When asked if she considers herself a southern belle, the tattooed-and-pierced barista at the Coffee Fox downtown responded without missing a swirl on her cappuccino foam art, “Of course, sugar.” Savannah Stopover festival, much like its budding city, is a good example of this traditional-meets-indie mix. In its third year, the festival has grown from hosting 30 bands to over 100, all the while keeping the vibe of an intimate affair.
Savannah, which you may know from its appearances in Forrest Gump and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, can be understood, at least in a general sense, by adding those two movies together and dividing the result in half. Spanish moss, historic architecture, Southern charm, wildly liberal open container laws and just the slightest hint of a seedy underbelly create a hybrid of modern college town and venerable Southern city.
The bands played over a three-day span at a variety of venues across the city, almost all of which were within stumbling distance from one another. The lineup consisted of a mixture of local talent and larger acts en route to South by Southwest in Texas —hence the Stopover name—with headliners including Thurston Moore’s new Chelsea Light Moving and a free outdoor concert with of Montreal.
My crew was only in town for just over twenty-four hours, but there were still many highlights. Canadian Mac DeMarco was one of them, posturing like a crazed frontman and mixing 80s metal covers into his original material, inciting moshing, screaming and stagediving from a packed crowd at The Jinx. Brooklyn’s Christopher Paul Stelling had a more intimate show, arriving just seconds before his set but still managing to beguile those in attendance. His awe-inspiring guitar fingering and arresting voice, which was simultaneously smooth and guttural, was worth the trip alone. But the crown jewel of the festival for me, and likely for most, was seeing of Montreal play beneath a makeshift band shell in Forsyth Park on a warm, star-filled spring night.
Of Montreal is from Athens, Ga. just a few hours away, but this was their first time playing a set in Savannah. Based on the enthusiastic—borderline chaotic—response from the crowd, I think they’ll be back. A heavily danceable set had everyone, from diehard fans and local families to curious passersby, moving with the music. Stage theatrics included a cast of costumed dancing monsters and animals, as well as psychedelic projections that illuminated the band shell’s white roof, keeping even the most ADHD members of the audience engaged.
Sadly, I had to head out the following morning to make it to Austin in time for SXSW, but the brief—ahem—stopover was enough to entice me, and many others, back for another round of highlights next year.