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Savannah Stopover is the Underground Music Scene’s Best Kept Secret

Picture of Savannah Stopover music festival

Savannah Stopover

This March, Savannah Stopover Music Festival launches its 7th edition, and it still has almost nothing in common with your typical big box music festival.

Created as a “stopover” for all the talent passing by Savannah (conveniently located by Interstates 95 and 16) on their way to the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas a few days after, it differs in many respects from the norm.

For one, it’s affordable. Tickets start at $79 for a 3-day pass, not a day pass. For $70 more, you can score VIP access all weekend, which includes priority entrance, reserved seating, gift bag, artists’ lounge access, free beer, private events and after parties.

Nor is the festival yet another stinky, muddy, clothing-optional, sweat bath, as so many camping festivals quickly turn into. Instead, it calls the moss-covered historic gem of Savannah, Georgia home—a city small and quaint enough to run on trolley power and refer to you as “sir” or “ma’am,” but big and vibrant enough to have a thriving arts scene (thanks to the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design) and an underground music scene that’s actually still underground. Remember when Brooklyn still had house shows and actual dives? That’s Savannah’s entire scene.

One more major difference between Savannah Stopover and the big guys is you’re not likely to have heard of a majority of the lineup—but that’s the point. This festival caters to people tired of the homogeny of festival giants. Watching a slightly different iteration of the same lineup for the years in a row in a crowd so massive you can’t even hear your favorite bands isn’t exactly the most rewarding musical experience. If your best experience at the big festivals is going to those early sets of bands you’ve barely heard of and getting blown away, that’s Savannah Stopover’s entire lineup.

This year, they’re kicking things off with Kishi Bashi–singer, multi-instrumentalist, and former member of the band of Montreal, whose work features danceable tunes as sweet as sugar spun with existentially-charged violin ballads and the eccentric digital musings of electronic artist Grizzly Bear, who produced Bashi’s latest album Sonderlust.

Remember when Brooklyn still had house shows and actual dives? That’s Savannah’s entire scene.

Following that, a wide array of acts from all over the world take the stage across a variety of venues throughout the city’s historic district over the three days. These including Julien Baker, a Memphis-based down south singer-songwriter who has worked with Death Cab for Cutie and been covered by Dashboard Confessional; A Tribe Called Red, a Canadian First Nations group that combines music from their indigenous heritage with reggae, hip-hop, and electronic music; and Lee Fields & the Expressions. Fields’ 43-year career has included touring with Kool and the Gang and being compared repeatedly to James Brown.

Fortunately, the route from venue to venue is not only very walkable, but very beautiful thanks to the city’s 24 historic park squares filled with giant oak trees, Spanish moss, monuments, and even Forrest Gump’s bench. What’s more, there are no open container laws in Savannah’s downtown area, so you can hop from venue-to-venue with your beer in hand. Every bar in town offers a stack of to go cups at the exit.

Included among the hosts are the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum; Wild Wing Café (best wings in town); The Jinx, the city’s infamous metal bar; and El-Rocko Lounge, a ‘70s-themed, glitter-filled dance club with draft cocktails, a free vinyl jukebox, Japanese arcade games, and a vintage photo booth. Also on the list are Congress St. Social Club, a three-story bar with 121 bourbons; Abe’s on Lincoln, an Abraham Lincoln-themed dive bar; The Grey, an old art deco Greyhound Bus Terminal turned into a swanky lounge and wine bar; and Savannah’s famed Club One, a drag queen dance club and home of the late Lady Chablis.

Savannah Stopover might not be on its way to becoming the country’s next hot festival, but that’s what makes it great. Between haunted hotels and historic murder mysteries, Savannah is a city full of secrets—it should be able to keep one more.

The Savannah Stopover Festival runs March 9–12.