Since the dawn of file sharing in the internet age, record sales have ceased to dominate the music industry. For independent artists this has created multiple opportunities to gain a wider audience through internet distribution, and with such an expanded opportunity to hear music, we’ve seen live performance become the main source of income and exposure for independent musicians. More than any other phenomenon over the last few decades, the emergence of festivals as gathering places to hear new music has proved a great benefit both to musicians and listeners.
Most of these festivals started from humble beginnings – look to Connecticut’s Gathering Of The Vibes, Savannah’s own Stopover Festival, and even Bonnaroo as examples of this. The popularity of festivals grows, and this April will see a new gathering bringing its variety to Savannah. Kittenfest celebrates its tenth year in 2015, and its first in the low country.
Touting an impressive list of bands both local and national, Kittenfest is the brainchild of Sarah Florio and a close group of childhood friends and family. The New Jersey-born Savannah resident with a love of music, community and a good time has held the festival yearly since her 15th birthday. For that occasion her younger sister Maxine and good friend Tyler (of Savannah psych-rock favorites Omingnome) converted the backyard of the Florio house into a stage for a few friends’ bands, and they have continued the tradition each year. “When we started there were maybe 30 people and five bands,” says Florio. “The next year it was 10 bands, then upwards of 30. After a few years we added a few days and had people camping, bands from all over the place.”
Attendance grew each year, as did the list of performers, and soon Kittenfest moved from the backyard into bigger territory. In 2013 the 3-day festival was held at a local baseball arena in Northern New Jersey, featured a variety of vendors and performers and offered overnight camping. While many of the performers and organizers are old friends, each year sees a wider expansion of style and scope. “It’s all about having a good time,” says Florio, “and it’s great to be with so many talented people in the same place.”
Now, after several years of relocation to Savannah, Florio and co. hope to bring the festive, carefree vibe of Kittenfest here. In partnership with the Savannah Bazaar, the festival will be held on a private farm just over the Talmadge Bridge into Hardeeville, SC from April 17th through the 19th. The site has been looking to host similar events for some time, and Florio hopes that Kittenfest will be the first of many gatherings there. With extensive camping grounds, a central fire pit and room for multiple stages and vendors, it seems the ideal location for a three-day getaway from Savannah. For those without a vehicle to take them across the bridge the Kittenfest crew have come up with a brilliant solution: “We’ll be providing $2 shuttle rides from Sweet Melissa’s every 20 minutes, and also a bike valet so you can bike to Sweet Melissa’s and not worry about your bike being safe.” With on-site parking included in with ticket purchase, there is no excuse to miss this exciting event.
Florio made sure to point out the diversity of performers on display at the festival. Local acts include psychedlic gurus Omingnome, jazz fusion trio Culture Vulture, rhythm rockers XuluProphet, Dope Sandwich rapper Miggs, Savannah Sweet Tease burlesque troupe and performance artists House Of Gunt, as well as aerial and visual artists. There are also quite a few traveling bands from all over the east coast including haunting songstress Erica Russo from SC, Philly funkers The Royal Noise, Jersey’s jammy Quimby Mountain Band and NYC’s Sky Picnic to name a few. A soft lineup has been released, which can be viewed below. For Florio, though, the most exciting thing about Kittenfest are the after-hours collaborations that ensue. “I’ve seen projects start from those late night jams around the fire, you know? Or two bands who didn’t know each other will meet at Kittenfest, and next thing I know they’re playing shows together. It’s great.”
To see the full lineup, you’ll have to show up on February 27th at Barrelhouse South for the Kittenfest promo show. Featuring Whitley Deputy, Broken Glow, Les Raquet and others, the event will also feature limited edition tshirts printed by 13 Bricks, vendors sponsored by Savannah Bazaar and a selection of performers from the festival. For information on how to volunteer, become a vendor or purchase tickets, send an email to Kittenfestinquire@gmail.com.