Savannah Stopover Superlatives

The sixth annual Savannah Stopover Music Festival took place in Savannah, Ga. on March 10-12, 2016.

With Savannah Stopover wrapped up and festival season now well underway, it is time to start considering what acts from catch on tour this season. Here are a few superlative artists from another spectacular year at Stopover to make sure you not toiss in the upcoming months.

Most Creative Act

Photo courtesy of Culture Vulture.

The Savannah, Georgia based prog-rock group, Culture Vulture, from a 2015 press photo shoot. (Photo courtesy of the artist’s Facebook page).

With live instrumentation including guitar, drums and trombone, Culture Vulture was without a doubt the most unique live act I saw at Savannah Stopover. The duo of guitar and drums suggested a shred or metal style, with heavy distortion, chunky chords and raging flurries of melody played on a guitar clearly built with metal in mind. The addition of a trombonist to this combo rather than the bassist or vocalist one would expect, however, took the music into a creative space far from what the other instrumentalists would suggest.

The Savannah, Ga.-based group, self-declared as “math/prog rock,” combines melodic styling bordering on flamenco or jazz with a heavy, prog-rock background to create an energetic and well-balanced live act. Trombonist Nick Gilbert carries the melodies, for the most part, alternating between soaring brass highs and technical riffs in between. Along with band members Matt Pelton (drums) and James Webber (guitar), the trio performs its technical and creative progressive style to a T, and their local crowd in Savannah certainly responded to their musical energy and ability.

 

Most Fun Live Show

Philadephia, Pa. based Joy Again, from a 2016 interview with NME (Photo courtesey of NME).

Philadephia, Pa. based Joy Again, from a 2016 interview with NME (Photo courtesey of NME).

Philadelphia-based indie darlings Joy Again brought their brand of quirky indie rock to Savannah Stopover, and he group’s style is somewhere in the surf rock or lo-fi genres, featuring bouncy and jangling melodies and strong harmonies from the group’s various vocalists. While their music is engaging in itself, the band’s stage presence and energy truly brings an air of pure, genuine fun to their live show.

An extremely young band, with several members still under the age of 18, Joy Again is a group of guys simply looking to have a good time. On stage, the group can be seen dancing around, trading off instruments, cheesin’ it up for photos, telling the stories of their tour adventures and generally getting along in an infectiously fun and easygoing manner. Go to their shows. Have a good time. Dance around. Feel some joy, again (and maybe buy some merch if you really like them. They didn’t have money for gas in Savannah).

 

Fan Favorite

Boone, NC based pop rock group, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, playing at Trinity Methodist Church on March 11, 2016 (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Gill).

Boone, NC based pop rock group, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, playing at Trinity Methodist Church on March 11, 2016 (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Gill).

It takes a special kind of fan base to travel to a different state to support their favorite band at a festival performance, and it takes an even more special kind of band to earn a following of that sort. Rainbow Kitten Surprise, hailing from Boone, NC, is that kind of band.

The group’s supporters turned out en masse in Savannah, complementing and feeding off of the band’s oftentimes manic energy. Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s fun and rowdy live show, along with this strong support, made them into absolute rock stars at their Stopover appearance and turned their venue of Trinity Methodist Church into a dance floor more than a chapel. Sam Melo, the group’s frontman, led the charge, throwing himself around the stage in a whirlwind of raw energy. The band looked somewhat surprised by their cult following at the festival, but quickly fell into their own dance-inducing, high energy groove. Savannah Stopover may not typically be a venue for every trapping of rock and roll stardom- a venue packed with fan girls and listeners belting along with every word- but for a driving hour of Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s set, it certainly became one.

 

Most Ambitious Act

The globally-sourced Dosti Music Project performing one of their ten U.S. tour dates as an ensemble. Taken at Trinity Methodist Church on March 12, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Gill).

The globally-sourced Dosti Music Project performing one of their ten U.S. tour dates as an ensemble. Taken at Trinity Methodist Church on March 12, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Gill).

Dosti Music, a 13-piece instrumental world music outfit, met only three weeks prior to their performance at Savannah Stopover, which speaks volumes for the group’s musical abilities. Part of an organization called Found Sound Nation, in partnership with the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, the Dosti Music Project is a yearly endeavor, bringing together musicians from India, Pakistan and the United States for a month long residency and tour in the United States. The group, which features new members each year, plays a body of work composed entirely of improvised compositions, performed using a technique known as “sound painting.”

The project’s work tells a tale of conflicting yet deeply intertwined nations facing some of the most tumultuous political, cultural and particularly environmental conditions seen in the 21st century. Many of the musicians cannot even verbally communicate with one another, being fluent in different languages or widely diverse dialects, yet the artists come together to create simultaneously haunting and energetic compositions. The richness and vibrancy of the music often seems at odds with the disparate cultures it covers, featuring Middle Eastern and Asian instrumentation along with segments of American bluegrass and folk or influences of Ethiopian traditional music, but the musicians work together to flawlessly execute their ambitions and all-encompassing style. While Dosti’s tour in the U.S. has unfortunately already wrapped up at the time of this article’s publication, their live music is incredible and you can keep your ears out for another iteration of the project next year.

 

Overall Best Live Performance

Christopher Paul Stelling playing at the Jinx in Savannah, Ga. on March 11, 2016 (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Gill).

Christopher Paul Stelling playing at the Jinx in Savannah, Ga. on March 11, 2016 (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Gill).

As a brief disclaimer, I by no means got a chance to see every act performing at Savannah Stopover. The festival this year featured a stacked lineup of national acts and local favorites alike, and as any festival attendee could tell you, there are tough trade-offs to be made every day when crafting a perfect festival schedule. That being said…

Christopher Paul Stelling absolutely blew me away with his Stopover performance. His intense and highly political body of work could be called a breath of fresh air for today’s oftentimes predictable folk music scene, but I would define it more as a blast of icy wind. Bringing to the stage a wild-eyed energy to accompany his relentless fingerstyle guitar playing, his powerful vocals and his rich lyrical style, Stelling captivates and easily fills the stage, even as solo artist. It was easy to tell from as early as his technical and classical-tinged sound check that this show was going to be something special.

Stelling’s live show perfectly captures the essence of his recorded works, making his driving tracks- “Revenge” or “Death of Influence”- absolutely relentless and massive in sound. At the same time, his subtler songs- “Scarecrow,” most notably- shine for their lyrical depth and tug at the heartstrings as much as Stelling does on his own guitar strings. He was also not afraid to politicize his work, much to the enjoyment of the audience. Between dedicating “Scarecrow” to the displaced persons and refugees of the world and growling profanities at a particular American businessman currently on the campaign trail, Stelling’s self-declared similarities to protest singers such as Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie were on full display.

Make sure to listen to CisternYard Radio’s exclusive interview with Christopher Paul Stelling on our YouTube page, and make sure to not miss his compelling and powerful shows at any of his hundreds of upcoming tour dates.

Listen to Geoffrey and Phillip’s show Beside the Point every Monday from 7-8 p.m., only on CisternYard Radio.

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