There is an autographed Bela Fleck banjo head speckled with rain drops within five inches of me. Two guitars, one signed by Charlie Daniels and the other by George Jones, rest haphazardly in the corner, safe from the storm. Musicians, patrons, and members of the Savannah Folk Music Society pay these items and dozens like them little attention. Jean-Paul and Dominique Carton, local French folk musicians, console a local guitarist as he wipes his guitar with a cloth. Excluding the major sound system still outside taking a brutal hit from the showers, this is the greatest priority at the kickoff concert for Savannah’s Folk Music Festival that took place Oct. 10-12.
“It is not usually like this,” a frantic woman hands me a pamphlet on the Savannah Folk Music Society. It practically melts in my hand. What I can’t make out from the pulp brochure, her husband Hank Weisman, coordinator of the festival, offers. With a mission “to promote the enjoyment, preservation and continuation of the living art of folk music,” the Savannah Folk Music Society was founded in 1986 and now has over 200 members. The society is a 501-3-C arts organization and has been able to produce the festival each Fall, open and free to the public, with help from Savannah’s Cultural Affairs Department and the Georgia Council for the Arts.
The kickoff concert – held in City Market – showcased Savannah-based musicians: Hank Weisman, Billy Schumann, Bobby Hanson, Michael Amburgey, Savannah Ceili Band, Midlife Crisis, Cynergy and Jean-Paul and Dominique Carton. Unfortunately, the entire cast sing-a-long could not be completed as the rain canceled the rest of the program.
When asked for a statement about the society, Weisman was more troubled with the lack of submissions from the SCAD community for the youth songwriting competition. Anyone under 20 is eligible and the winner receives a $500 shopping spree at AMC Music. This year’s winner, Jameson Murphy, a 12-year-old, performed his original “Happy, Healthy, Normal and Strong” at the finale concert.
Saturday’s events included a sacred harp sing at Faith Primitive Baptist Church and an old time country dance in the evening featuring music from the Hungry Monks.
Sunday’s finale concert was divided into two different sets of four professional acts. Propitiously, the level of musicianship was able to upstage the Grayson Stadium location. Mad Agnes and The Hungry Monks performed contemporary arrangements of traditional and international madrigal, Celtic, and folk tunes. Mad Agnes has a tight harmony that as Weisman put it, “doesn’t come easy.” Jesse Winchester still has the falsetto he had in the ‘70s and still uses the same story-teller humor. In response to the number of churches in Savannah, Winchester suggested, “Y’all have preachers like other people have mice.”
The Carolina Chocolate Drops stole the show with theatrical stagemanship and swift banjo picking. What was most engaging was the choice of clothing: Nike Dunks, skinny jeans and a plaid, flannel shirt (most likely purchased at Urban Outfitters) for the fiddler, Justin Robinson.
The Fall festival is only one of the many events Savannah Folk Music Society offers the community. Old time contra and square dances are offered monthly for dancers of all experience levels and the society produces a coffee house show the first Friday of every month at the Savannah First Presbertyrian Church on East Washington Ave. Both events are free and open to non-members. Additionally, the society brings in a few professional artists each year for a reduced cost to the public.