Live in 2011: 13 new bands on my life’s soundtrack

I didn’t keep a log of the live music that I saw in 2011, but I’m guessing that I saw around 150 shows.

Many of those were Savannah-based acts that I’ve seen before, including Damon and the Shitkickers, Dare Dukes + the Blackstock Collection, Cusses, The Train Wrecks, KidSyc@Brandywine, Niche, General Oglethorpe and the Panhandlers, and Black Tusk.

Many of the touring acts that I loved this year were ones that I had seen before, from B.J. Barham and American Aquarium to multiple Tony winner Audra McDonald and New Orleans legend George Porter, Jr.

And some of the acts that I saw for the first time this year — like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and The Avett Brothers — were ones that I was pretty familiar with already.

But this post isn’t about all those acts that I already knew a year ago.

This is about some of the acts that I didn’t know at all — or hardly knew — before seeing them in 2011 in Savannah. The Savannah Music Festival and the first Savannah Stopover were key sources of new live music to me this year (which accounts for the preponderance of spring shows I mention here), but there were other great gigs outside those key weeks in March and April.

I could easily add another dozen performers to this list, but I have to cut it off somewhere.

So here, in chronological order, are a dozen exciting acts that were largely new to me in 2011. I sure hope to get a chance to see all of these folks again.

The Bright Light Social Hour

Jan. 26, Hang Fire (returned to Hang Fire on May 20)

photo by Wylie Maercklein

The Bright Light Social Hour from Austin, Texas and their bluesy, funky, upbeat rock won Band of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year at the 29th Annual Austin Music Awards in 2011. Just this week, the Austin Post chose the band #1 in their list of Austin’s Performers of the Year.

And on a random Wednesday night last January, The Bright Light Social Hour lit up Hang Fire with explosive energy and sound.

I blogged about show here.

TBLSH came back to Hang Fire on May 20, but — regrettably — will bypass Savannah on a winter tour that includes Atlanta, Charleston, and Jacksonville. That happens way too often around here.

Here’s “Back and Forth”:
You can stream The Bright Light Social Hour’s self-titled first album:
The Bright Light Social Hour by thebrightlightsocialhour

The Red River

February 3rd, The Wormhole

Dare Dukes + the Blackstock Collection played a great set on this particular night, but I was especially excited to see The Red River because of Dare’s strong recommendations.

Bill Roberts’ voice is crystal clear; The Red River’s lyrics and subtle instrumentations lend life’s simplest details an air of beautiful mystery. The album Little Songs About the Big Picture is magnificent.

I don’t quite know what has happened to The Red River, which is comprised of Roberts and a changing cast of excellent supporting musicians. The band’s websites haven’t been active for a few months and I haven’t yet gotten a response from a message I sent. Here’s hoping The Red River resurfaces soon.

I posted about the show here.

Here’s “When We Are Wild”:
When We Are We Wild by TheRedRiver

And here’s The Red River’s 2010 Tiny Desk Concert at NPR, which opens with a beautiful a cappella version of “Milk and Honey”, the same song that opened The Red River’s Savannah gig:


Savannah Stopover, March 10th, The Wormhole

Astronautalis at The Wormhole

I had heard of Astronautalis before, but it wasn’t until he was booked for the inaugural Savannah Stopover that I started paying close attention. And, wow, does Astronautalis (Jacksonville, Florida native Andy Bothwell) deserve close attention.

I can’t think of a single artist from the rap or hip hop traditions who writes such evocative lyrics or delivers them with such passion.

Regrettably, Astronautalis wasn’t happy with the sound at this gig, but he more than made up for it by spending more than half his set improvising on the floor with the too-small crowd gathered around him. I wrote about that show here and reviewed his latest album This Is Our Science here.

Here’s “The Wondersmith and His Sons”, one of the highlights of his Stopover gig:

Sanders Bohlke

Savannah Stopover, March 10th at Pei Ling Chan Gallery and March 12th at The Sentient Bean

Sanders Bohlke at Pei Ling Chan Gallery

I’m at an uncharacteristic loss for words when I try to describe Sanders Bohlke’s music.

He’s a slight, unassuming man, who looks like your average friend at the coffee shop or college grad still trying to figure out what to do with his life. But Bohlke has obviously found his calling. There’s a bit of magic when he launches into one of his soulful, emotive songs.

I had purchased a VIP pass for the Stopover, which meant that I could attend one of the hourlong recording sessions at Meddin Studios. I chose Bohlke’s. Good choice.

I wrote about his gig at Pei Ling Chan here. I began: “In an earlier era, Sanders Bohlke might have been a prophet or a martyr. But it’s the 21st century, so he’s a singer-songwriter.”

Murder by Death

Savannah Stopover, March 12th, The Jinx

Murder by Death at The Jinx

Murder by Death was another act that I already had a passing familiarity with before they were booked for the Stopover.

Opening acts Buried Beds and Fake Problems were both excellent, I thought, and Murder by Death fed off the high energy at The Jinx, which was at capacity all night.

Lead singer Adam Turla through himself into each song, and the elegant Sarah Balliet’s electric cello gave the sound an incredible richness. I wrote about and posted pics from that show here.

If you ever have a chance to see Murder by Death live, go.


Savannah Stopover, Hang Fire, March 12th and VIP brunch, March 13th

Oberhofer at Savannah Stopover VIP brunch

I missed Oberhofer’s Stopover gig at Hang Fire, but I was especially glad to have bought that VIP pass when the band played poolside at the Sunday brunch before the last of the bands left town.

It was a short set, but the charismatic group showed why they could be on the verge of even bigger things. It will be interesting to see how Oberhofer’s sound develops.

Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal

Savannah Music Festival, March 25th, Lucas Theatre

There were some stunning performers at the 2011 Savannah Music Festival, but many of them — including Dianne Reeves and Bela Fleck — were ones I had heard before.

I had heard a kora being played masterfully before, but I never  focused as much as I did this year on the 21-stringed instrument, which seemed to have a life of its own while being played with such beauty by Ballake Sissoko, who did an amazing set with French cellist Vincent Segal as part of the show African Interplay. I blogged about the show here.

The clip here is just sublime — as was the entire set last March.

Salif Keita

Savannah Music Festival, April 8th, Trustees Theater

I’d never heard of Salif Keita before he appeared on the Savannah Music Festival lineup in 2011. That’s a sad commentary on something — maybe my musical isolation, maybe the broader tendency to balkanize acts, genres, and nationalities.

But I’ll be listening to Keita for many years to come, I hope.

I glowingly reviewed the show here.


Savannah Stopover production for TedXCreativeCoast, May 13th, Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center

Givers at the Telfair Museums' Jepson Center

The Lafayette, Louisiana-based Givers lit up the charts in 2011. I liked their album In Light, but it’s no match for seeing the band live.

The atrium of the Jepson Center is a big, echoey space, but Givers still sounded great there — the band’s energy conveys an unadulterated joy. As I noted in my review of the show: “Even having seen a couple of live videos of the band, I was not prepared for the unabashed emotional embrace of the music — and of performing.” I included a lot of pictures in that post too.

Givers is touring the Southeast in January, with stops in Atlanta and Jacksonville, but not in Savannah. Why does this keep happening?

Here’s their infectious hit “Up Up Up”:

Anderson East

June 24th, The Sentient Bean

Photo by Fairlight

I might not even have taken note of Anderson East’s gig at The Sentient Bean if I hadn’t started maintaining my own calendar of touring acts that seemed worth a look and listen. I’m sure glad I took the time to get familiar with Anderson’s rich voice and diverse playlist.

From the moment he casually took the stage at the Bean, Anderson East had me.

There’s a stellar production team (see the list here) behind Anderson’s upcoming LP Flowers of the Broken Hearted. That’s certainly one that I’ll be buying.

Fire Demos by Anderson East –

AndersonEast – Fire Song from Anderson East on Vimeo.

The Vespers

July 30th at The Sentient Bean

In cities with great music scenes, the positive momentum builds on itself. We’re not necessarily at that point here in Savannah, but I might have missed this gig if Anderson East, who is a producer as well as performer, had not told my friend Jason and me that we had to hear The Vespers, a phenomenally talented quartet from Nashville.

I guess The Vespers’ sound is more folk than anything, but there’s a youthful sensuality in the sound that’s hard to describe. It comes across here in “Will You Love Me”:

The Vespers – ‘Will You Love Me’ ~ Official Music Video

from The Vespers on Vimeo.

And more here:

Some Dark Holler

August 26th, The Jinx

photo by Wes Frazer

Some Dark Holler (Chris Porter, former frontman of The Back Row Baptists, and Helen Gassenheimer) opened for The Royal Tinfoil (a band I’d like to see again too) at The Jinx on this particular night. I had just a few days before checked out a couple of Some Dark Holler’s songs online, and I loved the edgy, eerie, backwoods sound.

I couldn’t get Victoria Williams’ “Crazy Mary” out of my head as I listened. I don’t know if the relatively new Birmingham-based Some Dark Holler will take off, but their music sure strikes a chord with me.

A quote from Porter on the band’s website: “My tunes are about as dark as they come. It’s not all pretty and sunny down here and my songs are going to end the way they have to end. As a songwriter I’m not scared to write about death, and as a Southerner I’m not scared to speak my mind.”

Here’s “Sweet Red Wine”:

And more:



Savannah Stopover Monthly Series, October 5th, Live Wire Music Hall

Milagres at Live Wire Music Hall

Milagres played at Live Wire at the Savannah Stopover in March, but I got to the show just a song or two from the end of the set, so I really couldn’t judge for myself if they lived up to the hype.

Thanks to Kayne Lanahan, Savannah Stopover, and Live Wire Music Hall, Milagres came back to town and I was thrilled to see that the hype is more than justified (so I guess it’s not hype, just genuine enthusiasm for a great band). Kayne compares the sound to an early Coldplay

Here’s the video for “Halfway”, which came in at #12 on Bob Boilen’s list of the 25 best songs of 2011 at NPR’s All Songs Considered:

And a great version of “Here to Stay”: