By David Stringer and Leslie Leonard
On Saturday morning after two music filled days and nights of Savannah Stopover I woke up and realized I hadn’t seen one bad act yet. An incredible run of sets where each one offered something impressive.
That’s saying a lot. With a festival that focuses so much on music discovery you expect there to be some misses, or bad sets, but literally every single one was at least good at most great.
With Aaron Paul Zimmer, SONTALK, and Lucy Dacus kicking off opening night, we were most excited about Lucy Dacus and her return to Stopover. She’s one of the best voices in music now, and she just solidified that to us again with her set. The surprise of the three were SONTALK, who are the exact type of band you find at Stopover in a lot of ways. Uber talented with a single that’s received a bit of internet buzz, but not enough where people are crowding in to see them yet.
Even while SONTALK was performing, there was already a buzz surrounding The Artisanals upcoming set later that night at The Jinx. A crowd of people who had slammed into the front row for those sets at Ships of the Sea were telling everyone around them to go see The Artisanals later. I of course agreed with him, afterall The Artisanals were the only heartland rock band on the lineup that featured a gong. Must see right?
When I arrived at The Jinx the venue was at capacity queued up out the door and it stayed that way all night. After returning from a European tour only days early, the haze and fog was still fading from their eyes, but their performance was nothing less than exhilarating and stellar. They started a few minutes behind because of some technical difficulties and then swung straight into their head shaking, hair swinging set. They were incredible live, tight and on point performing songs from their latest album. After the set I was told I didn’t get the full performance, guitarist Clay Houle didn’t hop down into the crowd.
Saturday kept the good vibes rolling. The weather was perfect and after spending the day walking around Savannah and grabbing lunch at Zunzi’s (it’s worth the wait), I headed down to Service Industry Brewing for a few sets. This was my first visit to the brewery in the shadow of the bridge and it turns out it’s a perfect fit for a Stopover venue. It filled up nicely as the sun set, with a country feel for the night, we caught Esther Rose, The Kernal, and Caitlin Rose. Both The Kernal and Caitlin Rose shared members for this show, with members bouncing between bass and guitar between sets. In all the years we’ve been a fan of Caitlin Rose, this was our first time seeing her live. Both The Kernal and Rose were charming and funny with their stage banter, telling stories about their songs and jokes.
After catching a little over half of Rose’s set I headed over to ships of the sea to catch Faye Webster, who was one of my top acts to see at the festival. No lie, I walked up and she pulled out a yo-yo. Webster’s been on our radar for years now after reading an interview feature with The Blue Indian (RIP) when she was a teenager. From Atlanta, Webster defines the “new south” to us in a lot of ways, the way she crosses genres and defines her own style.
Webster was followed by fellow Atlanta based band Deerhunter. It was my first time seeing the seminal band live, and I mostly spent the set thinking about their influence on Southern indie rock. About how they swung open the doors for a lot of experimental influences in an era where the genre seemed kind of buried and lost.
From there I bounced between great sets from Well Wisher, McKinley Dixon, Weakened Friends, and Priests. What an incredible group to see back to back. When I walked into Well Wisher they were covering “Teenage Dirtbag”, a song that wasn’t usually in the set, but was requested by an uncle who was there if I remember correctly. They crushed it and I was hooked. They were on tour with Weakened Friends, who if you’re from South Carolina give you those Heyrocco feels. It’s like the best of Pinkerton era Weezer hooks, and the Wheatus cover helped place that time in mind.
McKinley Dixon might have been the best set we saw all weekend. We were already looking forward to the set, but a friend outside the venue before they played described them as like A Tribe Called Quest. A totally fair comparison, they had seen Dixon and company at a house show in Charleston before. His set packed the house and was another reminder to say thank you, Stopover. *praise hands emoji*
Saturday kicked off with one of our favorite events at Stopover which is Stopover in the Yard at The Grey. The food this year was a slight letdown, but the music was still great. This year they replaced the usual meal with a sandwich and chips option. Skylar Gudasz kicked off the festivity at 1 that afternoon performing new songs from her highly anticipated upcoming album, along with some of her older tunes. Followed by rising Americana songwriter Savannah Conley, the stage was set for a great Saturday.
Saturday night we encountered the only hiccups we’d experience all festival. We had the night all planned out, but plans went awry when the club where Babe Club was playing was running nearly an hour behind, Susto was running slightly behind, and Joy Formidable went off nearly 30 minutes early. Up until this night everything was running right on schedule. So when we planned out a tight night hoping to catch everyone, it kind of blew it all up.
Still, we got to catch Nancy Druid, who we’ve been huge fans of their EP. The Savannah locals played El Rocko Lounge, bringing out a lot of familiar Charleston faces, along with Savannah locals and new fans alike. Being a huge R.E.M. fan I made it a point to see Pylon Reenactment Society, and that was a nice one to knock off the list, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to a friend.
After seeing Nancy Druid I popped over to see Lunar Vacation and they were wonderful. They’re rising indie rock in the same vein as early Snail Mail, they played to a large dedicated young crowd. From there I bounced back and caught the last song from The Joy Formidable and they were loud and joyous, but skipped the encore that the crowd beckoned. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.
Opening for Susto was Illiterate Light who were our top band that we caught on accident. They weren’t on my schedule of bands to see, but packed the house and had an incredible energy live. Their music wasn’t memorable for me from that set, more so the performance, which lead me to go back and listen later.
Susto followed, opening with several songs from their new album. I was standing out front before they went on, catching some air outside of the crowded room when they were being announced on stage. Frontman Justin Osborne walked by me and said hello, and I told him I think he’s supposed to be on stage. He replied “Oh, shit!” and rushed his way through the crowd to the stage where he greeted the crowd. Unfortunately I only stayed for a few songs before bouncing over to Babe Club where they turned their venue into a dance club. Actually, it was already a dance club, but they turned it on for their set. They had a huge crowd, and will surely be back in Savannah with a larger font in the next couple of years.
Mike Krol closed out Stopover for us. With Allison Crutchfield on bass, we saw her perform at Stopover in the exact same place on stage a few years ago which was special. Watching that set the exhaustion started to set in as I drank one last PBR and reflected on not only this Stopover, but all of them we’ve ever attended, realizing that this one might be the best.
The common theme of the weekend was bands starting out the set by saying how beautiful Savannah is. It’s true, and the weather is always perfect and everything is just starting to come into bloom. It’s a truly wonderful time of year, and why Savannah Stopover is a must for all music lovers in the South.