The Seventh Annual 30A Songwriters Festival takes place Jan. 15‑17 at Seaside, Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, Vue on 30a and a bunch of other places, but those three are our favorites.
This year’s lineup includes returning greats (Jim Lauderdale, Chas Sandford, Daphne Willis), newcomers (Jackson Browne, Grace Potter, Shovels & Rope) and some of Beachcomberland’s best (The Wide Open, Donnie Sundal/Boukou Groove, Schatzi + the String Boffin). You can find the complete schedule—along with bios of the 145 or so performers we didn’t cover here—at 30asongwritersfestival.com.
Gretchen Peters Returns with Two Big Name Festival First‑Timers
Festival veteran Peters and her longtime partner in music and life Barry Walsh recently bought a place in Seagrove Beach, and if that hasn’t kept her busy enough, she’s putting the final touches on a new compilation, Essential Gretchen Peters, out Jan. 29. The album includes liner notes by the great rock writer Dave Marsh, so you’ll need to pick up a physical copy instead of downloading/streaming.
Peters has been making great records for years, and highlights from her early work were collected on 2010’s Circus Girl. So why the new anthology? “There weren’t any songs on Circus Girl from the Tom Russell collaboration (One to the Heart, One to the Head) or Hello Cruel World and Blackbirds,” she says.
“I’m not one to look backwards. Doing these kind of retrospectives is challenging, but what made this exciting was the second disc, which is comprised of tracks that never found their way on albums—demos, bonus tracks. It created a home for people to hear them.”
This year, Peters performs with 30A Fest newcomers Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg. “We call it Wine, Women and Song. It’s a lot of all three of us at any given show. It’s not a songwriters in the round show. We got together about 15 years ago and started singing old songs that we knew and found that we had a really special three‑part harmony blend.
“The litmus test for a song to make it into the setlist is there has to be some way we can harmonize. We do our own songs, but we’re more about singing together than sitting down and saying, And then I wrote this…”
Aside from their own songs, Peters, Bogguss and Berg perform Tom Waits’ “Hold On” and the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” (a version is included on Essential), plus some Lowell George and “whatever lets us sing harmony together.”
“There’s some amazing folks on the festival lineup this year, but I haven’t really gotten to look at it,” says Peters, who also was unable to provide us with Jackson Browne’s private number. She and Walsh arrived earlier this month and hit some of their favorite 30A spots.
“We always stop at Great Southern the first night we get here,” she says. “I’m in mourning for the Seagrove Village Market – I hope they reopen somewhere else, hopefully close to us. And I really love going to Eden State Gardens. And the bike path. We just bought two bicycles, so if we’re not performing, you’ll see us there.”
‑ Chris Manson
Clyde Jackson Browne’s Greatest Hits According to Spotify
“Running on Empty.” At press time, the title track from Browne’s seminal “road” album has streamed 7,437,311 times. Meaning Browne got a check from Spotify for about $300.
“Stay.” The closing track from Running on Empty—popularized in 1961 by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs—makes more sense prefaced by “The Load Out,” but it’s still pretty fantastic.
“Doctor My Eyes.” Browne’s first top‑10 single still packs a punch.
“The Long Way Around.” As a longtime fan, I have to admit I’m not familiar with this song.
“Somebody’s Baby.” The essential horny teenager song, especially if you were in high school when Fast Times at Ridgemont High (for which the tune was written) was released in movie theaters.
Comments: Notable omissions include “Lives in the Balance,” “I Am a Patriot” (written by Little Steven) and “The Rebel Jesus” (which should be in heavy rotation every Christmas). And am I the only “Lawyers in Love” fan using Spotify?
‑ Chris Manson
Everyone knows that big names like Jackson Browne and Grace Potter will put on fantastic shows. But to me, another magical part of the 30A Songwriters Festival is exposing our local talents to brand new audiences. Very honestly, I’d rather go watch the reactions of out‑of‑towners when they discover 30A originals like The Owsley Brothers and Wildlife Specials. That’s the kind of energy I crave.
‑ Mike Ragsdale, 30a.com
Brothers by Choice – The Mulligan Brothers
The Mulligan Brothers are Ross Newell (lead vocals, guitar), Gram Rea (fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica, vocals). Ben Leiniger (bass and vocals), and Greg DeLuca (drums and vocals), and they perform folksy Americana music.
“The biggest question we get asked all the time is, Which one of you has the last name Mulligan and which ones of you are brothers?” says Rea of the inspiration behind the band’s moniker. “When we had to name the band, we liked the golf term mulligan, meaning a do‑over or a second chance.
“We all have been in other groups, in other bands. We all learned what we wanted to do and what we didn’t want to do. When the four of us got together, it was just magical from the first note that we played.”
Rea calls his bandmates “brothers by choice,” and this musical family has already logged quite a few miles under their tires. Those milestones will include a month long European tour that kicks off directly after the 30A Songwriters Festival.
Rea is excited to be on this year’s roster, “We have known so many artists that have been a part of that festival, and it is an honor to have the opportunity to play it.”
Rea says Newell is the primary songwriter in the band, “an incredible storyteller and lyricist. He’s an amazing songwriter, which is one of things that attracted me to wanting to play with him. He likes to write from the heart—real songs about real things.”
After Newell constructs the bones of a song, it becomes a collaborative process within the band. “He’ll bring something to us and we will hash it out,” says Rea. “Then we play it together a bunch of times, and it all falls together.”
Rea thinks of songs as living organisms that evolve each time they are played. “Songs always change. I think even after you cut an album and release it, you tour for a year behind it and go back and listen to your record again, and you realize how we’re playing that faster or slower or a little bit different. It just settles more over time.”
One thing that makes the Mulligan Brothers instantly recognizable when they hit the stage is a standup bass made out of an old suitcase. “That suitcase bass is such a topic of conversation. It has become kind of the band mascot if you will,” says Rea. “We’ll be playing and people will walk right up to Ben and start snapping pictures.”
Rea offers words of encouragement for aspiring songwriters. “The more you write, the better you get. It’s fun to do and nice to get your feelings out there no matter if it’s a good song or a bad song. If you just keep it honest and write from your heart, no one can tell you that it is bad. I would encourage anyone to do it and do it as often as they can, and they will get better.”
The Mulligan Brothers recently released an original Christmas song with all proceeds going to St. Mary’s Home for Children in Mobile, Alabama, and they’re working on their third album.
Discover more at themulliganbrothers.com.
‑ Nikki Hedrick
Emerging Artist Parker Millsap
Parker Millsap has been building an impressive reputation, including catching the ear of NPR, being named one of the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Artists of the Year in 2014, and opening for the likes of trendsetter Jason Isbell.
He’s only in his early twenties, but Millsap is already drawing comparisons to songwriting greats like John Prine and Tom Waits. He’s also said to possess the performing charm of Elvis Presley.
Although several labels have been applied to Millsap’s songs, he tells The Beachcomber “singer‑songwriter is the only thing that fits the bill.”
“I was in a cover band when I was in high school, and then we started to write,” he says. “We started playing those in our sets, and it kind of went from there.” He’s been playing guitar for half his life now, and says that’s what he did to “stay out of trouble during high school.”
He credits his father’s record collection and Internet research for expanding his musical palate. “When I started playing guitar, I got really into playing blues music. I started researching a lot of blues music and went backwards through my dad’s collection. I worked my way back through all these guitars players, got into early blues, and listened to a lot of songwriters.”
Millsap is often praised for his authentic and hearty lyrics, which he says is a natural progression from his songwriting influences. “It’s just how I thought you wrote songs,” he says. So far, he’s written two albums of original material, and a third—The Very Last Day—is set to be released on March 25.
Find out more at parkermillsap.com.