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Savannah Stopover Festival 2014 Day One Review & Photos

The 2014 incarnation of Savannah Stopover took place last weekend in downtown Savannah’s gorgeous historic district and unequivocally did not disappoint. Savannah Stopover, which was thought up as a “stopover” for bands on their way down to the massive corporate behemoth known as South By Southwest, is now in it’s fourth year and fortunately features none of the Texas festival’s Justin Bieber appearances, nor it’s disgusting Taco Bell tie-ins. South By Southwest is great and all, but the Savannah Stopover Festival is now what SXSW once was: a place for diehard music fans, bands and industry types (the non-evil kind) to catch tons of new and exciting acts at affordable prices, at cool venues around a downtown area. Having in the past featured the likes of The War On Drugs, DIIV, Grimes and Mac DeMarco (among many others) before they were “big” (in an indie music sense at least), this year’s fest featured more of the same, with Savannah’s haunting, Spanish Moss-covered downtown as the backdrop. Over the next few days we’ll be recapping our epic adventures at the fest for you.

Savannah Stopover began with a bit of unfortunately cold and rainy weather, but as is the case with good festival, the punches were rolled with. The day before the fest began, festival openers St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ set was moved from an outside beer garden to a nearby venue… which just so happened to be a pre-Civil War era mansion. Not too shabby. The change came off without a hitch and was indicative of the entire weekend’s ease and momentum.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones – “Broken Bones and Pocket Change”

The inclement weather may have driven the Alabama group’s set inside to the Knights Of Columbus stage, but hearing a band as deeply and utterly entrenched in the southern, “Stax Sound” as St. Paul & The Broken Bones are, in a 300 year old southern mansion during a rainstorm seemed about just about right. Saint Paul Janeway grew up “in the church” as folks like to say down south, and as a young man was headed for the pulpit… until his virgin ears heard the sweet sounds of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. As any logical man would do, Paul aimed his aspirations and talents towards a far more musical pursuit, and soon began spreading the gospel of Soul music, rather than of the soul… and make no mistake y’all: brotha can absolutely preach.

All photo credit: Caitlin Webb Photography

I was intrigued to catch the the neo-blue eyed soul upstarts live, and the band certainly delivered, with St. Paul all hellfire and brimstone and the Broken Bones proving a very able backup band. I’m sure some soul-purists will deride this much appropriating of music that is so very of black 50’s and 60’s culture, but come on guy: that’s been happening for quite awhile now (white people, am I right?). But, far more relevantly than that, these kids are good at what they do, and I doubt any acolyte of Stax could withhold a smile watching The Right Reverend St. Paul Janeway do his thing.

Intrigued by the spots on the festival schedule that simply read “Surprise Show”, we made our way through the now quickly dissipating rain to Ampersand, the bar which also served as the artist/press lounge. Our group was lucky enough to catch a set from Ed Schrader’s Music Beat that was intense, sneeringly sarcastic (in a good way) and terrifically on point. Future Islands (who we’d be seeing shortly) is bringing Ed Schareder’s Music Beat on a Spring tour that basically touches every corner of Europe and North America, and I highly suggest you do not sleep on that bill folks.

From Ampersand we bundled up and marched to Congress St. Social Club and caught The Silver Palms’ engaging set that sounded like The Kinks filtered through Julian Casablancas if he was from the South instead of NYC. The Silver Palms were supposedly (and quite amazingly) signed to The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s label after one of the band’s first shows, and are already represented by The Agency Group. The Silver Palms seem headed for something interesting, even if right now they seem a bit like they’re playing the part, simply warming up for bigger things.

The Silver Palms – “Georgia Boy”

Up next was the spooky and enthralling set from Athens, GA band DEGA, a project that was completely new to me and one that I was very impressed by. Frontman Kalen Nash is also a member of southern rock band Ponderosa, though this project bears little to no resemblance to that one. Sets like these and The Silver Palms before them are what festivals are all about to me: finding a new band that totally captures your attention with their time on stage.

After DEGA’s haunting performance, all of Club One was abuzz with anticipation for Future Islands‘ set. The Baltimore band has been on quite a roll lately: adding a live drummer to the fold, releasing a new record called Singles March 25th (it’s quite good) as well as absolutely blowing both David Letterman’s and the internet’s minds in their first network TV performance (watch this immediately). The uniqueness of the band’s impassioned live performances is widely heralded for good reason, as their performances are positively riveting, and tonight was to be no exception. Frontman Samuel T. Herring is one of the most intense and sincere frontmen I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing and Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars) and new touring drummer Michael Lowry create a hypnotic atmosphere that is somehow as ominous as it is inviting… like a beautiful woman you know to be trouble. Future Islands’ sound is one that hints at several very familiar themes, while still remaining utterly original and unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Future Islands – “Seasons”

One of my friends from college was among those in attendance hearing/seeing the band for the first time and was utterly spellbound. I caught him muttering “Wow” under his breath more than once to no one in particular throughout the torrentially powerful set. Gorgeous stuff and a fantastic way to end an exciting, if unseasonably cold, first day of the Savannah Stopover Festival.

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