Upon moving to this area, I was baffled by Savannah’s inability to consistently attract nationally known bands and artists, particularly indie rock acts.
In addition to being one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the country, Savannah has three colleges (including an internationally renowned art and design school), suitable venues and is on the way to several other, larger markets via Interstate 95.
Why did it seem so hard, I wondered, to get bands to come here?
Last week, I found out.
The stars seemed to align when the Savannah Music Festival announced in January that this year’s festival would kick off with a March 23 double-bill featuring alt-folk singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle and The Head and The Heart, a joyously raucous band from Seattle whose music I adore.
In hindsight, I’d have been better off seeing them in Bismarck.
Sitting in the second row of the Lucas Theatre, I found it a little disconcerting that the audience stayed seated for most of Earle’s thoughtful, intimate hourlong set but I chalked this up to the quiet introspection of his music and the apathy typically demonstrated toward opening acts.
To my bewilderment, the audience remained planted when The Head and The Heart took the stage, save myself and a few others with the chutzpah to stand during a pretty loud, energetic rock show.
While I didn’t think I had the rhythmic wherewithal to stand before a crowded theater and lead a Kevin Bacon in “Footlose”-inspired dance revolution, it was inconceivable to me that anyone, barring physical disability, could remain seated as this band played their hearts out, its members pinballing across the stage.
Surprisingly, the potted plants behind my friend and me soon complained and by the next song, a festival volunteer asked me to sit.
I respectfully declined.
Though I sympathized with her, I found it laughable that I was being asked to sit down during a rock show so imagine my surprise when the next visitor to our seats was a cop — because nothing says a good time like a uniformed police walking through a theater during a rock concert making everyone sit down.
As this was happening, my friend and I furiously tweeted. It was then that I was handed a note by someone seated behind me who quickly, and wisely, slinked back into the darkness of the theater as I read it.
“Standing there blocking everyone’s view while you text is LAME,” the note read, neatly printed on an index card.
I had to laugh. The note epitomized what was wrong with this audience.
Instead of standing up and having a good time, they were rifling through their belongings in the dark to find an index card, a pen and a hard surface to write on in order to express their displeasure with me and others doing exactly what people do at rock shows.
Within minutes of the show ending, I was tweeted by the band, thanking me and others for attempting to stand.
“You still rule,” the tweet read. “We really appreciate the people that tried!!”
Rob Gibson, the festival’s executive director, claimed they were trying to appease the seated masses.
“We had more complaints from patrons sitting than there were people standing (and) dancing, and we addressed it with concern for the collective experience,” Gibson said in an email. “I’m sorry that you found the crowd to be lethargic, it seemed that most of our patrons thoroughly enjoyed themselves.”
Of course, they did. They were allowed to treat this show as if it were an afternoon matinee of “The Hunger Games” and shame on the festival for allowing the tail to wag the dog.
What the festival attempts to do for the region is admirable but inevitably undermined by lazy audiences that serve only to cement the city’s now infamous reputation as a place no sensible rock fan would want to see a show.
This week’s playlist consists of eight songs dedicated to taking a “stand” because that’s what normal people do at concerts.
There are only standing ovations in rock ’n’ roll.
• R.E.M., “Stand” — R.E.M. is like pizza. When it’s great, it’s amazing and when it’s just OK, it’s still pretty great.
• Otis Redding, “Stand By Me” — Otis Redding could sing a thesaurus and it’d get my toes-a-tapping.
• Sly & The Family Stone, “Stand!” — Dedicated to Justin Jarrett and his futile attempts to whip that crowd into a frenzy last week.
• The Wailers, “Get Up, Stand Up” — You knew this was coming.
• Theophilus London, “I Stand Alone” — Tough not to like this song.
• Wilco, “Can’t Stand It” — A band met, surprisingly, by a mostly standing Savannah crowd in March 2010.
• Vampire Weekend, “I Stand Corrected” — One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands.
• The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” — To the contrary, I’d invite many in attendance last week to stand as close to me as they’d like.
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