Like many of you, Savannah was more or less a mystery when I first moved to the city. That was a little over a year ago, when I arrived from South Florida. I had to find out - by hook, crook and a lot of asking around - where the live music clubs were. Well, new students, let me save you the trouble.
Savannah has its share - well, probably more than its share - of purely drinking establishments, where the beer flows like wine and there's always sports on TV, or a big ol' jukebox, or nights devoted to Karaoke or trivia games.
You might be surprised to discover it's also a very healthy music town. Virtually every night of the week, somebody is playing live somewhere, and interestingly there aren't a whole lot of crummy Top 40 dance bands, or even artists that focus entirely on covering someone else's music. Not only is Savannah home to some stellar musicians, we are a favorite destination for the best players from Athens, a particularly fertile college town to the northwest.
(From the "Something You Need to Know" Dept.: According to Section 6-1223 of Savannah's Municipal Code, you have to be at least 21 to enter an establishment where alcohol is served, unless the place fits the city's definition of a "full-service restaurant" where alcohol is only a small part of the bill of fare. This lets out the majority of the live music nightclubs, which are classified as "bars," so be forewarned.)
Each week, Connect Savannah keeps you advised as to who's performing, in what club - we call the calendar Soundboard, and it's augmented by performer news, interviews, profiles and updates (that's my job).
For now, here's a quick rundown of the cluster of live music venues downtown (and elsewhere). And welcome to Savannah.
Live Wire Music Hall. 307 W. River St., 233-1192. Sure, it looks like a three-level cave - some of those corners are mighty dark - but that only adds to the mystique of the building, which has been a live music venue of note (under different names) for decades. The Live Wire has a killer sound system, and a diverse calendar of genre-jumping music that'll surprise you every night. The "Rockin' on the River" Battle of the Bands is in full swing Monday nights this month, and the upcoming docket includes Savannah's own outlaw/Americana foursome the Trainwrecks (Sept. 26) and the funk act Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band (Oct. 3)
Fiddler's Crab House. 131 W. River St., 644-7172. It's a restaurant for visitors and tourists, and it has one of the best views of the Savannah River and environs you could hope for. But Fiddler's also has a steady diet of good local bands - here's where you can catch, with regularity, the Train Wrecks, Bottles & Cans, Voodoo Soup, Rhythm Riot, the Eric Culberson Blues Band and a cross-section of blues and rock ‘n' roll from Athens, Atlanta and beyond.
The Warehouse. 18 E. River St., 234-6003. A narrow and not too arty room, the Warehouse nonetheless has ambiance to spare - it's a good ol' no-frills drinking (and snacking) establishment, like a long, skinny pub, with a tiny performance stage jammed into a corner. Here you're likely to experience the Jeff Beasley Band, the Train Wrecks, Rhythm Riot and a number of solo and/or duo sets from regular bandmembers moonlighting on weeknights.
Kevin Barry's Irish Pub. 117 W. River St., 233-9626. Named for an early 20th Century Irish patriot, Kevin Barry's is Savannah's oldest and roomiest old world pub. Everything is plain and made of wood. There's entertainment every night of the week, in a room separate from the main bar if ye desire a little privacy. On the roster of solo performers playing Irish tunes is singer and guitarist Harry O'Donoghue, himself an Irish treasure.
J.J. Bonerz. 11 W. Bay St., 944-4343. This "Wings & Ribs Bar" on fast-moving Bay Street does a fair amount of traffic in live music. The past month has seen the quirky ‘80s tribute band Moving in Stereo, rockers Hazy Nation, the tough-blues band Blues Union and more. And they advertise "Girls in Red Cowboy Boots," which can't be a bad thing.
Loco's Grill & Pub. 301 W. Broughton St., 234-9456. Food and drink may be the stock in trade here, but whoever's booking the weekend live music shows quite a bit of imagination. Last week, Loco's had 40 oz. to Freedom - a Sublime tribute band - and the recent past has given us a one-off show by a couple of members of Perpetual Groove, plus the Beatles homage Abbey Road Live, and the Incredible Sandwich, a pop/funk/Latin-tinged band from Athens.
Jazz'd Tapas Bar. 52 Barnard St., 236-7777. The stage is little more than a corner of the bar, but it's a very cool bar, retro and ‘60s looking, and here you'll find acoustic players during the weekend and excellent bands - from blues and rock to experimental vocal and instrumental jazz - on the weekends. Did we mention it's also a swanky restaurant?
Molly MacPherson's Scottish Pub & Grill. 311 W. Congress St., 239-9600. Owners Debbie Boulanger and Jennifer Brown, who are sisters, named this tartan-themed pub after their great-grandmother. It's rather upscale, with a fireplace (when you need it), Scotch malt whiskeys, food items from the Highlands (neeps and tatties, anyone?) and everything bordered in tartan plaid. Aye, and they've got live music, from your local faves, on the weekend, plus an open mic night every Thursday.
Mercury Lounge. 125 W. Congress St., 447-6952. A wide space, a no-frills ambiance and a nice retro-feel. ‘Course, the life-sized painting of the infamous Rat Pack behind the stage adds to the coolness factor. Local blues legend Eric Culberson and his trio have a regular gig here, and the weekend bill o'fare usually includes some hardcore blues/rock.
The Jinx. 127 W. Congress St., 236-2281. The sign over the big window out front still says "Velvet Elvis," but inside it's all Jinx, with one of the highest percentages of cross-genre live music in town. Singer/songwriters Holly Golightly and Willie Heath Neal, Chris Porter and the Back Row Baptists and Pee Wee Moore's Awful Dreadful Snakes have all played the Jinx in recent months. This Saturday, it's ear-piercing metal from Blacktusk; in the future, look for the great America band American Aquarium (Oct. 3), punk's Down By Law (Oct. 23) and regular Monday-night sets by the amazing Keith Kozel Kaleidoscope.
Pour Larry's. 206 W. St. Julian St., 232-5778. They call themselves "Savannah's Home for Beer Pong," but live music is also on the menu at this relatively new City Market brewhouse. Sometimes it's inside, and sometimes it's out in the courtyard, and the tuneage ranges from acoustic singer/songwriter types to pop bands to hard blues.
Wild Wing Cafe. 27 Barnard St., 790-9464. It's a family-themed restaurant and sports bar, but it's also a contributor to the downtown live music universe. There's someone playing - both inside the restaurant and outside in the City Market courtyard - every Wednesday through Sunday.
The Distillery. 416 W. Liberty St. 236-1772. The building began life as a distillery in 1904, then was shuttered with the advent of Prohibition. One pharmacy, one furniture store and various other retailers later, it was back in the club business. Here you'll run into local performers like Mike Schulz, Greg Williams and Bottles & Cans, performing on a near-nightly basis.
The Wormhole. 2307 Bull St., 401-0214. Open for less than a year, the Wormhole is the city's home for an eclectic range of musical styles - sometimes all in one night. Industrial, electronica, hip hop, rock ‘n' roll, acoustic weirdness, they all have a home here.
Other hot spots
Here are a few other places where you can find exceptional live music on a regular basis:
Blowin' Smoke BBQ, 514 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Coach's Corner, 3016 E. Victory Drive
Fannie's on the Beach, 1613 Strand Ave., Tybee Island
Huck-a-Poo's Bites & Booze, 1230 US 80, Tybee Island
Rock House, 1518 Butler Ave., Tybee Island
Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.