11 Really Good Reasons Not To Miss The Savannah Music Festival

#1 Nikki Lane

When we spoke to Nikki Lane, the first lady of outlaw country, she had just reached a major milestone in her life. As it is with most artists, she’d reached that turning point where new creative endeavors beckon and new avenues of expression open before them. Calling from Steamboat Springs Colorado (then-current temp: 16 below), Lane confessed she had reached a crossroads. She had officially retired from snowboarding and gone over to skiing. “I told Jonathan (Tyler) I could snowboard and I hadn’t done it since 2006,” she said. “I just fell the whole damn day.” So Lane took a bold new step: she joined her girlfriend in line for skiing. 

#2 The Grateful Ball & Jeff Austin Band

What happens when you take the Del McCoury out of the Del McCoury band? You wind up with a freewheeling bluegrass extravaganza called The Travelin’ McCourys. Comprised of Del’s sons — mandolinist Ronnie McCoury and banjoist Rob McCoury — along with fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram, the band takes a fresh approach to the traditions of bluegrass to create something new and rejuvenated that will still satisfy even the old-school faithful. SMF regulars, this year will mark the band’s first time back when they appeared with Del and guitarist Keller Williams. Joining them this time will be the Jeff Austin Band, founded by the namesake Colorado-based mandolinist, singer and founder of the Younder Mountain String Band. He’ll bring a whole world of musical stylings to bear, carefully honed from 20 years as a performer, to a jam session of Dead favorites from “Cumberland Blues” to “Althea.” He’s been praised for reinventing Americana with his electro-driven bluegrass, and now Savannah gets to find out how he did it. 

#3 The Avett Brothers

It’s time once more for the Savannah Music Festival, the musical celebration that creates deliciously disparate live soundscapes across more than 80 performances. Two weeks and eight venues just barely contain the smorgasbord of interesting complementary combinations. Almost everybody on stage for the 2017 Savannah Music Festival, running March 23 through April 8, could be considered a headliner but among the most notable are the multiple Grammy-nominated Americana sensation The Avett Brothers; former Drive-By Trucker and current Grammy award-winning solo Americana songwriter Jason Isbell; British folk rock guitar God and Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Richard Thompson; and rising Americana star Parker Millsap. But it’s the performers you’ve never heard of, some from outside the U.S., who sometimes provide the most delightful surprises. Check out the entire lineup at savannahmusicfestival.org.

#4 Parker Millsap

A vocal chameleon and devilishly clever songwriter, Parker Millsap has been making a name for himself with his wildly entertaining stage shows and barbed observations about modern life delivered through the aesthetic and framework of folk music. The young Oklahoman delivers a powerhouse vocal performance that slides with eerie easy between a bluesy snarl to an angelic falsetto and into a soaring yodel with practiced ease that evokes early rock ‘n’ roll. His seamless vocal work fronts a small but powerful band producing an emotional bluesy slide-guitar-filled romp built around its frontman’s seemingly bottomless charisma and talent. “The Wall Street Journal” has praised Millsap’s performance, calling it “notably smart, sometimes acerbic” and noting how this “charismatic new performer… rivets audiences with intense but smooth vocal whoops, cascades and pauses.”

#5 Jason Isbell

The last time Jason Isbell played SMF, it was a sold-out show at the Ships of the Sea Museum. That was three years ago, and since then this North Alabama native has established himself as one of the most celebrated artists in Americana music. Having departed the Drive-By Truckers in 2007, Isbell crafted a solo career on the strengths of his honest, original songwriting influenced by the sort of Southern soul, rock ‘n’ roll and country that filled radio waves in the ’60s and ’70s. Rolling Stone said of the young artist, “With his honeysuckle drawl and unrivaled knack for lyrical detail, Jason Isbell is arguably the most revered roots-rock singer of his generation.” 

#6 William Bell

Fans of old-school soul and R&B, you have your can’t-miss moment of the festival right here. The co-author of legendary blues tune “Born Under a Bad Sign,” William Bell, will be on hand for the festival coming off of his first album in 30 years (recorded with Grammy-winning producer John Leventhal). The man who worked with Booker T. Jones to craft the song first recorded by Albert King but made famous by a little band called Eric Clapton and Cream hasn’t rested on his laurels. He has spent the last three decades writing songs for performers form Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart to Etta James, just to name a few. He has received the R&B Pioneer Award from Rhythm & Blues Foundation, the W.C. Handy Heritage Award from the Memphis Music Foundation, the BMI Songwriter’s Award, and is a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame

#7 Custom Brew

Southbound Brewing Company, the first production microbrewery in the area, promises to bring an American beer revolution to Savannah by catering to the tastes of the South with interesting and refreshing brews! The folks at Southbound aspire to use their skills to enlighten the community about the beauty of beer craft and create a fresh variety of brews to accompany their wide appreciation of music. Rooted in a shared love for live music, Southbound brewing and the Savannah Music Festival have partnered to create Rollin' and Tumblin', a unique springtime Indian Pale Ale. This light bodied brew features notes of caramel and tropical fruit, paired with hints of citrus and ripe mango, resulting in a pleasantly crisp and delicate finish. Crack one open and watch tour blues roll away. Southbound Brewing is located at 107 East Lathrop in Savannah, and open for tours Wednesday through Saturday. For more information please visit southboundbrewing.com. 

#8 Hiss Golden Messenger

After relocating to North Carolina from his native California, MC Taylor went about pursuing his folklore studies, but along the way wound up distilling pure Southern mystique into the signature sound of his band Hiss Golden Messenger. PopMatters referred to the music of Hiss Golden Messenger as a kind of “back porch mysticism,” depicting the South “of antebellum ghosts, red clay, emptiness, complex Christian iconography and sonics that draw from folk-pop, roots rock, alt-country, white-man blues and pew-shaking gospel.” In his SMF debut, Taylor will be joined by a full band for two performances. 

#9 The Wood Brothers

Now a mainstay at SMF, this year sees The Wood Brothers back for their fourth time since opening for Derek Trucks Band in 2009. As a duo, bassist Chris Wood and guitarist Oliver Wood have earned acclaim from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for their “gripping” vocals and “taught musicianship.” Now, this duo becomes a trio with the addition of Jano Rix as drummer, a talent that has quickly proven a crucial part of the Wood Brothers’ sound, which runs the gamut from soul to folk-rock to blues, jazz, reggae, rock and gospel. 

#10 Patrick Watson

Bridging the seemingly impassible divide between indie-pop and classical composition is Canadian musician/composer Patrick Watson, a classically trained artist often likened to Jeff Buckley, Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright and Nick Drake because of his lifting vocals and expansive compositional style. While his prolificity as a composer (15 film scores and counting) has garnered multiple awards including Canada’s elite Polaris Prize, it’s his live performances that generate the most buzz. A backing orchestra of indie-pop musicians work in dazzling harmony with Watson for a show as polished as it is refreshingly spontaneous. A recent review from NPR stated, “The Montreal singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and prolific film-score composer puts every tiny sound in its right place, but his perfectionism is deployed for the sake of grace that feels almost otherworldly…a singer-songwriter whose brain seems to overflow with wise and exacting ways to reflect on the way hearts work.” 

#11 Richard Thompson 

Richard Thompson, although named one of the top 20 guitarists of all time by “Rolling Stone,” has probably exerted his greatest influence on the musical world behind the scenes as a songwriter. His songs have been recorded by Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Del McCoury, David Byrne, Bonnie Raitt and many others. After co-founding influential British folk-rock band Fairport Convention in the 1960s, Thompson enjoyed a decade-long musical partnership with ex-wife Linda Thompson before performing and recording solo as one of the most distinctive virtuosos in folk-rock history. An in-demand live performer, Thompson has spent the past two years sharing stages around the world with Bob Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket. 


For more information on The Savannah Music Festival, visit their website at savannahmusicfestival.org.