I’m sure I’m not the first to notice the ironic analogy between the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland and this year’s banning of live snakes (!) from the St. Patrick’s Day celebration downtown.
I’m also not the first to point out that the snakes on River Street have often been more entertaining in years past than the live music featured there on St. Patrick’s Day.
While old–timers still remember fondly the March afternoon when The Dixie Dregs played live to thousands on River Street (Google ‘em, kids), that legendary concert was, and remains, an anomaly.
Many people were upset last week when word got out that the Savannah Waterfront Association, which organizes the River Street portion of the festival on typically very limited funds, wasn’t going to feature live bands after the parade this year.
One could easily see the move as yet another slap in the face to local musicians, many of whom depend on the St. Patrick’s weekend for a substantial portion of their annual revenue and many of whom are already hamstrung by the City of Savannah’s various efforts to negatively target much live music within city limits.
But the sad truth is that live music at the St. Patrick’s celebration in Savannah has never been much to write back home to Ireland about.
There are several reasons for this. First, the distinct lack of big–name traditional Irish music at our celebration — as opposed to the fine Celtic entertainment inside pubs like Kevin Barry’s — is due to the simple fact that there really aren’t that many big names in Irish music, and those few big names will be in New York or Chicago that day playing for lots more money than Savannah will ever consider paying them.
(An exception was when The Prodigals played here a few years ago, back when there was a $5 bracelet fee for imbibing on River Street. More about that momentarily.)
Second, there has always been a clear lack of will on the part of festival organizers to seriously showcase live music on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not a new thing by any means.
As someone who’s been attending Savannah St. Patrick’s celebrations for several decades, I can tell you that for better or worse, organizers have assumed that partygoers prefer to, well, party, than quibble over the difference between, say, Journey and a Journey tribute band.
But the main reason for the dearth of live music, of course, is money. And that’s where stuff gets real.
Live musicians, well–known or not, cost money. Playing music is their profession and their livelihood, and they need to be fairly compensated.
Except when they don’t.
Anyone who’s been in downtown Savannah after 11 p.m. on a weekend night knows the currency of the realm in 2012: Subwoofing, bass–booming, booty–shaking Top 40 dance/club music played off an iPod and/or iTunes.
Hey, I’m not knocking it — it’s called pop music because it’s popular!
And not to put too fine a point on it, but... booty–shaking makes the world go ‘round. So there’s that.
The bottom line — so to speak — is that only the most purist club owner would fight the cost/benefit analysis after they do this simple math:
Booty Music = Very Cheap + Very Popular.
Live Music = Not As Cheap + Not As Popular.
Many of us, this writer included, bitched about the $5 bracelet fees in effect for several years on River Street, which once in a blue moon enabled a fine act like The Prodigals to play here. But the five bucks you paid for the privilege of drinking on a public street — which under Savannah law you can do regardless, for free, any other day of the year — did go in part to pay the salaries of live musicians you heard on St. Patrick’s Day.
The return of River Street to full and free public enjoyment with no entrance fee, while probably a good thing on constitutional/taxpayer grounds, has hampered the ability of the Savannah Waterfront Association to pay for live entertainment, and caused that burden to be put back on private club/bar owners.
There are conspiracy theories making the rounds that the City government, which has in some minds tended to see the St. Patrick’s celebration as being “too white” an occasion, is going out of its way to screw with the festival this year.
While I rarely miss an opportunity to call the City out for selectively enforcing the law — if not totally making up “laws” on the fly — I give ‘em a pass here.
On St. Patrick’s Day, as on most other days of the year, it really is all about the green....