By Colleen E. Hinely
The 30A Songwriters Festival, approaching its tenth anniversary in 2019, has matured into a melodious confection made up of hundreds of accomplished singer-songwriters and infused with the spirit of thousands of avid music lovers. Thanks to the intimate ambience of the venues along Scenic Highway 30-A and Miramar Beach in South Walton County, Florida, chic locals and visitors, and the area’s famous coastlines, the 30A Songwriters Festival has been elevated onto a world-class stage.
The festival is set apart from other music events because, as producer Russell Carter (president of Russell Carter Artist Management) explains, “We only book songwriters who perform, which is the most creative element in the whole music realm, and we are not limited to one genre. It will be blues, rock and roll, R&B, country, alternative—we are looking for all styles of music.”
The vibe in the air is unmistakable. Thousands of ardent music lovers, unfazed by the sometimes frigid January temperatures, bring a palpable energy to the 30A Songwriters Festival. They flock to picturesque South Walton County, eager to experience the music and the fellowship. Hundreds of festival partners, volunteers, production professionals, stage managers, and other personnel invest hundreds of hours preparing for this annual festival in support of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA). The CAA, a private, nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, champions the arts in the county through advocacy, leadership, program funding, and education. Because 30A Songwriters Festival is the top annual fund-raiser for the CAA, its success is critical. “It is a complete benefit for the CAA,” Carter expounds. “One hundred percent of the net proceeds go to the CAA, which enables them to do all of the free events that they do. The CAA has the Foster Art Gallery and Arts Week, which is a part of ArtsQuest; they also provide grants, offer art classes, and support art in schools throughout the county—they do so many great things.”
One of the components contributing to the success of the 30A Songwriters Festival is the distinctiveness of its venues. The coffee shops, restaurant lounges, courtyards, meeting halls, and cozy bars of South Walton are transformed into intimate listening rooms. Each stage is adorned with funky original art by local artists. The main stage at Grand Boulevard Town Center, outfitted with massive speakers and lined with pit crews, played host to the 2018 festival headliners: the Zombies, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Ann Wilson of Heart.
The 2018 festival was a sold-out affair, boasting 185 meticulously chosen singer-songwriters, including countless Grammy Award nominees and winners. Among the impressive roster was the gritty and graceful Michelle Malone, a four-time festival participant. Malone was eager to talk about her experience, especially the camaraderie embodied by the annual event. “30A Songwriters Festival is special,” she explains. “I get to see my friends and hear their wonderful music. I get to make new friends and make music with all the writers I might not otherwise have connected with.”
Malone’s Friday evening performance alongside North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson, tambourine goddess Trish Land, songsmith Johnny Irion, and Southern rock musician Tommy Talton was a collaboration of mighty, robust, and gritty rock and roll.
Following the show, Malone gushed, “It felt special, and it was inspiring. You could tell that we all love the same kind of music, so much so that it felt like we were all part of the same band.” The electricity of Malone’s concert was but a single example of the 225 performances available to festival guests, each a unique experience hosted in the distinctive gathering spots of South Walton.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow festival performers, Malone says, “Music is so powerful, and we’re all just doing what we love.”
The melodious alchemy of the 30A Songwriters Festival is the product of a perfectly balanced recipe: the idyllic domain of South Walton’s snow-white beaches, the ingenious festival organizers, the attentive audiences, and hundreds of great singer-songwriters, all folded into the area’s diverse and hip venues. Comparable to music festivals in Austin or Nashville, the 30A Songwriters Festival has formed a new niche embraced by music fans and songwriting virtuosos alike. Speaking on behalf of her fellow festival performers, Malone says, “Music is so powerful, and we’re all just doing what we love.”
As the 30A Songwriters Festival embarks upon its tenth-anniversary event in January of 2019, singer-songwriter fans continue to pledge allegiance to the artists who escape to the coast to create music and intimately inspire our souls.
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