The 30A Songwriters Festival just concluded and once again our crack guest reporter, Brenda Rosser, whom I know from our annual sojourns to AmericanaFest, was on the scene to take in the action, and now shares her highlights along with her outstanding photographs. This year she deserves the MVP award as a knee ailment was an impediment. But only slightly. Here, in her own words, is:
This year’s frigid 30A Songwriters Festival was not for the faint of heart. The lineup was such that temperatures did not keep fans away, and layers of clothing and hot beverages kept everyone going along 20 miles of Highway 30A, so I strategically limited myself to a few favorite spots.
My favorite show of the festival featured Tommy Talton, Michelle Malone, Johnny Irion, and Luther Dickinson burning the house down at Old Florida Fish House with some bluesy, rockin’ tunes. Beginning with Talton’s “Real Sugar” (whose lyrics include: “Sittin’ here thinkin’, what should I eat? What should I put on my plate? Is that paradoxine hydrochloride, or is it mononitrate? I want real sugar, I don’t want none of that other, I want real bread with real butter, Sho’ 'nuff stuff, no messin’ round, I don’t want my real world watered down”) had the others in such a good groove that Dickinson suggested they should spend the weekend recording. Such a magical pairing of musical talents that kept my heart warm the rest of the cold weekend.
I also finally got to see John Gorka on Friday, and oh, was I happy to be there. He is so, so funny, entertaining and had me in tears during one song. A folk troubadour if there ever was one.
Lilly Hiatt made her 30A debut with terrific songs and an engaging performance. Other newcomers who impressed me were Shannon LaBrie, a Kansas-to-Nashville transplant with strong lyrics and nice guitar work and joined by Gabe Dixon on harmony for a few songs; Tamara Stewart, an Aussie now residing in Nashville, with rich, warm vocals and strong writing (I especially liked "Birds in Cages"); Joe Crookston from Ithaca, New York, who was very engaging; Gabriel Kelley, whose rich voice reminds me of Gregg Allman; and Logan Brill, another Nashvillian with well-crafted songs.
The evening brought a strong set by Kim Richey (who has a new album coming out this spring) and new-to-me songwriter Jesse Terry. Playing outdoors in 30-degree temps, Richey quipped to the audience: “I think y’all are all crazy.” The nightcap was James McMurtry, who packed the backyard at Hibiscus and had people up dancing — or maybe just trying to stay warm.
Paul Thorn brought his trailer and “Tales & Ales” to Hibiscus, a Q&A with brewer Tony Magee of Lagunitas who discussed the kinship of craft brewing and songwriting. There were also songs and Magee played his resonator guitar to accompany Thorn. There were free Lagunitas and Spam sandwiches at Thorn’s trailer to finish things off. Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae were next at the elegant Pearl for a smooth set. A photo of Frank Sinatra on the wall inspired Chisel to request Denae sing a soft, slowed down “Fly Me to the Moon.” The Great American Songbook continues to live and be performed by these two talented folks. Next, we trekked to The Hub for John Fullbright with guest Daniel Walker playing accordion and keys (here as part of Ann Wilson’s band) and nightcap of the brilliant Aaron Lee Tasjan. Lots of other musicians and songwriters were in the audience for Fullbright and Tasjan's sizzling sets.
Large Stage Lineups
Large stage lineups were Saturday: Lee Ann Womack, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris with a Red Dirt Boys reunion. Sunday: North Mississippi Allstars, The Zombies, and Ann Wilson. Enthusiastic crowds were on hand, despite the wind and cold. I heard that Steve Earle’s set was particularly good, and Emmylou and the Red Dirt boys were lots of fun. A friend lost her wedding ring applauding The Zombies’ encore, but the jewelry was rescued after a call-out to the crowd.
Overheard about other acts: The War & Treaty: “Holy s***!” and “We only planned to stop by briefly and were too captivated to leave.” Kathy Mattea: “I had forgotten how wonderful she is.” Patty Griffin: “Amazing!” North Mississippi Allstars: “Killing it!” James McMurtry: “How does he put an entire band into a single guitar?”
Closing down the festival on Monday included a fine slate of performers at The Bay venue: the rapturous duo of Amy LaVere and Will Sexton; Hayes Carll; Ken Block & Drew Copeland, Seth Walker, and The Courtyard Saints all had people lined up to get in as I drove by.
Farewell 30A. I hope next year will be warmer.
Now, check out Brenda's photos, along with those of LJ Fowler, who did not quite have full access to the ND site, so all photos under my name are his. As he is just months away from retirement, he promises to become a regular contributor to ND.