SongFest — harboring a new tradition

Just in its second year, Safety Harbor’s SongFest is quickly establishing itself as a major Florida music event.

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A river of ancient energy runs underneath quaint, pictuesque downtown Safety Harbor, where Spanish explorers believed the springs could recharge energy and restore vitality. The community remains as vital as ever culturally, and this weekend, more than 20 diverse music acts will conquer the lands again at the town’s second annual SongFest on Saturday, March 28 and Sunday, March 29.

“Last’s year’s festival was successful and all musicians were hoping to come back,” organizer Todd Ramquist said. “We invited some back and, of course, went after bigger headliners going into the second year, giving more time for the musicians’ time slots.”

Headliners for the 2015 fest include the Grammy-nominated Shawn Mullins, known for his 1999 breakout hit, “Lullaby,” and Emily Kopp, whose bluesy pop will get the crowd dancing. The Steep Canyon Rangers (without collaborator Steve Martin) will break out the banjo and fiddle and other acoustic instruments, and singer-songwriter Meiko returns to grace the stage with her stirring ballads of heartbreak. Local famous rocker's son Robin Taylor Zander will show off his Britpop influences and vocal chops, recalling his Cheap Trick singer dad in his heyday.

Unlike other music festivals that focus on jazz or blues alone, an eclectic blend of artists will offer a broader range of genres — widly ranging styles from country ingenue Caroline Kole’s “girls with guitars” sound to Kawehi, a ukulele strummer-meets-beatboxer.

Sideshows and festival shops offer a sui generis celebration of things music- and art-related. The lineup of non-musical fun includes circus acts, body painting in the Wine/Art Lounge, the Nomad Art Bus, a T-shirt shredding station, custom-made musically themed sarongs, and mosaic guitars that prove music can be art in more ways than one.

Although only in its second year, the festival is quickly getting a good reputation, says Ramquist. “I think most attendees last year were completely blown away by the level of talent at our first-year event,” he says, adding that this year’s ticket sales are coming from as far as Philadelphia and Melbourne.

In between soaking in the music, festivalgoers will be able to choose from a caravan of food trucks. Food offerings this year include Taco Bus, Jimmy Sliders, Maized and Cornfused, and, of course, the requisite craft beer offerings. In addition to local Cigar City Beer, Songfest organizers have brought in Colorado-brewed Oskar Blues Beer.

The organizers have staggered the performances on two stages. Joe Craven, who has played alongside both Yo-Yo Ma and Jerry Garcia (although not at the same time) kicks off the festival Saturday morning on the Waterfront Stage; a half-hour later, Ryan Montbleau will pull the crowd along at the Marina Stage with songs that evoke the beauty of hopelessness.

Mullins ends a full day with a sunset concert Saturday. Sunday morning, the duo-sibling-ed band, the Vespers, will kick off another day of music. Sunday’s lineup includes young voices with more seasoned acts: Shannon Whitworth’s Appalachia-meets-indie-rock performance (think Chrissie Hynde, with an earthier, country twist) ends as Caroline Kole takes the stage. The Steep Canyon Rangers will shut down the festival Sunday night.

Organizer Ramquist says the idea for the festival, a standout in an area rife with blues- and jazz-themed festivals, came from the Panhandle’s 30A music festival.

“This year they drew 5,000 attendees and 125 acts,” Ramquist says. “Unfortunately their tickets are high” — 2015 tickets hovered around $200 — “and our festival is economical with a $40 weekend ticket and a $25 single day ticket.” Proceeds from the Safety Harbor SongFest will go to Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, which is nearing completion. Visit for updates on the facility and its
upcoming events.  


Sat., March 28, Waterfront Stage
Joe Craven 11-11:45 a.m.
Daphne Willis noon-1 p.m.
Seth Walker 1:15-2:15 p.m.
Kawehi 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Willie Sugarcapps 4-5:15 p.m.
Joseph Arthur 5:45-7 p.m.
Shawn Mullins 7:30-9 p.m.

Sat., March 28, Marina Stage
Yoga by Kapok Wellness and Pilates 10:15-11 a.m.
Ryan Montbleau 11:30-12:30 p.m.
Gareth Asher & the Earthlings 12:45-1:45 p.m.
Emily Kopp 2-3 p.m.
Callaghan 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Meiko 5-6 p.m.

Sun., March 29, Waterfront Stage
The Vespers 11 a.m.-noon
Jim Lauderdale 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Randall Bramblett 2-3:15 p.m.
Caroline Kole 3:45-5 p.m.
Steep Canyon Rangers 5:30-7 p.m.

Sun., March 29, Marina Stage
Yoga by Kapok Wellness and Pilates 10:15-11 a.m.
Robin Taylor Zander, 11:30-12:30
Chris Gelbuda 1-2 p.m.
Shannon Whitworth 2:30-3:30 p.m.
David Jacobs-Strain 4-5 p.m.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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