By Savannah Evanoff | The Northwest Florida Daily News

Russell Carter asked Jackson Browne to perform at 30A Songwriters Festival three times before he agreed.

Carter, co-producer, said Browne brought tears to the eyes of crowd members at last year’s event.

Large crowds gather for the 30A Songwriters Festival in South Walton. PHOTO BY SHELLY SWANGER PHOTOGRAPHY
Large crowds gather for the 30A Songwriters Festival in South Walton. PHOTO BY SHELLY SWANGER PHOTOGRAPHY

“There were 5,000 people and, in various songs, everybody was wiping their eyes. He’s a tremendous performer,” Carter said. “That’s the essence of this 30A Songwriters festival right there, Jackson Browne just plugging in and playing one extraordinary original song after another.”

More than 175 artists will perform at 25 venues on 30A for the 30A Songwriters Festival on Jan. 13-16. John Prine, Cheap Trick, Dr. John & the Nite Trippers and Shawn Colvin will headline the eighth annual festival.

People can purchase tickets for $250 at Central Square Records, 89 Central Square, Seaside or the Cultural Arts Alliance Office, 105 Hogtown Bayou Lane, Santa Rosa Beach. They can also be purchased online at https://www.freshtix.com/events/2017-30a-songwriters-festival.

All ticket proceeds will benefit the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. For more information on the festival, including the schedule, visit 30asongwritersfestival.com.

‘Up close and personal’

The 30A Songwriters Festival is never exactly the same.

This year, the festival has added several new venues such as The Hub on 30A, The Bay, Borago and Gulf Place, which will have a heated tent, Carter said. It also typically features new headliners, he said.

Cheap Trick, a rock band, will headline on Saturday at the 30A Songwriters Festival. SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS
Cheap Trick, a rock band, will headline on Saturday at the 30A Songwriters Festival. SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS

“Cheap Trick is gonna be the loudest, most rockin’ thing we’ve done in eight years, so that’s gonna be somewhat different and a lot of fun,” Carter said.

The festival features musicians of all genres and professional levels, but one thing unites them. Every performer at the festival writes his or her own music.

The festival will mix and match artists to take turns performing on a stage, Carter said. This is called a round, he said.

“They chat with each other and tell stories,” Carter said. “They literally say how they wrote a song or they may say who they wrote a song for. In some instances, the writer is a professional writer and they write hits for famous country singers.”

The songwriting premise creates an intimate atmosphere for the artists, Carter said. People get to see the artists “up close and personal,” he said.

“You get to hear a lot more stories from artists,” Carter said. “They open up and talk more than they might if their playing out on the road on tour.”

Many of the artists have so much fun at the festival, they request to perform at it again, Carter said. The resorts appeal to them, he said.

“There’s only one 30A, there’s only one resort quarter that runs along the Gulf of Mexico and has 15 high-end resort communities,” Carter said. “It’s a completely unique environment. It’s extremely convenient … You walk out of a venue and you have two choices, turn left or turn right.”

Jennifer Steele, executive director of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, said the artists enjoy meeting each other, too.

“We’re more creating a community for the artists to be creative and not just come in, play their set and fly out,” Steele said. “Their happiness and their comfort level changes the entire feel of the festival, so the audience is even more tuned into that intimacy and relaxed.”

Keep trying

Festival headliners will perform Saturday at Grand Boulevard in Sandestin.

Stacey Brady, director of marketing and communications for Grand Boulevard, said thousands of people flock to the mainstage performances. The venue takes place on the North park, she said.

“Fortunately, it’s a huge lawn,” Brady said. “We expect up to 10,000 people for the Saturday performances alone.”

The festival is incredibly popular, Brady said. She and her husband have gone almost every year since the inaugural festival, she said.

“We knew then that it was something very special and very unique,” Brady said. “We were really impressed with the quality of the songwriters and musicians that performed … We love it.”

Shawn Colvin, an Americana singer songwriter, will headline at the 2017 30A Songwriters Festival. PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA VALENTI
Shawn Colvin, an Americana singer songwriter, will headline at the 2017 30A Songwriters Festival. PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA VALENTI

Brady has fond memories of seeing the Indigo Girls, a personal favorite, on Alys Beach.

“It ended up just being the coolest concert,” Brady said. “It was outdoors, beachside at Alys Beach, and I love the Indigo girls.”

This year, Brady looks forward to seeing Shawn Colvin, she said.

“I’ve been listening to her music since the ‘80s,” Brady said. “She’s such a fantastic songwriter, and I love her vocals. I’m really excited to see her up close.”

Many people have told Brady they are excited to see Dr. John, she said. Everyone seems to have an artist they most look forward to, even the producers.

When asked his goal for the future of the 30A Songwriters Festival, Carter has one thing in mind: Book James Taylor.

“I asked Jackson Browne three years in a row, and finally it worked out,” Carter said. “I asked James Taylor this year, and he couldn’t do it. I’ll keep trying.”