In early spring, Savannah’s historic district serves as the backdrop for the extensive concerts, recitals, dance parties, film and dance productions of Georgia’s largest musical arts event. The Savannah Music Festival (SMF) is an annual 17-day celebration incorporating a carefully curated schedule of popular, folk, traditional, serious and studied music, all performed by renowned artists from across the globe. Known for its intimate venues, devotion to artistic excellence and high production values, SMF also fosters the creation of new work and artistic collaborations. “Our organization is entering its 28th season committed to facilitating world-class celebrations of the musical arts. This year’s lineup is more artistically diverse than any prior season, spotlighting the power of live music throughout fine art, pop fare and folk art,” remarks SMF Executive & Artistic Director Rob Gibson. Tickets are available online at savannahmusicfestival.org, by phone at 912-525-5050 and in person at 216 E. Broughton Street in Savannah.
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. 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 Valdés, 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.
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 Isbellmakes his second SMF appearance, Nikki Lane and Parker Millsap share a bill, 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 James Cotton. 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.
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 Outand 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.
About the Savannah Music Festival
A non-profit performing arts organization, the Savannah Music Festival (SMF) is dedicated to presenting world-class celebrations of the musical arts by creating timeless and adventurous productions that stimulate arts education, foster economic growth and unite artists and audiences in Savannah. In addition to year-round music education and broadcast initiatives, SMF produces one of the most distinctive cross-genre music festivals in the world. The 2017 festival runs from March 23 through April 8, including more than 100 performances in venues throughout Savannah’s historic district. For more information visit www.savannahmusicfestival.org.