A St. Augustine Celebration of Music
By Kara Pound
Cover photo by Tucker Joenz
Porchfest photos by Tim Savage
That’s the Sing Out Loud Festival — or SOL Fest as it’s called by the locals — in a nutshell. Bluegrass, country, Americana, rock and roll, singer-songwriters, indie rock, New Orleans funk and jazz, zydeco, Tex-Mex… For three weekends in September (8th — 10th; 15th — 17th; and 22nd — 24th), there’s literally a bit of something for everyone, no matter what your musical preference is.
Why September? For one thing, it’s right as the summer turns to fall, the weather starts to cool down, tourism numbers slowly decrease, and St. Augustine returns to the residents. Many people believe there’s no better time to explore downtown and Anastasia Island, so it’s a perfect time to throw a free music festival into the mix.
Like the inaugural event last fall, the second annual Sing Out Loud Festival will be hosted at multiple venues around town including St. Augustine Amphitheatre, Colonial Quarter, Sarbez!, Nobby’s and Limelight Theatre.
Oh, and did we mention that admission to the entire festival is free? Yes, that’s right…totally FREE!
“We are not a monocultural community and our city attracts a broad, diverse community of visitors,” says Paul K. Williamson, Director of Public Affairs for the City of St. Augustine. “Offering cultural activities that appeal to many tastes will appeal to a wide audience.”
A big shout out goes to sponsor, Community First Credit Union, which funds a substantial portion of SOL, along with St. Johns Cultural Council, Columbia Restaurant, WJCT and many other local organizations. Without them, an event on this scale simply could not happen.
“Free, family-focused events are important to any community,” explains John Hirabayashi, President and CEO of Community First Credit Union. “They have the unique ability to bring everyone together like no ticketed event can. We are excited to see the festival expand this year and think it gives artists and their audiences a wonderful way to interact.”
The festival is a combination of both nationally touring bands and artists, and regional and local performers. It’s the goal of the organizers to give artists at every level a stage on which they can get some invaluable exposure.
Headliners confirmed to play the festival include big names like Steve Earle, Lake Street Dive, Wolf Parade, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Los Lobos, Lucero, Deer Tick, The Infamous Stringdusters, Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim and John Moreland to name a few.
Of course, St. Augustine is no stranger to great local acts as well. Hundreds of local and regional artists will be playing at the various venues all throughout the area, including well known St. Augustine-based songstress, Amy Hendrickson. Hendrickson played the inaugural festival and looks forward to returning this year.
“There is a lot of pressure put on artists to be able to fill shows, promote shows and book shows,” she explains. “When you have a free event, the artist is allowed to play and focus on the craft of performing. By exposing these incredible artists, who have been here all along, to different crowds, it helps us grow and promote that underbelly [music] scene.”
Sing Out Loud Festival is being booked, organized and promoted by the St. Johns County Cultural Events Division – the same folks who run the wildly successful St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
“We don’t get to work with a lot of local artists,” says Ryan Murphy, Director of the county’s Cultural Events Division. “We created this festival as our give-back. We’re also aiming to help define our town, in a musical sense, and to foster the local music community. Some people are starting to say that St. Augustine is turning into a mini Austin, Texas.”
Although the festival is free, Murphy suggests that if you really like an artist and want to support them, buy a CD or t-shirt from their merchandise table. He also suggests keeping up to date with the Sing Out Loud Festival’s website, for the latest info on special events, including a comedy night, poetry night and Gamble Rogers Music Festival showcase.
Last year’s festival welcomed some 15,000 attendees who enjoyed 124 performances at 10 venues around St. Augustine. Organizers are looking to make this year’s event bigger and better.
“The inaugural 2016 SOL Fest was a unique event that incorporated both local music and big name bands,” explains Tera Meeks, Director of Tourism and Cultural Development for St. Johns County. “This year, the 2017 SOL Fest spans the entire month of September – providing visitors with access to quality musical performances in one-of-a-kind venues.”
If you’re worried that a free festival will be too crowded, difficult to navigate and just not worth the hassle, then you’ll be happy to know that Mayor Nancy Shaver, a self-professed music lover, offers comfort as she experienced last year’s SOL Fest first-hand.
“I know last year that people were worried that we’d be overwhelmed with too many visitors, but it all seemed to work really well,” she says. “And I’m sure it will again. I really believe that along with our history, our local art and music scene is hard to beat.
Sing Out Loud is for us. It’s low key, friendly and gives those of us who live here the chance to run into friends and enjoy music – a big part of who we are.”