On Saturday, April 19, from noon until 6 p.m., Metro Spirit and GSP, LLC will present the third annual River Jam at the Savannah Rapids Park and Headgates.
Don’t remember the other two River Jams? Don’t worry — you’re not losing your memory. Though the festival is in its third year, this is the first time it’s been called River Jam. Previously, it was known as Chicken and Beer and the Chicken River Bluegrass Festival.
Metro Spirit Owner/Publisher Joe White says the name change is just part of the festival’s continuing evolution. Not only has each year brought a new name, it’s brought a new location at the Savannah Rapids Park. Anyone who remembers last year’s festival will undoubtedly appreciate this year’s most important addition: shade.
“This year, there is shade and tons of it,” White says. “Where we were before there was no shade and it could be brutal. Now, it’s heavily shaded and it’s right by the canal, and the Savannah River water is cold, which helps cool the area down, too.”
The festivities, which are sponsored by Fox 54, BOB FM and WGAC, will be spread out from the dance pavilion, dining hall and barbecue pit area all the way to the Headgates.
“It’s easy to get to,” he says. “You just go down the steps.”
Not only is the new location more scenic, it’s more conducive to the kind of relaxed, family fun he’s envisioned from the beginning.
“Last year, no matter what you did, ultimately you were in a parking lot, so there was no place to sit,” he says. “This is so much better, because we have seating in the dance pavilion and the dining hall, and inside the barbecue pit, down each side, there are plenty of places for people to sit and room for people to move around.”
According to White, the barbecue pit is one of the things that excites him the most about the new area.
“We wanted to make sure that we took advantage of that pit,” he says. “It’s about 20 feet long and about a foot and a half deep and it was built in the 1880s, I think.”
At the pit, Fat Man’s will be cooking up some good outdoor food.
“My plan is to get some natural charcoal and line the bottom with some coals and either do butts or burgers, depending on what kind of temperature we can get it at,” says Havrid Usry, who will be representing Fat Man’s at the festival. “I think it would be fun to get some burgers and dogs on there and cook them in front of everybody. I think it will be cool for the atmosphere to put something burning in there.”
And that’s just what’s going on in the barbecue pit. According to Brad Usry, up at the Fat Man’s truck they’re going to be offering one of their standbys — beer-battered chicken fingers.
“It’s a little bit of a signature offering for us because it’s been received so well at special events,” he says.
They’re also providing their unique twist on a pulled pork sandwich, with a split bun, homemade coleslaw and their own special sweet and sour sauce. The sides will include French fries and macaroni and cheese.
“I just can’t wait to see the smoke pouring out of that pit area,” White says. “That’s going to be so cool, and it will hopefully encourage other people to use it.”
As people have come to expect, the festival will also feature plenty of craft beer, though because of the increased demand for craft beer during Masters Week, Mike Marty, craft beer manager for AB Beverage, says it’s tough right now to say what exactly will be on tap, since they’ll be replenishing all week. And that’s a good thing, both for the industry and for Augusta’s growing beer sophistication.
“As far as craft beer goes, we had a very good Masters Week,” he says. “Much better than we’ve ever had, especially for local craft beer. Georgia beers especially did awesome during Masters.”
In fact, Marty says the craft beer industry in Georgia has become a bright spot for the state’s economy.
“Georgia craft beers have gown by leaps and bounds,” he says. “I think we’re up to something like 15 breweries now, including brewpubs.”
The final component, the one White is hoping to really expand as the years go on, is the music, which is being coordinated by Stillwater Taproom’s Matt Flynn
Probably the most unusual act, at least the one with the most miles under them, is Crying Wolf, which Flynn describes as a husband and wife duo from New Zealand who now make Augusta their home.
“I’ve not seen them myself, but they’ve done shows with a bunch of the bands we’ve had, so they’re highly recommended,” he says. And if that’s not a ringing enough endorsement for you, consider this: Flynn has booked the band for Stillwater after the festival.
Another local band, Delta Cane, has already performed at Stillwater, and Flynn is anxious to see them in an outdoor venue.
Columbia’s Ruby Brunettes promises to offer something different, like a woman trombone player.
“One of the guys has played at the bar in a couple of different bands over the years,” he says. “This is a new project for him, and I’m not really familiar with what they’re doing other than what I’ve seen on YouTube. And with a female trombone player, it should be interesting if nothing else.”
Rounding out the field of performers are the Mason Jars, and while they’re fairly well known in the community, Flynn warns fans to be prepared for something a little different this time around.
“The last time they played at the bar, they had kind of stripped down their sound to a little more of an old timey, 1930s kind of sound, and I think it worked really well for them,” he says. “That’s what they’re planning on doing at the festival, so that should be entertaining.”
Flynn says the location by the Headgates should prove more enjoyable as well.
“It’s definitely going to be better than it was last year,” he says. “The pine straw where the bands were playing was sloped a little bit, so they were kind of sliding around a little bit as they played. This should be more viewer friendly and definitely more comfortable for the bands.”
“I’m always looking for a place to put bands where there’s something nice in the background,” he says. “This year, when you’re looking at the bands, you’re looking at the Headgates with the Savannah River behind it.”
A great photo op on what promises to be a relaxing day.
Metro Spirit’s Third Annual River Jam
Savannah Rapids Park and Headgates
Saturday, April 19