The Savannah Music Festival: in the spring of the year musicians from as far away as Mail, Mongolia, and Ireland and as nearby as New Orleans, Atlanta, and Nashville come to this coastal Georgia city to create music that crosses genres and generations. Listeners come from nearby and far away too. They hear Irish gigs and reels, classical concerti, Afro Cuban jazz, Cajun fiddles, Broadway songs, Americana songwriters, and other musical styles from established masters and rising stars.
This one of the most distinctive cross genre music festivals in the world. It is also the largest musical event in the state of Georgia. Those things said, it is also a place where both performer and listener find a welcoming, open atmosphere based on shared appreciation of musical discovery and adventure. The Savannah Music Festival marks its 30th year this spring. It will run from 28th March through 13th April.
If this has you thinking oh, I wish I could go but I’ll not make it to Savannah at that time, read on to the end: there are other ways you will be able to share in the festival’s music.
If you are able to make it, though, you will be in for a fine time. From the opening concert by always innovative guitarist and songwriter John Doyle from Ireland to the soul/jazz/funk of Maceo Parker’s saxophone leading the closing night party, highlights of what’s going on between those two events this spring include
Cuban jazz singer Dayme Arocena mixes Latin jazz and Afro Cuban soul in her powerhouse singing as she makes her Savannah Music Festival debut
Classical violinist and festival associate artistic director Daniel Hope continues a festival tradition by joining with friends and occasional special guests to create an intimate chamber music series presenting music from Mozart, Bruch, Franck, Schubert, and more
Noura Mint Seymali, who is known as Mauritania’s defining artist on the international stage
Anda Union, whose members come from across Mongolia, delight in sharing their music — and the looks of their native dress, too — with audiences
Grammy winning country and folk singer Kathy Mattea and her long time musical partner guitarist Bill Cooley, whose always thoughtful music approach to music has deepened as Mattea found herself facing changes to her voice
Rising bluegrass guitarist and singer Molly Tuttle, the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award — which she has done twice, in 2017 and 2018
The Tallis Scholars, internationally renown experts in Renaissance sacred music
Denmark based folk innovators Dreamers’ Circus, who will share the bill bill the equally innovative Seamus Egan Project, as the Solas founder returns to focus on his own work after more than twenty years with that ground breaking Irish American band
The Pine Leaf Boys, who bring always festival favourite Cajun spice to the stage
Jazz on the River and the Swing Band Central Finale, always highly anticipated parts of the festival’s education program, which see performances from a select number of high school jazz bands chosen to learn from and showcase with festival artists
Stringband Spectacular, another favorite of festival audiences as they catch rising stars — a group of young string players who are chosen for the Acoustic Music Seminar, a week of instruction in playing and composition by top clinicians and festival artists. Molly Tuttle, an artist you met above, participated in AMS several years ago; other recent participants whose names you may recognize include Brittany Haas and Kaia Kater.
There are many more festival artists whose names you may know, among them Angelique Kidjo, I’m With Her, Asleep at the Wheel, Jerry Douglas, Vicente Amigo, and festival associate artistic directors Marcus Roberts and Mike Marshall. The festival concerts take place in a variety of venues across Savannah’s city center including the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, the historic Congregation Mickve Israel, and the Ships of the Sea Museum.
In addition to events during the designated festival time, the Savannah Music Festival contributes to its community, both geographical and musical, in other ways. Festival educators have joined with the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall and nearby K through 2 schools for the Musical Explorers. program, to bring artists and learning about different musical cultures on Savannah’s doorstep to students and teachers in the area throughout the year. During a recently completed year, they learned about soul, musical theater, music of Ireland, music of Mali, and zydeco.
The SMF sponsors events at other times of year. There was a family concert celebrating Musical Explorers in March. Upcoming there will be a weekend long celebration of music in October; plans are still underway at this writing, so keep an eye on the festival’s website as details emerge.
While you are planning your opportunities to attend live concerts, you can tune into the festival on radio and on line. Georgia Public Broadcasting produces Savannah Music Festival Live, a series drawn from festival performances which is now in in its ninth season.
Also to help you plan your trip, here are ideas of other things to do and see in Savannah.
Photograph of Dayme Arocena by Casey Moore
Photograph of Noura Mint Seymali by Matthew Tinari
Photograph of Kathy Mattea by Reto Sterchi
Other artists pictured are Anda Union, The Seamus Egan Project, and John Doyle, with photographs courtesy of the artists
Thanks also to Savannah Music Festival Artistic Director Ryan McMaken for his assistance
Consider subscribing to our stories through e mail, and connecting with us through your favorite social networks. You will find links to do that in the sidebar — and while you’re at that social network exploring, we invite you to keep up with our adventures by liking the Perceptive Travel Facebook page.