To the best of my knowledge, Rob Gibson has never played a lick of music on any stage in Savannah.
No quiet, intimate, VH1 Storytellers-type cabaret performances. No impromptu jam sessions with any of the myriad jazz and blues artists who hold court at the scores of local bars, restaurants and nightclubs. No unannounced cameos with touring headliners whose tours have routed them through town.
And yet, as the Executive & Artistic Director of the annual Savannah Music Festival (meaning he’s the one who selects and negotiates with the myriad of acts that make up each year’s Festival), his personal tastes, industry contacts and fund-raising savvy have made him one of the most influential figures in the Coastal Empire’s music community.
As such —and considering that virtually all the SMF’s participants live outside the immediate area— Gibson’s become the go-to guy for journalists in need of fast and easy quotes pertaining to what’s going on at this breathtakingly impressive smorgasbord of world-class traditional, classical and roots-based music from across the globe.
Speaking with the former Executive Producer & Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center is rarely boring. Gibson’s sly, slightly conspiratorial Southern drawl, mischievous eyes and unabashed exuberance for his job bring to mind the stealthy hedonism actor Matthew McConaughey is known for imparting.
Although this is the busiest time of year for Gibson and his staff, he took a few minutes just before the kickoff of the 2009 SMF to field a few queries from Connect Savannah.
I’m told that even though Bonnie Raitt had to cancel her special SMF opening night performance, she has rescheduled that concert for October. Will that show now serve as the annual announcement party for the 2010 SMF — and will Randall Bramblett open that rescheduled show as well?
Rob Gibson: That concert has been rescheduled for October 16th, and Randall will still be the opening act. Whether we announce our 2010 Festival that day is yet to be decided.
What is the one show in this year’s SMF that you assumed would be sold out already but which isn’t?
Rob Gibson: I thought the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra would pack the house, since they’ve sold out the past two years, and because this year’s program is going to be so incredible — even for people who don’t think they like classical music.
Why do you think that is, and what would you say to try and encourage folks to come give that show a shot?
Rob Gibson: It’s an all-American program including George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, performed by Marcus Roberts, who created an original arrangement of the work for trio, (while still) utilizing Gershwin’s orchestration. It’s the kind of work that sends chills up your spine. The ASO has become one of the nation’s finest orchestras, so when people tell me that they love symphonic music, we’ve got a great concert each year for them.
As far as ticket sales go, what’s the most popular genre of music in this year’s festival?
Rob Gibson: Jazz events are selling really well this year, and that hasn’t always been the case. Americana styles are also popular.
Is there any one particular question that comes up repeatedly from artists who are approached about performing in the SMF, regardless of their background or genre?
Rob Gibson: No.
Without naming names, what’s the strangest hospitality request that you’ve had to provide for an artist in this year’s SMF?
Rob Gibson: In the musical arts, there’s no such thing as a strange hospitality request.
I notice that in the guide to this year’s SMF, each day of the Festival has a “Restaurant of the Day.” How were those eateries chosen, and is that a form of Festival sponsorship?
Rob Gibson: All restaurants in Savannah are welcome to become “Restaurants of The Day.” It is a program that allows us to suggest local eateries to both artists and audience members, and is a form of sponsorship. Restaurants provide a combination of meals for the artists and cash to participate in the program. In addition to being listed in the SMF’s promotional rack card, these restaurants are featured on our website and are on our “recommended” list for all artists and patrons.
On a personal note, would you consider yourself a vinyl man, a CD man, or an iPod man?
Rob Gibson: I still own about 6,000 LPs and 78s, so I’m partial to the warmer analog sound of vinyl. Ultimately, though, it’s all about the music, as is evidenced by the fact that I listen through my computer most of the time.
What’s your preferred method of winding down from the craziness that envelops you for the duration of the Festival?
Rob Gibson: Sleep, golf and hanging out with family are the best cure for me. Particularly since I don’t get much, if any, of that during the Festival.
Those who have attended the SMF in the past have become used to seeing you racing around downtown on a bicycle, often arriving breathless at a venue just in time to introduce an artist before racing off a few minutes later to do the same at another major concert. They say James Brown used to lose about 7 lbs. of water weight per concert. Do you find yourself in better physical shape after a couple of weeks of dashing from place to place?
Rob Gibson: The bike is the best mode of transportation during the festival and I usually lose a few pounds during these three weeks, but I’m no James Brown. I don’t even dance very well! But don’t mess with my bike, man!
Schedules & Tix: savannahmusicfestival.org