Music fans looking to escape Georgia’s cold snap can look south to the Florida Panhandle, where the 30A Songwriters Festival promises to heat up the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend with a diverse slate of performers that includes several popular lesbian musicians.
The three-day weekend of “hooks, lines and singers” is set for Jan. 13-15. It features more than 125 artists in more than 250 performances at 20 venues along a 15-mile stretch of Highway 30A in Rosemary Beach, Seaside, Alys Beach, Santa Rosa Beach and Grayton Beach.
“What sets the 30A Songwriters Festival apart from others in the country is, one: we create listening rooms in truly unique beach resort venues and two: we book musically diverse artists,” says Russell Carter, event chair and president of Russell Carter Artist Management, whose clients include Indigo Girls.
The list of performers reads like a who’s who of nationally recognized and up-and-coming songwriters, with plenty of Atlanta ties.
“South Walton is Atlanta’s beach,” Carter says. “We welcome many attendees and artists from Atlanta. We’re proud to have had Atlanta’s Shawn Mullins as a festival headliner since the first year. We also had the Indigo Girls full band year one, Emily Sailers performed year two and we’re are pleased to bring back Amy Ray this year. We’re also delighted to have Michelle Malone joining us again this year.”
Openly lesbian performers this year include Ray, Malone, Chely Wright, lesbian-inclusive “alterna-grass” band Roxie Watson, veteran Atlanta Pride performers Antigone Rising, Mary Gauthier and more.
Gay musicians and music fans alike can feel welcome at the festival.
“We have talented musicians and songwriters of all backgrounds and everyone comes together under a common love of music,” Carter says. “I think the testimonials from the participating artists say it all.”
Wright, who in 2010 made headlines as the first mainstream country singer to come out, is returning to the 30A Songwriters Festival this year.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend a long weekend — great songs, great songwriters, beautiful beaches, good food and the best hospitality I’ve ever experienced at any music festival. Bar none,” Wright says.
‘Warmed by the music and stories’
The 30A Songwriters Festival benefits the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. Tickets are $125 for general admission to all shows if purchased before the week of the festival, or $150 during the festival if it is not sold out.
Venues seat anywhere from just over 50 to about 2,000 and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, so attendees are encouraged to arrive early for must-see shows.
At press time, the exact schedule for performers had not been released, but the festival’s website reminds attendees not to be too concerned about who is playing where when.
“One thing we can tell you now is that no matter where you end up, you are guaranteed to hear some amazing music by songwriters of all levels of notoriety and experience,” the site states.
“The 30A Songwriters Festival is as much about discovering new music as it is about hearing a long-time favorite artist, and we promise that you will always end the festival weekend with a new favorite,” it says.
The schedule will be posted online the week of the festival, and organizers also encourage attendees to download a free mobile app created by 30A.com and TownWizard. The 30ASWF app will include schedules and musician profiles, as well as weather forecasts and maps to festival venues.
“The 30ASWF app will help festival attendees instantly find all of their favorite performers and venues,” notes Jennifer Steele, executive director of the Cultural Arts Alliance and event organizer for 30A Songwriters Festival. “It will be the essential 30A Songwriters Festival companion.”
A long weekend at the beach may sound ideal to Atlantans chilled by the season’s coldest weather yet, and festival leaders promise attendees will “be warmed” regardless of the actual temperatures in South Walton.
“Weather is always a unknown in January,” Steele says. “Right now, the month-long forecast shows clear skies and highs in the low 60s. With so many featured venues, attendees can always find a cozy spot to get comfortable and be warmed by the music and stories.”
Top photo: Chely Wright, who in 2010 became the first mainstream country singer to come out, will perform again this year at the 30A Songwriters Festival. (by Shelly Swanger Photography / 30A Songwriters Festival)