Sunshine City Songwriters Festival launches in St. Petersburg with Kinky Friedman, Patty Griffin and others

The inaugural fest hits multiple downtown area venues Feb. 9-14.


Jeff Schorr has hosted singer-songwriters and acoustic artists of all varieties in his Craftsman House Gallery since opening the art space and café nearly 11 years ago in the heart of St. Pete’s Grand Central District. A mere 50 people can squeeze into the quaint Arts and Crafts-style bungalow once Schorr & co. remove the contents from its two main showrooms to make way for the staging area and seats to accommodate guests.

The size of these concerts is part of the appeal, however, each an intimate experience where the atmosphere of collective musical appreciation and camaraderie is further spurred by the warm and cozy living-room vibe. For songwriters, it’s a chance to play for active listeners and make meaningful connections with fans; for concertgoers, it’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with favored artists and enjoy every note, lyric and story they deliver, minus distractions.

The Sunshine City Songwriters Festival seemed like a natural progression. “We just wanted to try something different to spread that vibe throughout the whole community and involve the other venues in town, some of them still small, but larger compared to Craftsman House,” Schorr explained. Artists whose emphasis is on lyrics, wordsmithery and narratives fit better in smaller venues, anyway. “The songwriting and the words and the storytelling lends itself to that environment. Also the stories between the songs are usually really interesting, and lots of times entertaining and comical.”

The idea to feature top-quality national songwriters at multiple St. Pete venues took root last year. Securing the talent proved the biggest obstacle. After trying to book folk-Americana songstress Patty Griffin for the Saturday-night headlining slot, “she popped up playing that same exact night at the Mahaffey.” Rather than throw in the towel, he reached out to the St. Pete theater to see about teaming up. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were very receptive and really wanted to be a part of it.”

Once he had Griffin on board, it was a matter of filling in the gaps. “The difficult part, not just for this festival but for Florida, is that if somebody wants to play down here, they need to book a number of other gigs in Florida to make it worth their while.” Kinky Friedman — whom Schorr had been trying to book for many years — was a tough nut to crack. After discovering the cult hero was releasing his first new album in nearly 40 years, Schorr revived his booking efforts and six weeks of negotiations later, it was on. “Between his music, his crime novels, his tequila line, his cigar line, running for governor of Texas — he’s like a modern-day Will Rogers. He’s the kind of guy you have to step back and think, ‘Is he serious or is he kidding around?’”

Though the emphasis is on singer-songwriters, Schorr says “I tried to get artists who would appeal to different crowds.” And he’s managed quite aptly; Friedman’s wild card outlaw/alt-country style is a good foil to the classy, finely wrought folk-Americana of Grammy-winning songstress Griffin, while British-born, Massachusetts-based up-and-comer Zoe Lewis (a “band in a body”) promises the fest’s most eclectic sounds with an arsenal that includes guitar, piano, harmonica, ukulele, tin whistle and accordion, and a style fusing gypsy, jive, jump and Latin jazz into a self-styled world beat-vaudeville extravaganza.

Other fest components include a contest featuring the adult singer-songwriters of Camp Unplugged, with the winners revealed and fireside performances delivered during a “Songs Around the Campfire” concert; and two workshops — a three-day retreat for writers of all types by Nerissa Nields (who performs a fest-ending Valentine’s Day concert), and a three-hour songwriters’ workshop by Cliff Eberhardt, who plays Craftsman House every year and marks his 11th annual show in St. Pete with an expanded stage and potentially bigger audience at the Palladium.

Schorr hopes the fest will prove enlightening to locals on multiple fronts. “It’s amazing how many people have never seen a concert here [at Craftsman House] or at the Hideaway. That’s the other thing, too — it’s not only exposing people to new musicians but exposing them to the great venues we have in St. Petersburg.” 

*****

Sunshine City Songwriters Festival Schedule
All events take place around downtown St. Petersburg. For tickets or additional details, visit sunshinecitysongfest.com. Hear all of the artists below at cltampa.com/music. —LP

Festival Kick-Off Party at WMNF’s Florida Folk Night Tue., Feb. 9, 7 p.m., Old Key West Bar & Grill, St. Petersburg, free admission.

Songs Around the Campfire Wed., Feb. 10, 7-9 p.m., Ale and The Witch, free admission.

Zoe Lewis Thurs., Feb. 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Hideaway Cafe & Recording Studio, $15-$17.

Cliff Eberhardt with Louise Mosrie Thurs., Feb. 11, 8:30-10:30 p.m., Palladium Theater, $28-$33.

3-Day Writers Workshop with Nerissa Nields Fri.-Sun., Feb. 12-14, at the home of Enee and Steve Abelman, $220; more info at 727-323-2787 or [email protected]

3-Hour Songwriters Workshop with Cliff Eberhardt Fri., Feb. 12, 2-5 p.m., Ale and the Witch, $60; call 727-323-2787 for details and registration.

Patty Griffin with Sara Watkins and Anais Mitchell “In the Round” Fri., Feb. 12, 8-11 p.m., The Mahaffey Theater, $39.50-$65.50.

Kinky Friedman Sat., Feb. 13, 6 and 8:30 p.m., Craftsman House Gallery, $30.

Nerissa Nields Sun., Feb. 14, 3-5 p.m., Museum of Fine Arts, $15.

Check out a playlist featuring all the artists performing at Sunshine City Songwriters Festival below.

https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify%3Auser%3Aleilanipolk%3Aplaylist%3A6YMAAIXf8mPeiycSkJrFFC

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