In last minute move, apparently to cut costs, St. Pat’s organizers cancel River St. bands

[Update at 12:24 p.m., 3/3: I just saw the text of the very nice letter — as nice as it could be under the circumstances — that Riverfront Savannah staff sent to the bands being canceled. The decision apparently was made by the Riverfront Savannah board, which may not realize the full dimensions of the P.R. crisis they’re creating for themselves. While this will reflect really badly on Savannah city government, the city government itself is not in control of the situation.]

No live music on River Street during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day festival. That’s what has been reported in a variety of Facebook threads and on WTOC in Live music gets the boot from River Street St. Patrick’s Day party and Officials say no live music on River Street for St. Patrick’s Day

From the former piece by Don Logana:

Live music has been featured since the late 1990’s. Before then, a DJ would spin music.

The news started to spread last Friday through an e-mail warning musicians the change MAY be coming. By Wednesday afternoon, it was all but certain, even though the bands were lined up weeks ago and were ready to play. Now, they say they are out a big pay day, a major gig and playing live for what is expected to be the biggest audience in many years.

“Well, I’m really in an uproar about it to tell you the truth, because we’re supposed to headline Friday night and we’re supposed to play 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. This is kind of a shocker for the people who have been booked weeks prior to this event,” Ginger Fawcett, lead singer of Liquid Ginger, told WTOC.

Here’s the piece:

Logana’s WTOC report notes that there will still be live music 10 to midnight on Saturday the 17th, but his Facebook fan page says that there won’t be a band during that time slot either.

I haven’t seen an official schedule and can’t find one online this morning beyond the River Street events calendar promising “non-stop live entertainment.”

St. Patrick’s Day is less than three weeks away. Big gigs like this one — festivals, major events like weddings, and so forth — are typically booked many weeks or even many months ahead of time. I don’t know whether formal contracts had been drawn up, but, in the world of bands and live music, lots of gigs are considered cemented on everyone’s schedule without a formal contract.

If a band like Liquid Ginger had a verbal agreement, and had been playing on River Street during the festival for the past decade, shouldn’t they have a reasonable expectation of professionalism from the event organizers?

That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is obviously yes.

Savannah has always seemed to make some important changes to the festival — ones that have had profound effects on businesses — very late in the game, but this might be the most egregious one yet.

It would be one thing if festival officials simply made a financial and logistical decision many months ago that live bands would be replaced by DJs all day and night (let’s hope it’s more than a house beat for endless hours). With ample notice, there would have been considerable discussion and widespread irritation, but bands would at least have had time to pursue other gigs for the weekend, which is one of the busiest of the year. Coming so close to March 17, this move just looks plain obnoxious.

In a great piece recently on the Creative Coast blog a couple weeks ago — In Search Of A Music Scene — Savannah Stopover founder and CEO detailed 10 elements that can give a city a thriving music scene, including this one:

8. A forward thinking municipal government that makes it easy for venues, festivals and bands to thrive…or at least doesn’t get in their way.

Well, here’s apparently a case of a major festival, not the local government itself, getting in the way of a thriving music scene. Maybe city government officials can intervene and find a way to get this corrected, pronto.

I’m assuming at this point that this decision has two main roots: 1) a desire to save money and 2) a belief that folks — especially all those out-of-towners who are planning to party all night — will flock to River Street no matter the entertainment. I hope to see the actual email sent to bands soon.

But you don’t grow a festival by eliminating popular facets of it, by treating local artists with such disregard, or by creating such bad P.R.

There’s plenty of talk online of boycotting River Street and going instead to City Market, where apparently outdoor live acts are still booked.

Well, I went down to River Street last year because of live music during the festival, so I won’t need an official boycott to prevent me from going. I suspect there are a fair number of other locals who will feel the same.