This year’s iteration of the Savannah Stopover festival in Savannah, GA was a wild ride through a wide array of genres, venues, and individual performers. A sort of miniature South by Southwest, Stopover continues to grow and bring in great up and coming talent and give them a good deal of exposure in the southeast. While also brining Savannah together through music. Per usual the festival carried out those goals excellently, sometimes by being as straightforward and letting a bar band go all out in their natural environment, or by means as bizarre as having an experimental drummer play downstairs from a drag show. Through all of the good, great, and straight up weird moments, these are our superlatives for what we saw at this year’s Stopover.
Best Set That Ended Too Early: Vagabon @ The Jinx
In terms of intensity, emotion, and musical versatility, Vagabon was an absolute powerhouse. The only problem was that she played for less than twenty minutes. Granted Stopover shows never go for especially long given the one hour time slots that bands are provided. But Vagabon started right on time at 11:00 p.m. and was introducing her last song fifteen minutes later. The shortness of the set did not detract from how outstanding she was. Accompanied by a bass guitar and drums, Vagabon filled The Jinx to the brim with her hard edged guitar and rich yet worn singing. There were probably a lot of shows at the festival that clocked in at under twenty minutes, but Vagabon’s felt the most abbreviated because of how awesome the time that we got with her was. It was leaving the crowd wanting more in just about the best way possible.
Most Likely To Destroy Your Hearing: Wreckless Eric @ The Jinx
For a sixty-two year old, Wreckless Eric still knows how to kick ass like the best of them. Eric took the stage by himself, armed with only two guitars that he alternated between during his set. However if you were just walking past The Jinx during his set you would have thought that there was a full band playing, Eric cranked it up to eleven and spent a good portion of his set playing around with feedback from the guitars. This was fantastic for the people who came as hardcore Wreckless Eric fans, but for those who came with the intent of hearing “Whole Wide World” and then hitting the next bar, it was probably more noise than they had anticipated. Between the spouts of distortion Eric played a set that focused predominantly on his most recent album AmERICa with throwbacks like “Joe Meek” thrown in. Of course “Whole Wide World” stole the show, though he made sure to make it as noisy as people for all of the couples who came to hear “their song.”
Best Venue (Environment): Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
The gardens behind Savannah’s Ships of the Sea Museum are normally used for wedding receptions, but Stopover has proved that it is a solid outdoor concert venue as well. It is about the size of a large club like Charleston’s Music Farm or Asheville’s Orange Peel, which is the perfect amount of space for some of the festivals bigger names (Kishi Bashi, Lee Fields & The Expressions, and Lewis Del Mar). It also has the auditory advantage of being one of the festival’s few outdoor venues. While it would be fun for the museum aspect of the venue to be integrated into the festival (I do not know how they would do it, but it would be so cool), the Ships of the Sea garden is the most “music festival-like” space that Savannah has to offer, and it works incredibly well.
Best Venue (Sound): Trinity United Methodist Church
If you are not someone who is very into loud, tightly packed, high energy club shows, then Trinity United is the Stopover venue for you. Not only does it have a calming atmosphere (complete with seating) but it also has the best acoustics of any of the Stopover venues. The church gives instruments a soft, clear resonance that lets you hear every bit of what is happening onstage without blowing out your ears. Given that most of the acts that come through the festival are best suited as bar bands and club acts, it can be a nice break to take a seat and watch more low key performances in a calming space.
Best Venue (Lineup): The Jinx
The Jinx is the most bar oriented Stopover venue, and contains the most personality. The walls are covered with posters and photos from past concerts, beer advertisements, and an assortment of other random decorations. While The Jinx does not boast the best sound or space of the Stopover venues, this year it played host to a number of the festivals most intriguing shows. Hoops, Vagabon, Wreckless Eric, JEFF the Brotherhood, Daddy Issues, Tall Tall Trees, and Allison Crutchfield & The Fizz all took to The Jinx’s stage and didn’t disappoint.
Weirdest Venue: Club One
To be clear, Club One is not a bad place for a show. But it is a bizarre one. There are two levels to the building, both used for various forms of entertainment. The bottom level is a dance floor, fully equipped with a disco ball, ever changing lights, and a mirror that spans the length of one of the walls. That was the space that Savannah Stopover was using, though I did not notice anything outside that said that. That means that upon walking into Club One, you are presented with a choice; downstairs or upstairs. I picked upstairs. I was planning on seeing experimental electronic drummer Deantoni Parks, instead I walked in on a drag show that seemed to be country music themed. And the audience seemed to be populated entirely by senior citizens, all of whom were just sitting and watching. The room was completely black except for a shimmering stripper pole onstage with the drag queen. I did not stick around long enough to see her utilize it. Once I figured out that my intended show was downstairs I had a great time at Club One, but I spent most of it thinking about the fact that there was a bingo night turned drag queen runway happening directly above my head.
Most Likely To Make You Look Stupid While Dancing:
Deantoni Parks @ Club One
If anything is going to help you ignore the fact that there’s a David Lynchian drag show happening upstairs from you, it is a Deantoni Parks concert. The bottom floor of Club One was a perfect setting for Parks’ blend of electronic dance music and hip-hop instrumental stylings. His drumset and keyboard setup were placed on a platform in front of the mirror wall, which gave the audience a full view of themselves. His father introduced him to an eager crowd as “Deantoni Parks a.k.a. Technoself” (Technoself is also the name of Parks’ most recent album). And the man fully committed to the “Technoself” persona. He lumbered behind the drumset wearing a white poncho, skin tight black jeans, and sunglasses. After removing the poncho to reveal a black tank top with Jack Nicholson as The Joker taking up its entire front, he played and sporadically remixed audio of the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. From the second he looped the audio into a beat and began to pound the drums, all of Club One was hooked. Parks’ rhythms were so tight and precise that no one could resist the urge to dance, but without an almost perfect sense of time there was no way to dance well to it. With the help of the massive mirror wall, the passionately awkward movements and attempted trap hands of the crowd were almost as entertaining as Parks himself.
Best Use of Covers: Ruby Amanfu @ Trinity United Methodist Church
Ruby Amanfu was the perfect act for Trinity United Methodist Church, with her accompaniment of only keys, drums, and an occasional drum machine to go along with her ever-twisting and turning vocals (and dance moves). Amanfu is not an artist that really fits into any one genre, as her own material dabbles in soul, folk, and indie among others. That stylistic versatility paves a clear path for her to have some fun with covering other artist’s’ songs, and she fully delivered during her Friday night set. And the covers became more unexpected as her set went on. She started with a strong rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You” early in her set, which given Amanfu’s singing style did not come as much of a surprise (that being said it was still a solid cover). Things got more interesting when she pulled out Kanye West’s “Street Lights”, which Amanfu daringly used to showcase her singing ability even more than on “Spell”, letting the band drop out to give her a few seconds to wail the chorus during the song’s climax. Her second to last song of the set was the Woody Guthrie written, Wilco performed “One by One” which on paper is not a song that you would associate with a Ghana born singer-songwriter. But for those four minutes she made each of the covers her own.
Most Savannah-y: Tall Tall Trees @ The Jinx
What could be more Lowcountry circa 2017 than a long bearded man shredding on an electric banjo? That was precisely what Tall Tall Trees provided, and he drew one of the biggest crowds that The Jinx saw on Friday night. While Stopover is mainly about providing a taste of South by Southwest and giving up and coming bands a space to play, the festival is still largely about the city of Savannah. It is understatedly cool town, and Tall Tall Trees perfectly personified the environment of Savannah with his experimental blend of bluegrass, psychedelic, and hints of electronic music.What was great about his banjo playing was that more often that it did not sound like a banjo. The sound would morph from a guitar to a keyboard within five minutes, and every time he did something new with the instrument the packed crowd at The Jinx would whoop approvingly.
Best of the Fest: Hoops @ The Jinx
Not only did Hoops play one of the tightest, most enjoyable sets of this year’s Stopover, but they proved to be the most quintessentially “Stopover” act of 2017. That is to say that they were the act that greatest represents what Stopover is all about, highlighting up and coming performers and giving people a chance to see them before they look to really make a splash at SXSW. Hoops probably have the brightest future of everyone who appeared at the festival this year and their Friday night show at The Jinx proved why. While The Jinx is a good bar/venue with a lot of character it certainly is not the best that Savannah has to offer in terms of sound and acoustics. Especially when the musicians are plugged in. Despite that, Hoops sounded just as smooth and dreamy as they do on their studio recordings. Their set was split 50/50 between songs from the older EPs, predominantly 2016’s Hoops EP and new material from their upcoming album Routines out May 5, which was perfect in making the night for established fans and reeling in new ones.