I really hate math but I sometimes love statistics. One time I added up all the musicians playing at DIY shows in Savannah across a month as advertised on our communal calendar and it was no surprise that the majority of the participants were white men. After “leaking” (lol) this info to the Savannah DIY community via Facebook, my post was removed in the name of “the music” and “positivity.” (It was also treated as “unrelated” posting that “didn’t meet the guidelines of the group,” but should have been posted in a barely used subgroup, Savannah DIY Discussion, that was created for content “like that.”)
I shouldn’t have been surprised when Stopover music festival rolled around. I bit my tongue (for the most part) as lineups were released, venues announced, and producers promoted for the events that TookOver downtown Savannah the second weekend in March. Most of the people on the lineup were white-passing (No surprise). Most of the people on the lineup were masculine-presenting (No surprise). One of the only black artists on the lineup dropped off at the last minute because his set was supposed to be at Club One, a local gay bar. (Kind of a surprise, but also not really, that the organizers of Stopover would be so removed as to pick a homophobic artist who happened to be one of the only POC on their entire three-day bill.)
The same weekend, we’d picked up three shows at QuoLab, hoping to create a space for other folx who felt similarly jaded by Stopover’s lack of attention to minorities and genderqueer people on their lineup. Most of the other DIY venues forwent shows in lieu of Stopover festivities, noting a lack of attendance, but we felt it was important either way to host shows for the non-Stopover touring artists coming through on their way to SXSW. Between thirteen performances over three days, Greg and I couldn’t hit any of the events, but we were lucky enough to host PWR BTTM on Friday night. (Check out our interview here.)
Throughout the weeks leading up to the festival, I heard a number of excuses related to Stopover’s diversity-related oversight when I brought it up. It was too expensive to book black hip-hop or R&B performers. Stopover wasn’t a farce, it was an event truly created for locals, and this is what the locals want. The booker who originally got asked to get locals had too much going on; the person who was asked next couldn’t handle the stress. (Regardless, both were white cis men whose creative decisions probably would have reflected that identity, too.) The responsibility eventually fell back on someone from Stopover. The festival isn’t anti-Savannah, and I can’t stand with you if that’s what you think!
It was a bummer to know such diverse musicians were coming through Savannah—were living and playing in Savannah—but wouldn’t have the same spotlight and access at our house as the musicians featured at Stopover downtown. I struggled all weekend with thoughts on How To Do More Next Time even though every person who came through QuoLab was so kind and appreciative of our space.
As someone who almost took a position recruiting interns for Stopover last year (changing my mind after having an interview and being offered the gig), I realized how much faith I still hold in our community to try harder. Even after seeing that most of the local musicians opening at Stopover events were white-passing men, too, I know we can do better next time. Not because Stopover will try any harder, not because our fellow “musicians” will try harder, but because we queer folx, women, people of color and black folx, and anti-white-supremacist allies in Savannah will continually try harder to carve out space until it's claimed.
It’s not to say the festival in its entirety fucks Savannah like a St. Patrick’s Day rush - in fact, one of the coolest things about the festival is its focus on connecting locals with touring musicians via volunteer and hosting opportunities. Even with the highest hopes for a weekend truly representative of the Savannah music experience, one more accurately defined (at the fucking least) by more representation from black folx and people of color, we can only rely on ourselves rather than institutional events like Stopover to show up.
Rainé is an agender trans person and drag princex with House of Gunt. They co-facilitate QuoLab, a queer safe(r) space in Savannah, GA.