Every fall, when the biting bugs have absconded and the coastal breezes have turned in our favor, the City of Savannah throws its citizens a celebration.
Ostensibly, Picnic in the Park is in honor of National Arts and Humanities Month, established in 1933 to encourage Americans to explore new aspects of culture. Here, it’s another excellent excuse to party—as well as showcase the legions of local performing artists and community builders who give this city its pulse.
“This is about lifting up the people who are out there working, singing, playing, trying to make Savannah a better place,” muses Eddie Wilson, who returns to the Forsyth Park bandshell for the third year in a row with his Strings of the South ensemble on Sunday, Oct. 7. “It’s a chance to party in our own backyard, and we’re the band by the pool.”
Over 20,000 people are expected to flock to the park with their picnic fixin’s, some set–ups more elaborate than others (more on that later.) Wilson will lead the tunes from his grand piano, surrounded by musicians culled from the Savannah Philharmonic, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and the Beaufort Symphony Orchestra as well as regional players from as far as Augusta and Jacksonville. This year’s theme is “Some Enchanted Evening,” but don’t expect a classical take—Wilson is bringing a little more swagger to the stage.
“I was thinking about the theme and I’ve gone in the direction of 70s funkadelic soul,” he says. “I think it’s one of the most enchanted parts of American music.”
Chaka Khan, Barry White and early Michael Jackson on are the Picnic playlist, which also includes “everything from opera to disco.” Wilson will be joined by a sonorous array of local voices, including adored mainstays Trae Gurley and Kim Polote as well as musical theater maven Brittny Hargrove, jazz chanteuse Christy Wilson, operatic tenor Matthew Jones and mezzosoprano Rebecca Patrick Flaherty. Rising star Laiken Williams rounds out the harmonies, and Voodoo Soup bassist Eric Moore will provide the deep bass lines essential to the evening’s psychedelic–soul vibe.
“Man, the way Eric plays, it’s enchanted,” waxes Wilson. “The man is magic.”
Wilson and his gang of strings will share the stage with violinist Ricardo Ochoa and the gypsy majesty of Velvet Caravan, the Savannah Arts Academy Dance Company, the Oglethorpe Charter School Chorus and the entire cast of the Savannah Theatre—over 100 performers in all.
“We have an unbelievable amount of interesting folks with us this year,” laughs Wilson. “And THAT is why my head’s exploding!”
Wilson’s mind–blowing line–up is the culmination of a day’s worth of epic events: The afternoon begins with PAWrade in the Park, an “enchanted” pet costume contest sponsored by Tailspin and benefitting local rescue agencies. Angela Beasley and her Puppet People will promenade with the ballerinas of Madeline Walker Coastal Ballet, followed by Abeni Cultural Arts’ electrifying dance program backed by the poets of Spitfire Entertainment.
Of course, one of the most venerated traditions within this most beloved of Savannah traditions is the Picnic Contest. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors for the most creative and elegant set–ups that in years’ past have featured crystal glasses, real silverware, chandeliers, costumes and at least one replica of the Titanic. The city has envisioned the year’s theme a little more conventionally than bandleader Wilson, suggesting that competitors interpret their favorite “whimsical fairytale” into the event.
The Picnic Contest is sponsored by the Savannah Board of Realtors, who offer up Beauty and the Beast, Shrek and Grimm’s Fairytales as inspiration. Best picnic ensembles win a bevy of prizes—costumes are encouraged.
Little Red Riding Hood rockin’ out to Chaka Khan? Only in Savannah.
Picnic in the Park
Where: Forsyth Park
When: Sunday, Oct. 7
2–4 p.m. PAWrade in the Park pet costume contest
3–5 p.m. Picnic Contest Registration
:40–5 p.m. Puppet People, Abeni Cultural Arts, Spitfire
5–6:30 p.m. Picnic Contest Judging
6:30 p.m. Oglethorpe Charter School Chorus
7:30 p.m. Eddie Wilson & Strings of the South