As music festivals go, Savannah Stopover is truly a one-of-a-kind beast in the field of an increasingly interchangeable music industry herd.
Now in its seventh year, the music festival has slowly but surely made a name for itself in a world of corporate-sponsored music makers and beholden promoters. With a core staff of two, founder and CEO Kayne Lanahan and director of talent and systems management Peter Robaudo have solidly staked out their territory in the crowded arena of music festival madness.
For those unaware, Stopover acquires its name from the now only somewhat related South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, which, over time, has come to be considered one of the premiere music festivals for bands waiting to be “discovered.” From the start, Stopover has branded itself as the festival for bands on their way to playing SXSW, but over time has established its own unique brand. As SXSW has become more of a pressure cooker for bands to land a record deal or commercial contract, Stopover has established itself as a place where music acts can relax into their groove and play with full creative freedom, uninhibited by music industry strictures or obligations.
And if time is any kind of test, Stopover has stood in the stead of other festivals that proclaim to bring new music to the masses. The bands that have played Stopover only to become famous shortly thereafter are on a growing list that includes St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Grimes and Future Islands (who played Stopover just after a red-hot performance on “Late Night with David Letterman”), just to name a very few. The styles of bands include everything from soul and R&B, to Americana and southern folk, to indie rock and beyond.
But Stopover also does its share to add to the mystique of Savannah by including a number of local artists and designers in the festivities with the Stopover Band Poster Competition, as just one example.
The competition is open not just to local artists, but also to anyone around the country who feels the desire to design their own band-themed poster. The competition asks that people submit their own original design for a poster based on any of the bands playing the current year’s Stopover. This year’s winners will be displayed at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, one of the venues of this year’s festival. The finalists are scheduled to be unveiled at the Stopover pre-party at Sulfur Studios on March 8 (open only to VIP pass holders and participating artists, so if you don’t have a VIP ticket, you probably should have acted sooner).
“The Band Poster Competition has been in place since the very first Savannah Stopover in 2011,” says Lanahan. “It was designed as a way to engage the local art community in the festival by allowing students and artists to create an original poster inspired by any of the bands playing the festival. The end result each year is a pop-up art show that fuses music with poster art, and we continue to see it grow every year.
“Each year a wonderful circle is created that I think everyone benefits from. Bands — most of whom have never played the market — get to fall in love with Savannah, with the goal of having them want to come back to town as their careers progress. Music lovers get exposed to a wide array of bands that they haven’t seen before, and local bands get exposure on a broader stage and often make lasting friends and touring bands.”
“Stopover is one of the few festivals in the country that really puts its emphasis on the discovery of new and up-and-coming bands, and I think this fits in with the whole creative scene happening in Savannah, whether it’s food or art or local retail. Savannah isn’t and doesn’t want to be a ‘mainstream’ city. We cherish the unique and the quirky and the authentic. We strive to replicate that with the bands that we book and that keeps it fresh and interesting because every year is different, every Stopover is unique and hopefully every year you’re going to see and hear something new and amazing.”
Stopover also has a solid crew of local sponsors that include area businesses and organizations like 13 Bricks, House of Strut, Graveface Records & Curiosities, Gypsy World, Musikhaus, Creative Approach and Starlandia Creative Supply. Sulfur Studios co-founder AJ Perez, who has been working closely with Stopover in the poster competition, echoes the sentiment of local support.
“I believe that Stopover reaching out to Sulfur Studios just shows that we have been recognized as an organization that is respected for its curatorial, handling and presentation of art,” says Perez. “We are very proud of this. We are artists who have two years of experience under Sulfur (more from our personal experiences) curating, handling, hanging and presenting exhibitions. So we bring a set of skills and knowledge to exhibiting that will help with this aspect of the music festival. It is a great opportunity for us. This collaboration supports a local business that supports the local art scene in varying capacities.”
It’s also worth noting that Stopover pulls this feat off each year at a fraction of the cost of other festivals. The cost of a one-day ticket is minuscule in comparison to other festivals, so if you’ve gone to Stopover before, you know what kind of riches are in store. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. As both Lanahan and Robaudo point out, their track record is beginning to speak for itself in many ways.
“It goes back to trust,” says Robaudo. “I think a lot more people trust us on the music side of things now.”
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @savartscene.