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Savannah Music Festival 2019

Martin Longley By

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Savannah Music Festival
Savannah, GA
March 28-April 2, 2019

The opening day of this 30th edition of the Savannah Music Festival featured a pronounced bombardment of diverse artists, tearing apart the motor controls of the driven sonic obsessive. If a pair of ears lends equal attention to Louisiana zydeco, Saharan desert trance and bluegrass acoustic harmonising, then this Thursday evening abundance was gonna cause serious clashing conflicts. Where to be, without missing much of a simultaneous set?

Generally speaking, we knew the basic location to be at, definitely in the balmy historic town centre of Savannah, where verdant squares are mathematically laid out, seemingly on almost every intersection of streets (and that's not too much of an exaggeration). The various venues in use span to the east and west of the old town, with several dotted in-between those furthest points. It's all easily walkable, though, and such strolling is always a joy. Except during the highly unusual pair of dull, chilled and rainy days that arrived at the end of your scribe's six-day sojourn. Even so, the charm remains, even if Savannah is almost as cold as NYC. The first four days, though, were as sunny as expected.

Much of the music found here springs from sweltering climates, funnily enough. Apart from Ireland, the homeland of folk troubadour John Doyle, the literal opening performer, stuck on his own, with zero competition, playing a set at 12.30pm in the festival's most-used venue, the Charles H. Morris Center. This is a fine, medium-sized space, with air conditioning that often errs towards the Arctic.

Nowadays dwelling not so far away in Asheville, North Carolina, Dublin southpaw player Doyle had brought three different acoustic axes, one of which was smaller, with a mandolin-like sound, making deft, silken flurries to match his lightly skipping vocals on the 18th century folk chestnut "Rounding The Horn." Then, he played "The Grand Auld Dame Britannia," followed by a clutch of instrumentals. That mandola was joined by a bouzouki-guitar hybrid, as Doyle combined these minimal means to make varying degrees of dynamic shifting, consistently maintaining the interest via song, tunes and talk.

Back in the same venue, four hours later, a potential dance party began, but perhaps the seats should have been removed, to encourage movement on the floor. In many cities around the globe, there aren't so many opportunities to catch zydeco bands, as it seems that the vogue for this Louisiana style was more in the 1990s, when many of these outfits seemed to be on the road more, particularly touring around European parts.

Formed in 1985, Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas have long been amongst the best proponents of this music. The black culture manifestation of Cajun is perhaps the best way to describe this Creole blend of blues and country, powered by the frottoir (metal washboard), and combining fiddles, accordions and electric guitars. Nathan Williams alternated between two accordions, and was joined by guitar, bass, drums and frottoir. We couldn't argue with "Tonight I Got Loaded" as one of the finest numbers, early in his set, and Nathan soon managed to get some peripheral dancing started, fighting hard to engage party mode right at the start of the evening. It's likely that the second show, at 8.30pm, further livened up the proceedings. But by this time, your scribe had sped across town to the North Garden Assembly Room at the Ships Of The Sea Museum. It's not really a room, as such, but a garden space with an all-spanning canopy, leaving its sides open to the elements. This is particularly pleasing, given the warm-breath climate of Savannah.

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