Lee Burbage experiences a chamber, a cellist and an impromptu parking lot concert on opening night of the Savannah Stopover Music Festival—a sign of good things to come.
As The Last Bison took the patio stage at the Ships of the Sea Museum Thursday night for the kick off to the Savannah Stopover Music Festival, lead singer Ben Hardesty grabbed the microphone and angled it to his waist. The crowd hurried to the front to stake their claims. Hardesty pulled a kick drum over and thunderously pounded at the skin, belying any impression that this folk/chamber band from Chesapeake, Va., dressed in prairie garb is a retread of Mumford & Sons.
The Last Bison uses family-hewn, three-part harmonies backed by a seven-piece ensemble—including a pump organ—to shift from standard rock rhythms to three-quarter time in no time. You can’t help but move your knees to the beat, even as you feel the urge to waltz.
Their spirited performance set the tone for a night of innovative sights and sounds that was punctuated by a surprise parking lot performance by guitarist William Tyler. Third Man Records rolled into the lot with its modified-food-truck studio. But, instead of tacos and burgers—they sling shirt, vinyl and live music—they served up Tyler on an acoustic platter. All he needed was a chair, microphone and Third Man’s onboard p.a. system to play a savory appetizer of what was to come of his set at The Sparetime later that night.
The crowd moved back to the garden for the much-anticipated performance by genre-straddling cellist Ben Sollee. Yes, I said cellist. Elbow-deep in classical roots, Sollee blends blues, funk, soul, folk and rock while strumming, pounding and coaxing his upright like B.B. King plays Lucille. To watch Sollee play, accompanied only by a precision percussionist, was mesmerizing. Together, Sollee and Jordon Ellis, produced a sound most five-piece bands can’t capture. They caught it and used it for the good.
Returning to the stage for an encore, Sollee made a promise to a fan in the audience begging for “Panning for Gold” that he would play a special acoustic version off stage later.
That sweet note, absolutely priceless, speaks to the intimacy of the Savannah Stopover Music Festival. Even as the festival grows through its infancy, it brings in headliners that still possess a homegrown sensibility of reverence for their music and their audience. Savannah may be a rest stop on the way to bigger things, but the musicians who come do everything they can to give the loyal fans and new friends a good show.