Historically one of Savannah’s best–attended events, the annual Picnic in the Park takes over Forsyth Park, from the tallest tree to the humblest blade of grass.
The 2010 edition – it starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 – is expected to bring as many as 18,000 attendees to the park. This year will also mark the Picnic in the Park debut of the Forsyth bandshell stage, which was still under construction during the 2009 event.
We’ll get to the music in a minute. This is, in every sense of the word, a picnic – you’re invited to bring your food, your blankets, your chairs, and whatever else you need, pick a spot on the grass and enjoy yourself.
Every year, the City of Savannah gives its picnic a theme. In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the 2010 theme is “Pinknic in the Park” – and those who make the best use of the color pink, or something related to the issue du jour, could get a piece of the more than $2,000 in donated gift certificates and merchandise.
Among the donors: Bonefish Grill, Bohemian Hotel, Goose Feathers, the Lucas Theatre, Mansion on Forsyth Park, Garden on the Square, Express Cafe, Broughton and Bull, Inn at Ellis Square and Oglethorpe Trolley Tours. It’s an impressive list.
The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (colors: pink and green) will man the contest registration tables – all prospective participating pink picnickers must register if they want to be picked for a prize package.
“We have a cross–section of judges from throughout the community,” says contest coordinator Carol Miller, “and they’re going to be looking for the incorporation of the pink theme.
“There are several categories. For ‘The Greenest Pink,’ we’re looking for a group who maybe bicycle there, and all their stuff is bamboo, recyclable containers, and maybe their decorations are all recycled things. That’s what I envision for the ‘Greenest Pink’ category.
“And then there’s the biggest, best family – we’re looking for the most people working together.” There’s also a “Most Inspirational” category, and prizes for first, second and third place.
Decorations, costumes and “fanciful innovations” are encouraged – although everything must be brought to the site, and subsequently removed, on foot – but Miller admits that there’s a certain challenge in creating something “fanciful” out of the none–too–funny subject at hand.
“But I’ve already heard from a number of people that are planning something,” she says. “There’s some very inventive people that are coming up with ideas that aren’t just pink. And, some of them are tying back into the breast cancer awareness pink theme.”
Otherwise, she says, “I have no idea what folks are going to come up with.”
Miller has been in Savannah since 1998, and has been a regular at Picnic in the Park for 10 years. This is her first go–round as the contest supervisor.
The 2009 event had a Johnny Mercer theme. “My group was the Huckleberry Friends,” she recalls proudly. “We had a raft, and everybody was in cutoff blue jeans and straw hats. We had a large group of ladies. And we had catfish.”
Eco–friendliness is encouraged: Frank McIntosh and the Savannah Bicycle Campaign have not only organized a pre–picnic ride, they’ll have a “bike valet” service: Hand off your bike and you’ll get a ticket. When you’re ready to leave, a valet will take your ticket and retrieve your bike.
The string thing
“I’ve been seeing Picnic in the Park for quite a few years,” says musician Eddie Wilson, “and I love Savannah’s style of party. Every once in a while, the people of Savannah just choose to show up. And Picnic in the Park is one of those events. They come in droves.”
Wilson, a composer, singer and keyboard player who quite capably handles the arrangements for the city’s Johnny Mercer tribute concerts, is the music director for “Pinknic in the Park.” He’s organized a 20–piece orchestra, Strings of the South, to perform his own custom arrangements of pop and standard tunes.
Strings of the South includes 12 string players – organized by Ricardo Ochoa, the group spotlights many musicians from the Savannah Philharmonic – and a pop combo. The vocalists, Wilson explains, were hand–picked. They include:
Brittny Hargrove, whose performance in the recent musical The Last Five Years showed an astonishing vocal and dramatic style. “I became a fan the second I heard her,” says Wilson.
Trae Gurley, a local crooner who is without peer at interpreting standards from the Sinatra catalog, and others from vocal music’s golden age.
Huxsie Scott, the city’s pre–eminent jazz, blues and gospel singer. “Everybody knows what Huxsie can do,” Wilson explains, “and if you haven’t yet experienced the tingle of Huxsie Scott, you’ve got to go.”
Rebecca King, Sheldon Pinckney and Steven Dobson, well–known from performances at Calvary Baptist and the Historic Savannah Theatre.
Stee Colvin, a 20–year–old, silky–voiced rhythm ‘n’ blues singer from Bluffton. “Stee’s part of the new generation of YouTube artists that do very good videos, posts them and sells singles through links to Amazon or ITunes,” Wilson offers.
The musical cast also includes jazz guitarist Arnell Byrd, violin soloist Ochoa and angel–voiced Christy Wilson, Eddie’s wife and frequent co–performer. The program includes everything from Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye” to Disney hits to – you guessed it – one or two tunes from the prodigious pen of Johnny Mercer.
Picnic in the Park
Where: Forsyth Park, Drayton Street
When: Starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3
3–5 p.m. Picnic contest registration
5 p.m. Picnic contest judging
6 p.m. Esther F. Garrison School of Visual & Performing Arts Middle School Choir
7 p.m. Strings of the South