals, the Philharmonic has shared world-class music for free while Savannahians picnic under the afternoon sun and into the night.
Each year has a theme picnickers are encouraged to follow when plotting out their temporary residence in the park. “Illuminating The Night” was chosen for this year. Attendees are welcome to illuminate their picnic site with creative lighting for a chance to win prizes. Only the most creative and dazzling blanket homesteads will win.
As usual, food and beverage vendors will be on site. Food trucks will make a new appearance this year as well. They will close down Drayton Street between Park and Gwinnett to make room for the vendors. In addition, the Philharmonic has added some new electronic features to the annual concert, to jazz the show up.
“We adopted Picnic in the Park in 2015 as a part of our mission,” Savannah Philharmonic Executive Director Terri O’Neil said. “It’s our gift back to the citizens. People love it. We’ve all been there. This year, we’ve elevated the ball tremendously. We’ve partnered with with Stage Front for some high-tech embellishments.”
On the music side of this community picnic, there is a lot in store for the day. Beginning at 3 p.m., a number of pre-concert performances will entertain the city and recognize National Arts and Humanities Month. Students from Savannah Classical Academy’s Strings Conservatory, Savannah High School Band and Savannah College of Art & Design’s Honey Bees will perform.
Savannah-Chatham County Public School System Performing Arts Supervisor Mel Whitehead will lead a group of teachers and administrators, along with the Philharmonic, for a special rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Philharmonic is set to take the bandshell at 7 p.m. In another special collaboration with the 3rd Infantry Division stationed at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, the U.S. Army Band, Color Guard and Salute Battalion will perform as well. The 3rd ID will also provide cannons.
“And with this year’s theme, ‘Illuminating the Night,’ we expect historic Forsyth Park will glow more than ever,” O’Neil said. “As crowd-pleasers, the orchestra will perform classical favorites, pops, movie soundtracks, and beloved patriotic pieces. Join us for moments of serenity, excitement and splendor, but don’t get too relaxed. When it’s time for the finale, you should be ready for the cannons!”
The Philharmonic has also teamed up with the Savannah-based American Traditions Vocal Competition (ATC). This year, ATC artistic director Mikki Sodergren will perform with the Philharmonic. The soprano won Gold Medal at the 2014 ATC, winning both the Ben Tucker Jazz Award and the Johnny Mercer Award.
She began her love affair with Savannah during the first season of the Savannah VOICE Festival. A student of all styles, Sodergren has performed with the Philharmonic before, but never for Picnic in the Park.
“I am so glad to be performing with them,” Sodergren said. “I’ve wanted to for years. I am so happy this opportunity emerged. To be at Picnic in the Park is a dream come true. It’s such an incredible community-based event. It’s a great offering to get the symphony out there.
“I’ve never done a really big outdoor concert like this. I am very excited for that. Also, my favorite thing in the world is going to the symphony. I go to the symphony as often as possible. All the men are in their white tails. To sing with an orchestra in white tails is the epitome of musical class to me. I am thrilled to be part of that, with Peter and the orchestra it’s a dream come true.”