Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bluegrass to Bach to Blues: Savannah Music Festival

Swing jazz to Suor Angelica, Hot Club of Cowtown to Brooklyn Rider’s chamber music, Lunasa from Ireland, Lucinda Williams from Louisiana, Kayhan Kalor from Persia, ring shout, gospel, Brazilan soul, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Bach, Sor, blues to bluegrass to Borodin: all these are but a taste of wht is going on at the Savannah Music Festival, which runs this year from 19 March through 4 April, in historic venues across the city’s center and riverfront.

It is Georgia’s largest music festival, and has become one of the world’s most respected cross genre music festivals. There are ten world class chamber music concerts on this years schedule, a schedule which benefits from co-artistic director Daniel Hope’s world renown prowess as a player himself -- he’s a violinist -- as well as the festival’s record of presenting one of a kind collaborations in historic venues well suited for listening to the nuances of classical performance.

Those same venues, which include the Johnny Mercer Theatre, Temple Mickve Israel, the Charles H. Morris Center, the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, and the Ships of the Sea North Garden, are also welcoming platforms for the soul deep musical styles of the Heritage Blues Orchestra and the local Georgia traditions of gospel and ring shout from the McIntosh County Shouters. The rowdy, rootsy folk rock of the duo Shovels and Rope find a home in these places too, as does the Voice of Cuba Orchestra’s Latin Dance Party and the Atlanta symphony Orchestra’s program including Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. Always highly anticipated, too, are finale gigs from the festival’s two innovative music education seminars, Swing Central Jazz and Acoustic Music Seminar, both which see young musicians from around the country creating at the highest level.

Lunasa brings in pipes, whistles, fiddle and flutes from Ireland, while South Africa meets the American South in a bill pairing up songwriter and singer Vusi Mahasela’s songs of his homeland and its struggles with the Appalachian and old time background of Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus. Mavis Staples brings her six decades of experience in gospel and soul music, Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester add their own spin to classic bluegrass, and Rosanne Cash weaves deft stories of life, love, and he American south in her poetic lyrics and graceful voice.

With that line up -- and it is only part of what takes place -- it is no wonder that audiences comes to Savannah from across the world to be present at these concerts. Bluegrass kicks things off this year, with the highly regarded Balsam Range making their Savannah Music Festival debut on the first evening and the closing day of the event offering an afternoon of classical piano, and evening gig by singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash, and a late night dance party hosted by DakhaBraka, a world music band from Ukraine know for their ability to engage audiences with their unexpected melodies and rhythms. In between, more than one hundred performances take place in intimate venues across Savannah’s historic district

At this writing, several concerts are sold out, but there are many good seats left for other gigs. Find out more at the festival’s web site.

Photographs: Kayhan Kalhor by Ali Boustan, Brooklyn Rider and Dirk Powell courtesy of the artists and the festival

You may also wish to see
American South in Song: Rosanne Cash
The festival’s radio show from Georgia Public Broadcasting
Celtic Connections: seeing music

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posted by Kerry Dexter at

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