Music fans are trading in the hot days and cramped spaces of traditional festivals for something a little more intimate and a lot more unique.
Songwriter festivals are popping up all over the United States and quickly gaining popularity. They give fans the chance to connect with the people behind their favorite songs, and often in more than just the traditional concert setting.
These multi-day festivals offer acoustic concerts, question and answer sessions, and mixers featuring both well-known songwriters and relatively new up-and-comers. With many of the performers staying on the same grounds as festival attendees, it can feel like one big vacation.
Held on the white sandy beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast every October, Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival is perfect for any music fan wanting to extend their summer. There are over a dozen different stages scattered across the beach town where fans can see an array of writers and hear familiar classics, like “Chattahoochee” from Jim McBride and “Just Got Started Loving You” from Jim Femino. Most of the daily shows are free, but special events like ocean cruises and songwriting workshops do charge a fee.
Wild West Songwriters Festival is held in historic Deadwood, South Dakota, and offers a truly intimate event. Hosting some of the biggest names in all types of music, from Michelle Branch and Damien Horne to Brad Tursi and Matt Ramsey of Old Dominion, fans have the chance to engage with artists that are usually playing sold out stadium shows. In addition to shows, the weekend offers a variety of panels geared toward aspiring musicians that offer career guidance and even the chance to have a demo reviewed by industry experts.
Dripping Springs Songwriters Festival is the newest on the festival circuit, with this only being its second year. It was started by a group of music fans and songwriters who played other festivals around the country and realized they could bring the same experience to their own town.
The festival features more than 20 shows per day in the historic downtown area of Dripping Springs. Daytime performances by upcoming local and national acts are all free. Each night ends with a headliner showcase.
The Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival is another great reason to visit the white sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast this fall. The longest running festival on the list is going into its 31st year featuring over 200 songwriters playing in venues from Orange Beach, Alabama, to Perdido Key and Pensacola, Florida.
Performers range from the unknown up-and-comers playing free shows to heavy hitters like Dean Dillon and Jamey Johnson. Whether you’re looking for a quiet listening room, a gritty bar or a ticketed performance hall, Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival has something for everyone.
The beaches of South Walton are a haven for creativity year round, but there’s nothing quite like the influx of musicians that come over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. 30A Songwriters Festival is known for bringing some of the biggest names in Americana music to intimate venues scattered across 20 miles of gorgeous beach towns. Past performers include Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell, Rodney Crowell, and Loudon Wainwright III. With over 200 shows throughout the weekend, tickets often sell out in advance.
Music fans used to the crowds of CMA Music Festival will love the intimate Tin Pan South. The songwriters festival takes place in clubs all over Nashville and boasts a lineup of the most well-known country songwriters, some of whom are the artists themselves like James Otto and Lee Roy Parnell. With the purchase of a festival pass, fans can get priority access to every show, but most are accessible for a small cover at the door if seats are available.
Arguably the largest festival on the list, Key West Songwriters Festival is a must for die-hard country music fans. The 7.4-square-mile island becomes home for most of Nashville’s hit songwriters in early May each year. Attendees have the chance to see and hear the people behind some of country’s greatest hits, like “Cowboys Like Us” from Bob Dipiero and “I Love the Way You Love Me” from Chuck Cannon. Events range from block parties on the world famous Duval Street to poolside concerts and late-night bands at beach side bars.