I will never go to Mongolia, but for a few fleeting moments during the Savannah Music Festival, I felt like Mongolia had come to me.

In two shows at the Charles H. Morris Center in the final week of the festival, the nine-member Mongolian ensemble Anda Union allowed the audience glimpses of nomadic traditions and spare landscapes we would never otherwise experience.

The Savannah Music Festival wrapped up its 30th season last weekend with a flurry of world-class performances in a variety of genres — classical, soul, funk, rock, musical theater and folk.


The festival’s high quality was established under director Rob Gibson, who took the helm in 2002 and left the festival in 2018. The SMF will stay on more or less the same course under new Artistic Director Ryan McMaken and Executive Director David Pratt.

Some initiatives seem likely to continue, like the recent collaborations with the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Savannah VOICE Festival.

The SMF’s extensive educational initiatives will continue to bring music to thousands of area students each year.

The Acoustic Music Seminar and Swing Central Jazz bring talented young musicians from around the country and around the world for master classes during the 17-day event and culminate with public performances that many attendees consider highlights of the festival.

Bluegrass, Americana and related genres have also been big hits at the SMF in recent years, and that tradition continued in 2019 with the likes of Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury.

One of my best experiences came on the SMF’s penultimate night, when Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo made the mostly sold out Lucas Theatre for the Arts feel like his living room.

Tweedy told brief stories, interacted with the crowd and sang some of his most piercing and honest songs.


A week earlier, Angelique Kidjo from Benin and her stellar band from all over the world electrified the Lucas audience with a program that paid homage to Talking Heads’ album “Remain in Light.”

Kidjo and her band danced through the audience and had dozens of audience members join them on stage to dance near the end of the show. World music doesn’t always get the support that it deserves in Savannah, but there was strong support for Kidjo from one of the most diverse audience that I can remember at an SMF performance.

The 2019 festival included two outstanding cross-genre dance performances, but dance obviously remains a tough sell in Savannah.

Stockholm’s Andersson Dance and the Scottish Ensemble’s provocative interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations ranged from the absurd to the sublime.

“Sin Salida,” a collaboration of the tango troupe Union Tanguera and the Kate Weare Company, was beautiful and mesmerizing. I just wish more people had been there to experience it.

The SMF cannot on its own build an audience for dance in Savannah, but I remain optimistic that we will see similar combinations of live music and dance in the future.

Of course, those are just a few of the shows that stood out to me during the festival. Part of the beauty of the SMF is that attendees can curate their own experiences and make their own memories.


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.