We should be right in the thick of the Savannah Music Festival.
The beloved annual event was set to run for 17 music-packed days beginning March 26, but like every other event in the world, it had to be canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To cope with the cancellation, the Savannah Music Festival has launched a video series called “SMF at Noon30” that offers a spotlight for many of the artists that were meant to appear at the 2020 festival.
“We were trying to come up with the most appropriate way of — I don’t want to say mourning the loss of this year’s season — but addressing the fact that what we’re trying to do is connect artists and audiences here in Savannah,” said Savannah Music Festival Artistic Director Ryan McMaken.
“It started with putting the word out to people who were set to perform and seeing what kind of response we got because, obviously, seventeen days is a lot of time to fill. Within the first 24 hours we had thirty artists respond saying they’d love to do something.”
Every day at 12:30 p.m. until April 11, “SMF at Noon30” will post new videos featuring festival artists performing from their homes or studios. Many of the artists are experiencing the same self-isolation and quarantine that their audiences are, so the videos often provide an almost intimate feeling of solidarity with the viewer. So far, SMF has posted wonderful performances by Germán López, Kaia Kater and Andrew Ryan, Amythyst Kiah, Associate Artistic Director Mike Marshall with Caterina Lichtenberg, Allison de Groot, Darrell Scott, Robin Ashwell, and members of the Dover and Escher String Quartets, with many more to come.
“Each one of these daily broadcasts are representative of the diverse programming at the festival,” said McMaken. “You’re not just seeing the same style of music each day.”
Artists were encouraged to comment on the pandemic and offer words of encouragement before their performances.
“What I think was the most impressive thing about it has been the personalized messaging,” said McMaken. “So many of them, seeing someone from Sweden or Canada, or wherever, from afar is dealing with their own local issue from what is a world wide pandemic...It shows how much this festival is appreciated, not just within in our community, but outside of and within the artistic community.”
With venues closed around the world, artists have to find new avenues for performing and making money, and Savannah Music Festival is helping there. The videos on “SMF at Noon30” provide links to the artists’ Paypal and Venmo accounts, merchandising sites, or any others modes of payment they prefer. They also are receiving a stipend from Savannah Music Festival for their participation.
One artist featured on “SMF at Noon30” that has been struggling with the pandemic is Emmet Cohen. He is a jazz pianist and leader of the Emmet Cohen Trio. Cohen won the prestigious Cole Porter Fellowship last year with the American Pianist Association which is given out every four years. With a lack of gigs, Cohen is trying to increase his online presence, including his own streaming concert that was promoted by SMF.
“His gigs are canceled through June already, so he’s just doing everything he can to stay relevant and connected, and if nothing else beyond that he says that he’s getting a lot more practice than when he’s playing gigs all the time,” said McMaken.
Hopefully, Savannah audiences will get a chance to see some of these artists at next year’s festival. Some festival performances have already being rescheduled for the Fall including Jason Isbell & 400 Unit and St. Paul & the Broken Bones.
In the meantime, fans can continue to enjoy and support their favorite artists through online experiences like “SMF at Noon30.” Frankly, artists and music lovers need each other now more than ever.
“It’s nice to see everybody being proactive, but everyone needs this content in their lives,” said McMaken. “I’m just happy to see everyone so eager to participate.”