The Palm Coast Songwriters Festival, which runs through Sunday at various area venues, will feature performances by 31 songwriters who have penned hits for such country stars as Garth Brooks, George Jones, Faith Hill, Toby Keith and many others.
The festival is now in its fourth year, counting last year’s last-minute switch from live in-person to virtual YouTube event, courtesy of the Covid lockdown. But for Garry Lubi, the president and founder of the event “with the help of several friends,” its origins go much further back: “I had a sixth-grade teacher, and I think maybe that’s where the grassroots of all this began and I didn’t realize it at the time. She really instilled in me to listen to the words of a song, to listen to the story. It just resonated with me for whatever reason.”
When Lubi and his wife, Barbara, lived in Nashville from 1998 to 2002, they attended Tin Pan South, a prestigious songwriters festival in the heart of what’s known as Music City. They also became friends with Thom Shepherd, a songwriter who would soon go on to pen the country hits “Riding with Private Malone” and “Redneck Yacht Club.”
Lubi, a senior vice president of commercial banking with CenterState Bank, began championing a Palm Coast songwriters fest a half-dozen years ago. He invited Shepherd and his wife Coley McCabe Shepherd, also a singer and songwriter, to perform at a small, private area social event, and he invited David Ayres, vice president and general manager of Flagler Broadcasting; John Walsh, publisher of the Palm Coast Observer; and Donald O’Brien, a small business owner and current Flagler County commissioner.“They were like, ‘OK Garry, now we get what you’re talking about,’ ” Lubi said. “Those guys looked to Tom and Coley and said, ‘Think we can pull a songwriters festival off here?’ And Tom goes ‘Yeah.’ We pulled it together in about 90 days in early 2018. It was a little rough around the edges (laughs) but we got it done.”
That first festival in 2018 featured nine songwriters, including Thom and Coley Shepherd. With Shepherd spreading word about the festival among his Nashville colleagues, 14 songwriters played at the 2019 event, which included three days of performances at the Daytona State College Amphitheater.
Daily attendance “was probably around 275 on average,” Lubi said. “Friday night was probably close to 350, but weather hurt us on Saturday and especially Sunday. I really think our momentum last year was building for 700-plus until Covid hit.”
The spring 2020 festival was scheduled to feature 27 performing songwriters “because the sponsorship support had really grown,” Lubi said. After the lockdown, “we created a virtual festival on a YouTube channel with 19 writers.”
While ticket sales and funding from the Tourist Development Council of Flagler County contributed to the festival’s financial support this year, “the major funding really comes from our sponsors,” said Lubi, who notes he volunteers his services to the event. “Without the sponsors we still could have held it, but fortunately we were able to garner some great sponsorships this year.”
The presenting sponsors, noted prominently on the event website palmcoastsongwritersfestival.com, include Flagler Health+, Beutlich Pharmaceuticals and Spectrum. Among the other listed sponsors is Republican State Rep. Paul Renner, who represents District 24, which includes Flagler County and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties.
The website notes face masks are required at all performances, which include outdoor concerts at the Daytona State College Amphitheater and the European Village courtyard, plus the Bloody Mary Brunch Bash on the patio at the Oceanside Bar and Grill, 1848 S. Ocean Shore Blvd., Flagler Beach.
Admission to the brunch and European Village shows are free. For the three concerts at the DSC Amphitheater, only general-admission lawn tickets are still available. Reserved-seat three-day passes, which cost $60, are sold out. Lubi admits that limiting the reserved seating at DSC, in order to maintain social distancing, contributed to those seats selling out.
“We’re an outdoor event but we wanted to be safe,” Lubi said. “We removed about 175 seats under the covered area (at the amphitheater) — probably 40 percent of the seats. For the general-admission lawn seating, normally you’d be able to put 250 to 350 people on that lawn, and we are only going to allow 100.”
This year total daily capacity at the amphitheater “is around 450 people, versus 800 or 900 normally,” Lubi said.
Some of those seats will be filled by long-distance travelers, said Lubi, who noted the Tourist Development Council “has been very supportive and good to us.”
“We’re on the national radar,” Lubi said. “We have people coming here this week from Minnesota, New Hampshire, Washington state. The guy from Minnesota is coming with his whole family.
“How we track it is always one of the challenges, but I would not be surprised if we are looking at 300 to 400 ‘room nights’ (nights that visitors spend in local hotels or other commercial lodging). I know people coming in from New Smyrna and they’ve already told me they are getting hotel rooms for three or four nights. We have a bunch of people coming in from Merritt Island and Vero Beach.”
The festival’s appeal for the songwriters is threefold, Lubi said.
“People don’t realize how much songwriters’ income has been sucked out by music streaming,” he said. “If you get a top-five hit on radio that’s getting played a bunch, you’re still going to make good money off that. But the residuals that come from people downloading and streaming music – one writer once joked with me that he got this letter that said ‘Congratulations, you had 500,000 streams of your music,’ or some ridiculous number. He looked at the check and it was for $173.
“Where they might have picked up seven or eight cents for every play, on streaming they are getting a fraction of a fraction of a penny. They don’t get paid a tremendous amount for the festival, but it’s a nice way for them to make additional money.”
Also, Lubi said, “A lot of them like to perform. A number of the writers used to have their own record deals, so they are performers as well and they are very entertaining. Many of them are extremely humorous – I mean really funny (chuckles). And they’ll tell you some stories that will make you tear up as well.”
Also, Lubi added, “These songwriters have made me feel like they see the true respect and appreciation that our festival has for what they do.”
That respect seems to be a two-way street on occasion.
“I’ve had people tell me they don’t like country music, and then they were blown away by what our writers do,” said Lubi, who plays guitar himself. “In high school and college, I was more of a fan of Bob Seger, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett. The Eagles are my all-time favorite. They’re storytellers. When people make derogatory comments about country music, I always say ‘Listen to some old Dan Fogelberg music and tell me what you think, or the Eagles or James Taylor – it doesn’t sound all that different.’ ”
The Palm Coast Songwriters Festival continues today through Sunday May 2. For more information or to purchase tickets, go online at palmcoastsongwritersfestival.com. Masks are required at all performances. For general admission (lawn seating), patrons should bring chairs. Blankets for seating are not allowed. Here’s the schedule:
Friday April 30: Daytona State College Amphitheater, 3000 Palm Coast Parkway SE, Palm Coast. Single-day lawn general admission $20 (reserved seating sold out).
6 p.m. — Casey Beathard and Brett Jones
7:25 p.m. — Yesterday’s Wine (Wyatt Durrette and Levi Lowrey) and Tyler Reeve
8:50 p.m. — Bobby Pinson and Kelley Lovelace
Saturday May 1: Bloody Mary Brunch Bash, Oceanside Bar and Grill, 1848 S. Ocean Shore Blvd., Flagler Beach. Admission free.
11 a.m.-1 p.m. — Thom Shepherd, Coley McCabe Shepherd and Wynn Varble
Saturday May 1: Daytona State College Amphitheater, 3000 Palm Coast Parkway SE, Palm Coast. Single-day lawn general admission $20 (reserved seating sold out).
5 p.m. — Leslie Satcher and Kent Blazy
6:20 p.m. — Lee Thomas Miller, Tim Nichols
8:25 p.m. — Smith Steele (Anthony Smith and Jeffrey Steele)
Sunday May 2: Daytona State College Amphitheater, 3000 Palm Coast Parkway SE, Palm Coast. Single-day lawn general admission $20 (reserved seating sold out).
1 p.m. — Karen Staley and Chris Wallin
2:10 p.m. — Brock Berryhill and Taylor Phillips
3:20 p.m. — Bridgette Tatum and Steve Azar
4:30-5:15 p.m. — James Slater