Last weekend I drove up to the Panhandle to attend the Fifth Annual 30A Song Writers Festival.
Excerpt from Florida’s Best Bed & Breakfasts and Historic Hotels: “30A” refers to Walton County Road 30A, often referred to as “Scenic 30A”. It dips down off of Highway 98, halfway between Destin and Panama City Beach, to wind along the coast for nineteen miles. Before the 1980s it was simply an off-the-beaten-path route to Grayton Beach State Park, and to the small beachfront communities of Seagrove and Grayton Beach, nestled among the sand dunes and scrub oaks. It has always been scenic. 30A’s beaches consistently rank among the top five most beautiful in the United States. Their blinding white sand consists of powdered quartz washed down over the eons from the Appalachian Mountains. It squeaks when you walk on it.
The 3-day Festival featured 150 singer-songwriters performing in multiple venues up and down the coast. It was sensational! The genre was primarily folk music, with some blues, and some country, but all the performers were acoustic string (mostly guitar) players. I stayed in a charming one-bedroom apartment above a garage called The Carriage House, in Seaside, and purchased a single ticket that gave me access to any of the performances I wanted to see. Of course with that many, you have to pick and choose. I saw fifteen performers—each one terrific, but I’ll list four that I thought were outstanding (and I am dumbstruck that musicians this good aren’t household names): Pierce Pettis—His opening song Little River Canyon (click here to see his performance at Full Sail University), about growing up in Fort Payne, Alabama, left a lump in my throat, and I was hooked from there on. His voice reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot, with a little Tom Waits, and even a bit of Bruce Springsteen, but Pettis’ amazing guitar playing (he must have classical-guitar training) and song-writing skills leave those three in the dust. Mary Gauthier—Her soulful songs were both poignant and humorous. Same for David Olney and Gabriel Kelley.
You’ll notice I’m not posting any photographs of the performers or performances. That was by request of the festival organizers, and I respect their intellectual property. So instead here are a couple shots of Seaside: