My buddy Chris recently visited Savannah for several days, and after doing as much of the tourist thing as we could tolerate, and after somehow finding ourselves at two performances of a Christmas burlesque show in which a young lady divorced herself of her clothes to the strains of a wholesome, mid-century recording of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” we needed to do something we could more easily wrap our heads around. Chris and I share an appreciation for the aesthetic of old, East Coast beach towns, so we decided to head out to Tybee Island.
The beach town aesthetic takes on an even lonelier and grimier hue when the throngs of people milling about during the summer disappear. The Tybee Market’s reader board proudly declared the town “BACK TO NORMAL.” It seemed only the local business owners and a handful of diehard beach bums remained on the island.
With nothing better to do, Chris and I decided to walk all the way around the island. When we first turned down one of Tybee’s residential streets, I half-braced myself for trouble. After all, in the eyes of a local, what were we doing there? I might be a college professor by trade, but I more closely resemble Dave Grohl’s less successful younger brother than a man of letters, and I worried that our very presence might be cause for alarm.
Fortunately, my fear was wholly unfounded. Every person we passed on the street greeted us warmly, and by the time we bellied up to one of Tybee’s many dive bars and took a look at the other half dozen characters holding court at 3 PM on a weekday, I realized that by simply being there on Tybee in the offseason, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
The feeling I had on Tybee the other day, of being welcomed without ever being judged, is exactly what I love about Savannah’s music scene. If you’re here, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. All are welcome. The metal-heads, the shit-kicking rock & rollers, the bluegrass pickers, the punks, and the indie kids all know and support each other here.
Following the tragic passing of Black Tusk’s Athon, I was profoundly moved by the outpouring of support that came from across the city, the country, and even the globe for all that knew and loved the man who, by all accounts, was so critically important to this scene. When I saw that BJ Barham of Raleigh, North Carolina’s American Aquarium had tweeted his condolences to Black Tusk, The Jinx, and the entire Savannah music scene, I was struck by just how wide-reaching and special this scene is. Indeed, there are much larger American cities that can’t boast of having music scenes as consistently rich and interesting as Savannah’s.
A music scene this special deserves a year in review. So, with the holiday season upon us, and with a tip of the cap to the burlesque dancer from the other night, I’d like to review Savannah’s year in music by presenting a list of 12 gifts we were given in 2014:
1. The continuing awesomeness of local Savannah bands
Whether I’m taking in a late night homecoming show by nationally-renowned shredmasters Kylesa or an evening performance in Forsyth by those Gypsy-jazz cats Velvet Caravan, it never seems like I have too far to walk to see a local band deliver a blazing set. One band that has especially caught my attention this year is Damon & The Shitkickers. Of particular note are guitarist Anders Thomsen’s white-hot leads. This is a band that deserves national attention; however, Damon and the fellas seem content to play their brand of outlaw country to evening crowds at The Jinx.
In addition to the continuing gift of wonderful live sets, several local Savannah bands have given us the gift of great new releases in 2014 (with apologies to the local bands who have released great music in 2014 that I haven’t gotten around to yet):
2. The release of Drips by Wet Socks
Anyone interested in the West Coast scene—loosely centered around Burger Records—that fuses elements of skate punk, surf rock, garage rock, and psychedelic rock, should know we have a band living that dream in our own backyard. The band is Wet Socks, and these dudes are the Real McCoy. Folks who like their guitars fuzzy and their melodies catchy need to procure Drips. It’s my favorite Savannah album of 2014. Just make sure you—to cite an old Rock & Roll cliché—turn it up to 11.
3. The release of Lo-Tide by Triathalon
Lo-Tide is the dreamier cousin of Drips. I would characterize it as an East Coast Surf Rock-shoegaze fusion record. It’s another one of my favorite Savannah albums of 2014.
4. The releases of the Homecoming EP and the “Summer Hits (Some Ain’t)” cassingle by COEDS
COEDS sound like Ramones-style ‘70s punk reflected through the lens of Husker Du’s Zen Arcade and raised on ‘90s alt-rock. Both of their releases from this year are worth a listen. It’s also worth mentioning that their live show is fun as hell.
5. The release of Palustrine Hegemon by Blackrune
Blackrune play a style of music that is meant to evoke a certain mood. I find this album very peaceful and relaxing. The guys in Blackrune will probably find this terribly unmetal, but I listen to this album a lot when I’m grading essays. It helps curb my anger when I find several students have failed to follow the directions.
6. Amazing venues
For a city the size of Savannah, we sure do have our share of great venues dedicated to presenting compelling concerts. The Jinx, Hang Fire, The Wormhole, The Sentient Bean, Trinity Sanctuary, Graveface, Congress Street Social Club, Barrelhouse South, and Molly MacPherson’s all deserve special mention for presenting great sets in 2014, and I’m not even getting around to the bigger venues. After mentioning that many venues, I’m probably still forgetting some.
7. A steady stream of worthwhile shows
It’s actually a little silly to think we were lucky enough to have bands like Lucero and Futurebirds visit Savannah multiple times in 2014. We’re spoiled! One set I saw in 2014 that will always stick with me was Ian McLagan at The Wormhole less than two months before he unexpectedly passed away. I found the stories he told and the songs he played—many in tribute to his fallen Small Faces and Faces band-mate Ronnie Lane—incredibly poignant. The evening’s poignancy took on an almost eerie quality after I learned of his passing. Savannah’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I was able to stand five feet away from a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer playing a set as special as the one McLagan delivered a few months ago.
We’re also spoiled by the fact that we have not one, BUT THREE music festivals that take place here:
8. Savannah Stopover Music Festival
There were so many bands I wanted to see playing the 2014 edition of Savannah Stopover, I didn’t get a chance to see nearly as many as I had hoped. What I did see was incredible. For me, the highlights included St. Paul & The Broken Bones bringing down the house with a little Alabama gospel-soul, Wye Oak performing songs from the at-the-time-unreleased, excellent Shriek, Caitlin Rose delivering an impassioned outdoor performance on a rare chilly night, and Wild Child and Hurray for the Riff Raff playing on a beautiful Savannah afternoon.
The initial lineup for the 2015 edition of Stopover already has me stoked for this upcoming March 5-7. I’m especially excited for the return of the mighty—and mighty horribly named—Diarrhea Planet.
9. Savannah Music Festival
I didn’t get a chance to see any of the sets at the 2014 Savannah Music Festival, but I’m still happy to know this festival is able to bring in bands like The Avett Brothers and Nickel Creek. Having said that, the 2015 lineup has already dropped, and I will definitely be attending the Shovels & Rope and Shakey Graves performances.
10. Savannah Revival Festival
This was one of the most fun Saturdays I’ve had during the 17 months I’ve lived in Savannah. Though it remained overcast all day, the rain held off. This one-day festival gave me the opportunity to discover some new favorites: Water Liars, Megan Jean & The KFB, and Family & Friends (who will be at Savannah Stopover in 2015). And it also gave me the chance to take in some sets by some old favorites: T. Hardy Morris, Roadkill Ghost Choir, and Futurebirds. The highlight of the day undoubtedly came when T. Hardy joined Futurebirds for a trippy take on that old John Prine classic “Paradise.
11. Publications that keep us informed
Not to be lost amongst the great performances, records, and venues is the fact that there are folks in Savannah working to keep all us music fans informed. The folks at Connect and bill and the other contributors at hissing lawns (I can say that because I still haven’t contributed too terribly much to this wonderful blog) work tirelessly to keep the rest of us up-to-date on where we can hear good music. Also, I would be remiss not to give a special shout-out to Larry Jack. His weekly “Magical Music Tour” is a must-read for me.
12. News that Black Tusk will soldier on
Finally, I wanted to give special mention to the great news that Black Tusk is soldiering on in the face of personal tragedy. The world just wasn’t ready to silence the force that is Black Tusk. Cheers to them!
2014 marked my first full calendar year spent in Savannah; as a music fan, it’s been an exciting year to call Savannah home. If 2015 is half as fun as 2014 was, I’ll be ecstatic. By the looks of some of the shows that are already booked for 2015, we’re in for another doozy.
End note: several other record nerds and I have lists of our favorite records of 2014 over on my blog Taco Talks Records. If you enjoy reading year-end lists and/or slightly longer pieces about classic and/or hard-to-find records, I’d appreciate it if you gave TTR a look.