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More Than Music

Posted on Jan 01, 2016 in 30A Songwriters Festival , Jackson Browne , Central Square Records , January-February 2016

Chris Stills

Stories unfold during 30A Songwriters Festival, Jan. 15-17 By Lori Leath Smith

Music has always been a part of my life. From a very young age I was singing, playing guitar and performing for family and friends. Through the years, I’ve sung with various groups, attended numerous concerts and today enjoy singing along to my favorite Pandora station or downloads from iTunes. Often a certain song reverberates through my iPad or car radio, drawing me in and speaking to me in an intimate and powerful way, commanding my thoughts to a different place and time, or to a fond or pleasant memory. The music and lyrics just take me there.

Could it be because every song tells a story? For example, the song “Superman” by Five for Fighting causes me to remember where I was the minute Sept. 11, 2001 began to unfold and the many heroic stories that began to unfold after. Too, I can hear my story told through the lyrics of an early ’80s title, and, one time, “You’re So Vain” started playing causing me to immediately think about that certain person.

Though different types of music appeal to different folks, and lyrics can be interpreted different ways by different people depending on what they’ve experienced in their lives, the musical notes and the words together usually stir up emotions, memories and recalls of the storylines woven into life experiences, some joyful, some even sad. It always amazes me when I hear a song and think, “Did the writer spy on me to write the lyrics, seemingly my life being laid bare?”

Not only do the songs carry weight with the listener, the lyrics really mean a lot to the writer, AND the person who sings them, sometimes one and the same. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the 30A Songwriters Festival and this point became profound as I listened to each songwriter singing and performing their own lyrics. I heard not only the stories behind the words and the melodies, but also the situations and passion that drove them to write the lyrics; alongside came the heartfelt emotion, whether pain or joy, behind it. And I felt like I was meeting, up close and personal, a real person, understanding the thoughts, emotions and actions that led to the songs being written and why. Of course, this gives the song much more meaning later. In multiple intimate settings along Highway 30A, each venue with its own atmosphere and ambiance, there they were, the songwriters themselves pouring their hearts out, laughing and joking and connecting with the audience on a very basic level. With several back-to-back performances to watch, it was a unique opportunity to experience the heartfelt dedication that is part of songwriting as I was allowed to see inside the personalities of the artists. We as listeners, just sat back in many cases, listening to our own lives unfold as our own stories were being told.

Maybe that’s why, year after year, the 30A Songwriters Festival draws more and more enthusiastic, appreciative and knowledgeable audiences to South Walton, as each guest identifies with a particular songwriter or even several. Now in its seventh year, on Jan. 15-17, South Walton will be transformed into a songwriter’s paradise and the “hottest” mid-January destination for music fans. Attendees are willing to invest in quality listening experiences while making new discoveries. And songwriters are approachable performers, not always in the limelight and unreachable, but down-to-earth folks like you and me with a passion to tell their stories live through a genre or lyrics.

More Than Music

Jackson Browne, Grace Potter and Jay Farrar (from Son Volt)

There is a diversity of venues and live music for each, according to preference of taste. And ticket holders can get up close and personal with their favorite singer-songwriters — and discover new ones — as if they are sitting in their den with their best songwriter

friends. Venue atmosphere varies from rustic and upscale bars and restaurants, elegant clubs, outdoor amphitheaters, coffee houses and lake houses, town halls, theaters, covered patios and record stores. One of my favorites is Central Square Records above a Sundog Books in Seaside where it’s open to both ticket and non-ticket holders. It’s more of a casual atmosphere and folks can even stand on the porch upstairs and listen to music. Central Square Records also sells CDs of some of the musicians who stop in during their stay. Then there are the larger ones ranging in capacity from 75 to 400 indoors and 4,000 outdoors.

And the songwriters themselves? They have discovered there are few things that go better together than beaches, relaxing atmospheres, excited attendees, gorgeous gulf sunsets, and intimate and various venues, all while performing live music.

While some of this year’s festival are locals just starting out or seasoned songwriters vocalizing their own penned lyrics, others have been known to write tunes made famous by bands such as Tonic, Sugarland, and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; TV shows such as the hit sitcom “Scrubs,” artists such as Jimmy Buffet, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, and Elvis Costello; and movies such as Country Strong, just to name a few!

Being able to get up close and personal with music hit makers is a big allure of the songwriters festival. And this year’s lineup brings together some of the great talents of the music industry with more than 150 artists delivering more than 200 performances on 25 stages set all along 30A and South Walton. Esteemed artists include Jackson Browne, Grace Potter, Shovels & Rope and Wine, Women & Song featuring Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss & Gretchen Peters.

If we are lucky, we might hear Headliner Jackson Browne tell the stories behind some of his songs that have become American household names such as “These Days,” “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty,” “Lawyers in Love,” “Doctor My Eyes,” “Take It Easy,” “For a Rocker,” and “Somebody’s Baby.” Russell Carter, co-producer/festival chair, can hardly contain his excitement for this year’s event. “We are thrilled to present Jackson Browne as the 2016 headline act. Jackson will perform solo on guitar and piano. It is a singer songwriter performance in its most basic form and it is quite simply profound.”

He’ll likely perform a few songs from his most recent album, Standing In The Breach, a collection of 10 songs, at turns deeply personal and political, exploring love, hope, and defiance in the face of the advancing uncertainties of modern life. Literate and moving, Browne’s performance Saturday afternoon, Jan. 16, at the outdoor Gulf Place Amphitheater, is not one to miss.

Pianist, guitarist, songwriter and singer, Grace Potter, who Time Magazine says “can belt heartily and coo seductively while displaying swagger,” will perform Sunday, Jan. 17, in support of her new solo album, “Midnight.” Taking a little from her band, the Nocturnals, Potter says she wants her new album to have a really buoyant, effervescent spirit. Potter has also joined local 30A favorite Kenny Chesney in recording a hit duet, “You and Tequila.” I’m sure some of the music that Potter says influenced her — Madonna, Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain—will be heard while she sings her own stories through song.

More Than Music

Daphne Willis

Along with the storytelling, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, laughing, sometimes crying, recalling memories I thought had faded, discovering new music and gaining a new appreciation for music from my past is what makes the event so very special for me. For those who come to listen, play, reminisce and enjoy each year—usually those still left standing at the final performance on Sunday evening—they couldn’t imagine being anywhere else during January. And, for this music and story lover, neither could I!

As always, 100 percent of the net proceeds from the 30A Songwriters Festival benefit the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and help it to fulfill its mission to support the arts throughout Walton County.

For more information on the 2016 30A Songwriters Festival, including a full list of artists and venues, visit

Purchase Tickets: Festival weekend passes are available for $250 and can be purchased at, locally in South Walton at the Cultural Arts Alliance office, 105 Hogtown Bayou Lane (off North 393) in Santa Rosa Beach and at Central Square Records in Seaside.

Stay: In Seaside, visit and click on one of the Visitors Bureau partners for accommodations.

Sunburst Beach Vacations is able to offer discounted festival tickets ($200 each for a very limited time and while supplies last) with your accommodation package reservation. When you book, receive a free night’s stay with your minimum two-night booking in most homes. for additional festival accommodations.

Listen: Get geared up for the festival by listening to the artists on the radio prior to seeing them in person. Tune in to

Link: The official 30A Songwriters Festival Website, The 30A Songwriters Festival on Facebook, The 30A Songwriters Festival on Twitter@30AFest, #30AFest

Visit Central Square Records online.