For three weeks the city of Savannah, Georgia plays host to a wonderfully unique music festival that features classical, jazz, folk and bluegrass artists. American Songwriter Magazine headed south to check out some of the best shows the Savannah Music Festival had to offer.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
Neither Harris nor Crowell play sidekick to the other. They maintain a balance which only allows their talents to combine even further and are a very natural duo. The sold-out audience wasn’t disapointed by the pair as they played songs from their most recent album Old Yellow Moon along with tunes they played when they first met in the early 70s. Their version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Chase the Feeling” was one of the best performances of the night, turning the Savannah Civic Center into a dance hall and “Black Caffeine” may be the sexiest sounding song about drinking coffee ever.
Jerry Douglas began his “Noon Thirty” show with a “howdy, folks” before diving head first into his set that afternoon in Savannah. In between songs, Douglas gave his audience a history lesson on the Dobro, explaining its origin and how he came to start playing it as a boy. After the Dobro master finished his song “A New Day Medley”, Douglas explained, “I wrote that to take up space during Alison Krauss shows.” Douglas also told the audience that before his friend and fellow Dobro player Mike Aldridge died, they were able to record an album together that will be released later this year. Lyle Lovett’s fiddle player, Luke Bulla and Casey Driessen joined Douglas for the last couple of songs. At times subtle, at times striking, Jerry Douglas masterfully wields the Dobro like no other. Savannah-based guitar maker Randy Wood was in the front row of Douglas’ show.
Joy Kills Sorrow
This young, five-piece band that hails from Boston was one of the most impressive groups at this year’s Savannah Music Festival. Jacob Jolliff, the 2012 national mandolin champion, was a bandit single-handedly stealing the show with several brilliant solos while playing in front of a packed house on Thursday. One thing that Joy Kills Sorrow does incredibly well is how they blend their harmonies and strings so well together. In one song, they could completely bring down the house and transport the audience to a ho-down environment, then, within moments, singer Emma Beaton would switch from powerful to delicate vocals, carrying the crowd through the peaceful, rolling Appalachians. Their final song of the set, a cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” sealed their show as one of the best of the entire festival.
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Only 24 hours after Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell won over their Savannah Music Festival audience with their soft harmonies, the Tedeschi Trucks Band took over. Before their set began, the venue filled with music fans, the anticipation was palpable as the entire audience prepared for the Tedeschi Trucks Band. How could the crowd not be excited? The 2010 Savannah Music Festival was the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s first show and one of the best concerts in the festival’s history. Despite the impossibly high expectations, the Tedeschi Trucks Band brought down the house before they were finished with their opening tune. Led by the husband and wife duo, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks may have one of the most talented bands playing today. It’s difficult to fully appreciate this band. With Derek Trucks sliding and picking on his red SG, Tedeschi’s strong, bluesy vocals and the band’s great horn section; this band is almost too good to take in and they proved it to a sold-out crowd at The Savannah Music Festival this year.
Backed by Alex Hargreaves on fiddle and Nathanial Smith on cello, Sarah Jarosz easily won over her audience during her Friday night show to conclude the 2013 Savannah Music Festival. The set, with one encore performance, included songs from both of her albums as well as a brand new song from her upcoming album set to be released this September. Jarosz only needed her voice and Smith’s cello for a moving cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and her encore of “Ring Them Bells”, another Dylan tune, made the crowd forget about headliner David Grisman. The Texas native doesn’t seem to have any weakness performing. She doesn’t rely on any one of her talents over another simply because she doesn’t need to. Sarah Jarosz proved at this year’s Savannah Music Festival that she is only getting better but, only at 22, she is making music that deserves to be heard right now.
It was easy to feel bad for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. They had to follow Richard Thompson after his electric set at the Savannah Music Festival this year. Thompson, with bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome, opened hot and played a fantastic set that featured several of the British songwriter’s classic tunes. “Even though we’re English,” Thompson said to a morgue-like crowd, “we can still have grooves.” The lengths that this power trio went to for most of the show seemed like a waste, though. The cold audience (Emmylou fans) was disinterested in Thompson, politely clapping after each song and chatting throughout his performance. Thompson valiantly gave the crowd a spectacular performance and after playing “Keep Your Distance,” the audience was brought to life. They remembered “oh yeah, we actually like Richard Thompson too”
just in time for the band’s final song that ended with a battling, five minute solo from Thompson’s electric guitar and Michael Jerome’s drums. One of the best shows at The Savannah Music Festival this year for easily the worst audience.