Safety Harbor Song Fest 2015 – Part 1
Performers: Shawn Mullins, Joseph Arthur, Willie Sugarcapps, Daphne Willis, Callaghan, Seth Walker, Joe Craven
Several times throughout the festival weekend, emcee Joe Craven stated that the festival was a celebration and promotion of creative living. The Second Annual Safety Harbor Song Fest held March 27-29, 2015 was a benefit for the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center (SHAMc) which is currently under construction in downtown Safety Harbor. SHAMc is, a non-profit organization dedicated to education in the fine arts, visual art, and performing arts, was founded by Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda whose presence and spirit illuminated the entire festival.
The Kickoff Party set the stage for the overarching spirit which would dominate the whole festival. Hosted at the Syd Entel Gallery on Main Street in Safety Harbor (a beautiful, artful community located near Tampa, Florida), the art and music of New York based painter, poet, and musician Joseph Arthur was featured.
During a four-song set which included a performance of the Talking Heads’ song, “This Must Be the Place” which he had just recently performed during a David Byrne tribute at Carnegie Hall, Joseph Arthur created a new mixed-media painting. Seeing Arthur at work, singing and painting, was a tremendous experience and one that set the tone for the music and creativity on display for the next two days of the festival.
The morning hours of Saturday brought a healthy dose of warm Florida sunshine, visual artists working in media that ranged from canvas, human bodies, and even PT Cruisers, and it also brought out some of the best singer-songwriters and musicians in the world.
The festival proper kicked off with a performance by jazz, folk, and world music artist Joe Craven who was also the emcee and self-described “human kiosk of information” on the mainstage. Craven’s eclectic and entertaining set served as an inspiring opening to the day. The festival consisted of two stages set just a 100 or so yards apart, and with staggered start times, it was very easy to catch some of just about every performer.
The first act on the second (Marina) stage was Boston-based singer-songwriter Ryan Montbleau whose songs and gentle good humor were well received by the crowd. Other Day 1 highlights included a powerful performance by Nashville-based Daphne Willis whose quirky and upbeat spirit enlivened the entire weekend, Atlanta-based good time band, Gareth Asher and the Earthlings, and Austin-based Blues and Roots musician Seth Walker.
Day one at the Marina Stage wrapped up with a pair of Nashville artists and a Georgia singer-songwriter. Songwriter Chris Gelbuda lives and works in Nashville, and he delivered a great sounding set of original songs with a couple of well-chosen covers. Callaghan, who is just days from releasing her new album, A History of Now, lit up the Marina stage with a poppy set of Americana music, and Georgia-based singer-songwriter Meiko ended the second stage day 1 with an entertaining set which included a song from the point of view of a hot dog.
Alabama supergroup, Willie Sugarcapps got the Main Stage audience on their feet with a rousing set. The band’s music deftly combines the influences and sounds of traditional southern folk music with hearty dose of modern attitude and energy.
Joseph Arthur returned to perform a full set of his unique and original alternative Rock music and to complete what he later revealed to be his largest painting ever. His show was accompanied by the presence of some local women wearing colorful costumes who paraded through the crowd. The harder edged music, performance oriented visual art, and colorful characters were a welcome departure from what one would normally expect at a singer-songwriter festival.
As the sun set and the high winds which had blown all day began whip up cool temperatures off the inlet, legendary Atlanta-based songwriter Shawn Mullins heated things up with the final performance of Day 1. Shawn Mullins’ long career has produced several readily familiar songs several of which he performed. He also took the opportunity to perform several new songs which stood up well next to his classics and which bode well for his forthcoming releases. “California” and the title track from his 2010 album Light You Up as well as older hits like “Lullaby” and “Shimmer” were among the favorites of the enthusiastic crowd.
And all of this was just the first day of Safety Harbor Song Fest 2015.