Tom Townsend has found the silver lining in one of life’s darkest clouds.
The St. Louis resident lost his son, Alex, a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, in a traffic accident in the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 2010. After speaking with Alex’s friends, Townsend knew he wanted to memorialize his son with an annual art and music festival.
The result was the first A-Town Get Down, which took place last February. It was so successful, the Second Annual A-Town Get Down is now returning to a larger venue, the Charles H. Morris Center, with headliner Devon Allman’s Honeytribe.
“I raised Alex as an Allman Brothers fan,” Townsend says. “He knew that Gregg lived in the Savannah area.
“When I realized we could get Devon’s band, it came full circle. Devon lived in St. Louis, where we are, which is a wild coincidence.”
Organizing the festival has been a large part of the healing process for the Townsend family.
“Part of the reason I wanted to do this was because I wanted to engage in Savannah instead of fear it the rest of my life,” Townsend says.
Alex loved Savannah, and his family does, too.
“I wanted to find it as a joyful place, not a tragic one,” Townsend says.
“My wife was afraid she wouldn’t be able to go there anymore, but she went with our other kids,” he says. “That turned it around for her. Now we know of the community he had around him, which has been enormously impactful on our family.”
In addition to Honeytribe, other bands are the reggae-jam band Passafire and local hip-hop group Word of Mouth, which appeared at last year’s event. The emcee is composer and performer Sean “Unda” Carter.
Also returning this year is stencil graffiti artist Peat Wollaeger, who created a portrait of Alex at last year’s festival.
“He does large-scale art with pre-cut stencils and reveals at the end what the subject is,” Townsend says.
Attendees are encouraged to buy advance tickets because the concert is expected to sell out. All net proceeds from the Get Down will go to fund SCAD scholarships.
“This year, we went to a venue that’s more appropriate,” Townsend says. “While we’re bringing one band back, two of the three bands are new to the festival. We’re hoping for an even bigger turnout.
“We’re doing a little more marketing this year,” he says. “The term ‘labor of love’ has never been understood quite as well, and I would have it no other way.”
The Townsend family hopes the event becomes an annual affair.
“I would love for people to continue to embrace it as a long-term event in Savannah, not a short-term response to one accident,” Townsend says.
“I want it to be an ongoing festival that can grow every year and be Savannah’s own. A festival that is more and more associated with the love of music and art in Savannah — not so much about the loss of one person, but the music and art it spawned.”