Savannah has plenty of things going for it—beautiful architecture, historic neighborhoods, Southern hospitality—but rarely is live music mentioned amongst the city’s major draws. For Kayne Lanahan, a New York City transplant who also runs the website The Music File, it proved to be one of the few frustrations since moving down there a few years ago. “I kept profiling these up-and-coming bands and would check their tour schedules and saw they were playing Atlanta, Athens, Jacksonville but they weren’t playing Savannah!” she explains. It was a light bulb moment, and led to the launch of Savannah Stopover. The multi-day music festival, which kicks off its second iteration tomorrow, March 7, offers creative-minded locals access to new music and bands en route to SXSW a chance to play for a new audience. “We want everyone in the city to turn out, support these bands, host these bands, and help bands create a new fan base in the hopes that they continue to come here when they’re on tour,” says Lanahan. It seems to be working; in addition to attracting new bands like Grimes and The Men, Oberhofer, who played at the inaugural festival last year, is returning. “They were the last band to leave town last year—they wanted to stay,” remembers Lanahan, “And now they’re playing opening night, so there’s some good, full circle synergy there!” She spoke with ELLE.com about what to expect if you’re attending the festival (hint: there might be a cute band crashing on your couch).
ELLE: There are so many festivals out there—what makes this one different?
Kayne Lanahan: It has a unique point of view, it’s in a really unique location, and I think in the last couple of years, we’ve seen the really big festivals—SXSW, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Austin City Limits, New Orleans Jazz Festival—become much more mainstream and about big, famous acts. I think it’s great to go back to that original vision of SXSW, which is discovering new music. Hopefully as we grow we don’t lose sight of that, I want to make sure it stays about discovery.
ELLE: Is the festival a uniquely Savannahian experience?
KL: I think it is—and we really designed it that way. Savannah’s nickname is the Hostess City, and so we really went out of our way. 90 percent of bands we found places to stay with locals, with bands being cooked biscuits and grits for breakfast. Rather than doing a dinner buyout, we actually do communal band dinners; we serve everybody who is playing that night. We asked students and artists in town to make custom posters for bands, and we’re doing an opening night reception.
ELLE: Have there been any major changes since last year’s inaugural festival?
KL: We’ve added some venues that are unique, iconic Savannah venues and tried to really put bands in there specifically to “match” the space, so it’s not just your typical club show. We’re putting Grimes in the Jepson Center [for the Arts], which has a two-story glass atrium, and bringing in custom production and lighting, to really try to make the show and space come together. We’re also using the Telfair Museum, which has a gorgeous rotunda room filled with art—we’re doing some really unique acoustic shows [there], like with Johnny Cash’s granddaughter [Chelsea Crowell].
ELLE: Overall, is the city supportive of the arts?
KL: People tend to think of it as a tourist destination, but increasingly it’s becoming a little mini-Brooklyn. We have more and more great boutiques than there were two years ago, and there’s a really great community. It’s really becoming an interesting, artsy, great city, and music’s a part of that. There’s a renaissance that Savannah’s going through. And having moved from New York, the people are so nice!
ELLE: What’s on your Savannah must-see list?
KL: Oh my god, there are so many. We actually have an area on our website that’s sort of the Stopover staff’s guide to Savannah. [If you visited one thing,] I think, literally, it’s just the squares in the historic district—just to walk around for 30 minutes and see the city as it was originally laid out. Sometimes people come to town but are so busy running from one place to another that they don’t take the time to take a deep breath and stare at the beauty.