Soulful, sultry, sophisticated Savannah is a city eager to share its charms and reveal its secrets. OK, you missed the fill-tilt St. Patricks Day celebration, but the renowned annual Savannah Music Festival is a splendid way to experience the spirit and soul of the city.
The event March 20 to April 6 is one of the most distinctive cross-genre musical events in the world. Its known for innovative, creative collaborations that honor area roots while drawing top international performers in classical, rock, jazz, bluegrass, ballet and film.
Headliners this year lead with classical violinist Daniel Hope, longtime assistant artistic director of the festival. Other top performers include the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (April 6) and jazz piano star Ahmad Jamal (March 23).
Festival weekends are especially jam-packed. Headliners on March 22 a Friday include Ashevilles acclaimed Steep Canyon Rangers (the bluegrass band that actor/comedian/musician Steve Martin occasionally joins onstage); Hope and friends doing an American-inspired program with singer Anne Sofie von Otter; a blues/Creole/Cajun show with Ballake Sissoko, Vincent Segal, Cedric Watson and Drink Powell; a zydeco dance party with Lil Wayne & Same Ol 2 Step; and the famed Americana hybrid Old Crow Medicine Show.
April 3 brings the triple-headliner show of Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Richard Thompson to the Johnny Mercer Theatre.
The Miami String Quartet will perform April 1-2 at several venues; Fado, the popular Portuguese folk music, will be in the spotlight March 30-31 with celebrated vocalist Ana Moura. New Orleans R&B/pop icon Dr. John takes the stage March 27; The Wailers of reggae fame are lined up for March 29.
SMF events take place at eight locales in Savannahs historic district. All except Temple Mickve Israel, on Monterey Square, are north of Liberty Street. Several are just short blocks apart; most are within walking distance of each other and popular bars and restaurants. Venue size ranges from 300 to 2,700 seats. Seven of the eight venues are indoor; the exception is the garden at the Ships of the Sea museum a tented space outside 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
The Johnny Mercer Theatre at the Civic Center is named after the popular hometown hero Johnny Mercer, the songwriter whose hits include Glow-Worm, Somethings Gotta Give and Moon River.
Christ Church Episcopal on Bull Street has exceptional acoustics for vocal, organ, and chamber music.
Many fascinating dining spots are a short walk to the music, and some offer pre-performance dinner specials.
Among them are the 45 Bistro Restaurant in the Marshall House Hotel on East Broughton Street ( www.marshallhouse.com) and the Olde Pink House ( http://bit.ly/YnYgfI) , adjacent to the Planters Inn on Abercorn Street. The Olde Pink House is an l8th-century mansion which is also a favorite nightspot after the concerts. Both restaurants are near the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, a festival venue.
Garibaldis Cafe ( www.garibaldisavannah.com), in the northwest part of the historic district (in an l871 firehouse) is a late-night spot that opens for dinner at 5 p.m.
Fest spokesman Ryan McMaken said concertgoers will receive discount coupons to nearby restaurants when they purchase their tickets.
Post-concert options include Local 11 Ten ( www.local11ten.com), a stylish revamp of a midcentury bank on Bull Street, south of Forsyth Park, thats noted for killer cocktails and a rooftop bar. Also on that stretch of Bull Street: Locals like American Legion Post 135 ( www.alpost135.com). Tucked inside a historic building, this cash-only dive is the ultimate insiders secret.
The Crystal Beer Parlor ( www.crystalbeerparlor.com), at 301 W. Jones St. (near Pulaski Square) dates from l933 and serves late night drinks and sandwiches.