Yesterday, The Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce had a day. The organization looks out for the economy of a small seaside community in Tampa Bay, and they got a big boost from the tiny songwriters festival happening at the municipal marina and waterfront.
Organized by Todd and Kiaralinda Ramquist, and powered by a small legion of volunteers, the Safety Harbor Songfest is an unbelievably laid back affair where attendees can use a lawn chair to save a spot at the festival’s main, waterfront stage freeing them up to catch a set at the second stage or just visit the waterside where manatees drift by like floating ocean boulders. There’s even an entry point that’ll let you get a little salt in your shorts.
Sets start on schedule at Songfest, but everything else has a completely island time feel. No one cares if you stand to dance or watch a set in front of their lawn chair, the beer is cold and the ocean air combined with mellow plucking and easy melodies of the performing artists is therapeutic.
The field surrounding Songfest seems big enough to house two stages on each end, but the footprint of the sponsor tents and art activations probably only covers 50 percent of the available area. The small operation is likely small by design, but Safety Harbor Songfest needs to be on a short list of Florida Music Festivals Everyone Should Definitely Travel To.
If they keep booking acts like Fantastic Negrito, then people likely will. The Oakland bluesman with a wiry frame and fiery demeanor lived up to the promise of a Grammy winning 2016 LP The Last Days of Oakland where he treads every path of the American rock, soul and gospel story. Fantastic Negrito’s Songfest set — which included choice words to deliver powerful a statement on the state of our union — certainly played foil to the joke telling of Mississippi songwriter Charlie Mars and easy Americana of headliner The Wood Brothers, but the crowd of reformed hippies and their children was more than open to listening to unique musings from the son of a Somali Muslim (Negrito — born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz — once sold drugs to get by in Oakland). He lamented new-age oppression on “Working Poor” and set the stage aflame with a cover of Lead Belly “In The Pines,” but left his audience with a message of unity.
Later on, the setting sun would set the sky on fire while The Wood Brothers (featuring Medeski, Martin & Wood bassist Chris Wood) closed things out on day one of Songfest, and as organizers get ready to wrap things up on Sunday you’ve got think that they’ll be partying like this — perhaps with more people on site — for many years to come.