SAFETY HARBOR — More than 30 musical acts from throughout the country are in this small town on Upper Tampa Bay for the first Safety Harbor Singer Songwriter Festival.
Organizers are hoping to establish this as an annual event to raise money and awareness for the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center (SHAMc), a new venue under construction here where an old cottage is being transformed into a work of art itself.
“SHAMc will be an ever-changing, organic work in progress,” says artist and co-owner Kiaralinda, who along with her longtime partner Todd Ramquist and hundreds of volunteers are putting on the festival.
“The festival grew out of the culmination of our house concerts and being connected to all those musicians,” says artist Ramquist.
The couple, known for their colorful Safety Harbor home/studio and outdoor fantasyland, known as “Whimzey House,” modeled the event after the 30A Songwriters Festival held in January in North Florida’s Walton County.
“This was their fifth year at 30A (and) they drew 5,000 people,” says Ramquist. The 30A (on Scenic Highway 30A) featured 150 artists and 25 venues. “Tickets for that festival are $180, and our tickets are just $40,” he says. A three-day pass is $43.77 at www.singersongwriterfestival.com. One-day tickets for $25 are at the gate if still available.
The event gets into full swing on Saturday and Sunday on a big stage near the downtown Safety Harbor marina.
“People are going to see a lot of music all day Saturday and Sunday,” says Ramquist. “One right after another. It’s a chance to discover some really great musicians.”
Among the featured acts are Grammy-winning bluegrass artist Jim Lauderdale; roots rocker Webb Wilder, from Mississippi; Southern soul artist Randall Bramblett; Chicago-based singer/songwriter Andrew Bell; Ryan Montbleau, a troubadour from the Boston area; folk-pop artst Meiko, from Georgia; poet Marc Kelly Smith; banjo player Shannon Whitworth, former singer/writer with the popular North Carolina Biscuit Burners; and Ben Taylor, a storyteller who fuses pop, country, urban, soul and reggae.
A special event Friday at the Safety Harbor Museum features country/folk duo Granville Automatic (songwriters Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins). They specialize in haunting, lyrical ballads inspired by historical events. Meanwhile, a free concert tonight at the town gazebo features Detroit Americana group T.G. Weger and the Hummingbirds.
“This has been a community effort with a lot of people getting involved,” says Safety Harbor resident Heather Richardson, who is one of the organizers. “Todd and Kiaralinda had about 40 people involved in helping pick the groups.”
The center, which may open by the fall, will be a nonprofit venue for the arts, including a concert space and galleries for displaying art.
A 34-foot-high, open-air performance area has been erected next to a 1921 cottage that will be renovated. Dozens of city residents have helped create colorful, reflective mosaic panels that adorn the structure.
Ramquist and Kiaralinda bought the home, known as the Rigsby House (after the family that built it) 15 years ago for a potential studio space but decided to turn it into an art center.
Since the project started in 2011, SHAMc has raised about $200,000. The first $100,000 came from a $50,000 grant Pepsi Refresh Project and from an anonymous donor who matched the grant. Hundreds of Safety Harbor citizens went online and voted for the grant at the Pepsi Refresh website. Ramquist says another $100,000 came from small donations, mostly of $5 and $10.
The Singer Songwriter Festival could become a major source of future funding, he says.
For information visit www.safetyharborsinger songwriterfestival.com