Ringing in music festival season on the east coast, the 2017 Savannah Music Festival begins on Thursday, March 23rd. The pioneering cross-genre festival is in its 28th season, staging original productions and unique pairings in jazz, classical music and a wide variety of American and international roots music styles.
Founded in 1990 as a multi-disciplinary event and transitioning to solely music in 2003, SMF presents world-class folk, fine and pop art in intimate venues throughout the alluring, congenial and walkable historic district of Savannah, Georgia. Programming is led by Executive & Artistic Director Rob Gibson, with Associate Artistic Directors Daniel Hope, Marcus Roberts and Mike Marshall. The festival has been called an “omnivore’s delight” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “one of the best world music festivals in the country” by Afropop Worldwide, “an all-star galaxy” by JazzTimes, “programming of staggering breadth” by the Financial Times, “a festival for newcomers and connoisseurs alike” by Die Welt, “one of North America’s most distinctive musical events” by the Toronto Star and “a perfect starting point for celebrating the start of spring” by the Associated Press.
To view the complete 2017 lineup, visit savannahmusicfestival.org/events. Tickets are available online at savannahmusicfestival.org, by phone at 912-525-5050 and in person at 216 E. Broughton Street. High-resolution photo and press material downloads are available at www.savannahmusicfestival.org/press (password: SMF2017!).
Pop fare is prevalent in the 2017 SMF lineup, beginning with two nights of The Avett Brothers at the Johnny Mercer Theatre. Roots rock singer-songwriter Jason Isbell makes his second SMF appearance, Nikki Lane and Parker Millsap share a bill, Justin Townes Earle returns for his second SMF appearance and Richard Thompson is joined on a Lucas Theatre double bill by Sarah Jarosz.
Pakistani rock band Sounds of Kolachi plays on an only-in-Savannah co-bill with Hiss Golden Messenger, and the Travelin’ McCourys and Jeff Austin Band team up for a Grateful Ball. On a program called Chicago Blues Meets Gulf Coast Boogie, Lurrie Bell performs alongside Marcia Ball and special guest Paul Oscher. Canadian art rock pianist/singer and film composer Patrick Watson comes to SMF for his debut. Release the Hounds pairs Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge with Aoife O’Donovan, and on closing night Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers are followed by a festival finale with The Wood Brothers.
Jazz and classical music are again at the forefront of SMF programming, encompassing the majority of fine art at this year’s festival. However, two distinctive dance productions are also part of the 2017 lineup, including BalletCollective’s What Comes Next and Argentinian dance ensemble Che Malambo. SMF’s critically-acclaimed chamber music series is led for the 14th season by violinist and Associate Artistic Director Daniel Hope, who brings his musical friends and colleagues from across North America and Europe for nearly three weeks of original productions.
Special guests include the Dover Quartet, Ébène Quartet, Lawrence Power, Edgar Meyer, David Finckel and Wu Han, and a concert introduction for the original production Brahms vs. Tchaikovsky by Fred Child from Performance Today. Piano recitalists include Sebastian Knauer, Jan Lisiecki and Stewart Goodyear, whose Sonatathon program has him playing all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas in one day. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under maestro Robert Spano returns for its 12th consecutive SMF appearance for an all-Rachmaninov program with British pianist Stephen Hough. For the third straight year, SMF collaborates with the Savannah VOICE Festival, who is co-producing two nights of Arias & Encores. A celebration of the centenary of both Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie involves SMF Associate Artistic Director Marcus Roberts, Terell Stafford, Jason Marsalis, Ron Westray and a dozen other jazz musicians in town for SMF’s Swing Central Jazz workshop and competition.
Original double bills pair Rodney Whitaker & the MSU Professors of Jazz with Marcus Printup’s Youngbloods and jazz organ masters Joey DeFrancesco and Ike Stubblefield. The return of SMF’s Piano Showdown highlights what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge,” with Cuban virtuoso Chucho Valdez, Panamanian star Danilo Pérez and SMF Associate Artistic Director Marcus Roberts, and the young pianist Joe Alterman makes his SMF debut with his trio. On a co-commissioned project entitled Piedmont Blues, Gerald Clayton & the Assembly are joined by singer René Marie.
At SMF, folk art involves diverse musical traditions and their offshoots, starting with a double bill of two award-winning bluegrass groups: Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out and Flatt Lonesome. Opening weekend features a bevy of southwest Louisiana musicians: T’Monde, Pine Leaf Boys, Feufollet, and Joel Savoy & Kelli Jones, who will lead a Lafayette Late Night. Québécois traditional ensembles Le Vent du Nord and De Temps Antan team up, Canary Island timple player Germán López makes his SMF debut, and Dom Flemons shares a bill with the Foghorn Stringband. Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms play classic country and old-time in their first SMF performance. On a one-time-only co-bill called Haitian Roots, Haitian-American cellist/singer Leyla McCalla shares the stage with the Haitian vodou drum and dance ensemble Chouk Bwa Libète.
Jerry Douglas’ renowned bluegrass band the Earls of Leicester return, Molsky’s Mountain Drifters shares a bill with Irish accordionist Máirtín O’Connor and Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie play zydeco dance parties on closing weekend. Sutton, Holt & Coleman celebrate the legacy of Doc Watson alongside banjoist Noam Pikelny, who plays a solo show. Sufi vocal warrior Sanam Marvi performs inspirational music of Pakistan, Masters of Brazilian Music pairs 80-year-old virtuoso Hermeto Pascoal with mandolinist Danilo Brito’s choro quintet, Edgar Meyer & Mike Marshall (Director of SMF’s Acoustic Music Seminar) play a special duo show and Ukrainian “ethno-chaos” band DakhaBrakha returns to SMF with an original score for the 1930 Dovzhenko silent film, Earth.