By Gretchen Peters
It’s hard to believe the 30A Songwriters Festival is celebrating its 10th year. I’ve played at nearly every one, save for a couple years when I was on tour, either in Canada (note to booking agents: Florida—winter; Canada—summer!) or in the UK, my de facto second home. I have a lot of great memories of the festival, going all the way back to its early days when there were just a handful of venues and “only” 50 or so songwriters. Having been a part-time Seaside/Seagrove resident for more than 20 years, the 30A Songwriters Festival for me is, both literally and figuratively, a homecoming.
There was a memorable night at the 2014 festival, where my husband Barry Walsh and I were in the round with dobro genius Jerry Douglas at Rosemary Beach Town Hall. We invited (okay, begged) him to play on all our songs, which ultimately led to his guest appearances on my Blackbirds and Dancing With the Beast albums.
Another show that stands out in my mind was an in the round set in 2018 with dear friends Kim Richey, Mary Gauthier and Will Kimbrough at The Bay, on an absolutely frigid Friday night. We all wore three layers of clothing, and even so, the cold brought tears to our eyes. But the crowd brought the love, and we would have happily played to the point of frostbite. Such is the enthusiasm of the audiences at this festival.
In 2016 I played the main stage with my musical Wine, Women & Song sisters Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss (we’ll be having a reunion of sorts at this year’s festival on Sunday—check your 30A Fest schedule!), and we had a blast during our set…and the extra treat of hearing Grace Potter sing one of Matraca’s songs during her set immediately following ours. These are the kinds of connections that happen during this festival, when we get to have a reunion of sorts with a lot of our friends and compatriots who are, just like us, busy touring most of the year.
As often as not, the best part of the festival is getting to hear other artists work their magic. I remember playing a show in the round with Tommy Womack and David Olney in 2011 at Caliza in Alys Beach, following Rodney Crowell’s solo set which left us and the audience utterly entranced. Later that year, Rodney was kind enough to guest duet with me on my Hello Cruel World album (are you sensing a theme here?).
One of my favorite 30A Songwriters Festival traditions, and one I’ve played more times than I can count, is the Hair of the Dog Hoot, hosted by Jeff Black at Bud & Alley’s on Saturday morning. The tent is always packed, and the vibe is always perfectly chill. I’ve played this in-the-round show with everyone from David Olney to Deana Carter to Mary Gauthier, but the one constant is Jeff himself. He’s been one of my favorite songwriters since I met him in Nashville in the late 1980s, and every year I look forward to hearing his brilliant, filmic songs and his bigger than life voice.
Jeff is taking this year off to recover from back surgery, but he’s asked a few of us to carry on the tradition in his absence, which we’ll gladly do. Be sure to get there early for a great lineup of singer-songwriters.
And Jeff, we’ll see you in 2020.