The only thing you can count on in life is that everything will change.
Our societies and human tendencies often mirror nature. Seasonal shifts are bound to happen on both the macro and micro levels, and on the social and physical planes.
Five or so years ago, when I first started covering arts and entertainment for the Savannah Morning News, the music scene was experiencing rapid growth. Bands from nigh every genre flooded the clubs on a regular basis. Great touring acts were a staple.
Some of my personal favorite shows from those days were King Tuff, Ex Hex and Creepoid at Hang Fire and the handful of Murder By Death shows at The Jinx, along with great sets featuring local bands like The Accomplices, Wet Socks, COEDS and Crazy Bag Lady.
Nostalgia is dangerous, though. We must always be present for the present, learn from the past and look to the future, I’ve learned — the hard way.
While the local music scene has undoubtedly waned in recent years, after a mass exodus saw a number of the great musicians working and living this town head for bigger or different things, other sectors of Savannah’s cultural experience have seen growth.
Food has become a dominant force. In the last five years, we’ve seen a massive influx of new, locally owned restaurants. The Grey keeps winning awards. The Starland District has bubbled up as a new cultural and arts center for the city. A number of great breweries and distilleries have opened doors.
Breweries got a boost from a new state law that allows them to operate a taproom. Now, it’s hard to find a seat at Two Tides, Southbound or Service on a weekend night. From frequent firsthand experience, I can safely opine that each of those institutions brews exceptionally delicious beer.
Art is thriving in Savannah, thanks to institutions like Sulfur Studios and Roots Up Gallery. Telfair Museums has brought in some exquisite galleries in recent years, including Rodin and Monet — the latter of which is still showing through February. They just scored an insane catalogue of Bruce Davidson photographs as well. Look for those to go on display next year.
Community events around the area have increased in frequency, with diverse and wide-ranging offerings, from the Pride Festival at Halloween to the Jubilee Freedom Day in December. St. Patrick’s Day is still a big deal, of course. We have a lot of marathons now, and parades. Flannery O’Connor is still properly celebrated each year in the square outside her childhood home.
Memorable music events
And the music scene had a number of gems this year. Savannah Stopover Music Festival, A.U.R.A. Fest, Savannah Voice Festival and Savannah Music Festival brought, as they always do, a phenomenal range of great music through Savannah this year. Punk Mess 3 was incredible as well. The Savannah Philharmonic, which is facing a new year of changes, put on some absolutely wonderful concerts.
On the one-off, touring acts schedule in 2018, some of my favorites were Mitski’s solo show at El-Rocko, Cedric Burnside at The Jinx, T. Hardy Morris and Material Girls at El-Rocko, Southern Culture on the Skids, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, Dead Boys and Pinky Doodle Poodle at The Jinx.
The local musicians have not been slouches, either. I saw Nancy Druid, Jeff Two-Names and the Born Agains, Sins of Godless Men, Isaac Smith, Valore, Hotplate, Rude Dude and the Creek Freaks, Black Tusk, Lies in Stone, Slave Graves, Valley Gals, Matt Eckstine, COEDS, City Hotel, The Train Wrecks, Damon and the Sh!tkickers, The Hypnotics and Britt Scott absolutely prove that Savannah musicians are a cut above, and the scene is nowhere near dead.
My punk band played a bunch of shows, but that’s not worth mentioning, only to mention that it happened.
But like the seasons, everything is cyclical to a point. I have a pretty good feeling, based on some empirical evidence, that next year will see a surge of new local bands.
On the road again
Savannah is, however, a small town and a small music market. Sometimes, you have to travel to catch touring acts that wouldn’t dare hit the Georgia coast. I did a lot more traveling this year than I have in years past.
After a decade of trying to see Modest Mouse live, one of my favorite bands, the dream was finally realized in April in St. Augustine. In July, me and three buds drove up to Tennessee to see Murder By Death play in a cave. That show was so incredible, I wrote an entire column about it.
The Brothers Cartmel and I headed to Atlanta in September to see The Jesus Lizard live — my first time seeing them. That show was jarring and hands down one of the best rock ’n' roll concerts of my three decades on this planet.
A couple of friends and I went down to Brunswick to see The Coathangers in May, which was a weird and sort of wonderful show. Larry Jack was there. I caught the milquetoast Fleet Foxes in March in Charleston, a day before Stopover. I think I saw about 35 to 40 different bands that weekend.
Venues remain a challenge
The one thing I learned from traveling to see shows in other cities is that Savannah desperately needs a dedicated mid-capacity venue in the 500-900 seat range. Hopefully, we will get not only one next year, but two! Stay tuned for that.
Thankfully, we have Kayne Lanahan at MusicFile Productions, Ryan McMaken at Savannah Music Festival, Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves at Savannah Voice Fest, Tim Walls at A.U.R.A. Fest, Gilbert Cruz, Wes Daniels, Josh Sterno, Teddy Adams and several other fine promoters who bring great live music through this town all the time.
It was a great 2018 and will hopefully be a great 2019, full of indictments of crooked government officials, great albums from local bands, new local bands, killer touring acts and exceptional art and culture, all in our swampy backyard.
Change is coming and change is good.
Post script: My good friend and Do Savannah contributor Niema Ross passed away unexpectedly this year. It was a heartbreaking loss for the many people whose lives were touched by her indelible spirit. I’ve seen so many great punk and metal shows in this city with her by my side. I dedicate this column to her memory. Rest in power, Metal Momma.
Joshua Peacock is the arts and entertainment features writer for Do Savannah and Savannah Morning News. Empire of Sound has won multiple Georgia Press Association awards. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.