Offering up a country-sized portion of Southern hospitality to some of the best songwriters from Music City USA, the Coastal Songwriters Education Coalition welcomed over 30 performers to Port St. Joe for a long weekend of music straight from the heart of Nashville for the 13th annual Blast on the Bay Songwriters’ Festival.
Dating back to the Port Inn and The Thirsty Goat in 2008, the Blast on the Bay has become a musical staple of the Port St. Joe area community thanks not only to the level of songwriting talent every year, but also the charitable contributions the CSEC makes to advance the local music scene.
A tradition for nearly a decade and a half for areas from St. Joe Beach to Indian Pass, the only years the Blast on the Bay did not take place were in 2018 due to Hurricane Michael and 2020 for Covid-related precautions.
However, pushing back against Hurricane Michael’s wrath, a number of artists slated to perform that year chose to put down their guitars and microphones in exchange for cleanup gear and a chance to show their love for the storm-ravaged area and its people.
According to Lynn Marshall, one of the directors of the CSEC, this is just one example of how the organization and the songwriters involved continue to make a permanent impact on the Port St. Joe community via the power of music.
Marshall said the non-profit CSEC partners with other non-profit and civic groups such as the Gulf Alliance for Local Arts and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Over the years, it has donated money for church music programs, the Port St. Joe High School marching band, and the promotion of music education.
“Just this Friday, some of our songwriters performing this weekend took the time to participate in a program at Port St. Joe Elementary to promote music education and the value of music as a whole,” she said.
Along with the charitable reach of the Blast on the Bay, the four-day event also allows the renowned songwriters in attendance the chance to tell the stories and inspirations behind many of the songs they have written to attendees from across the United States.
A prime example is Aaron Barker, a multi-year Blast on the Bay artist, who played several of his No. 1 songs that he wrote for country music legend George Strait in front of this year’s record-setting crowd.
Born in the Lone Star state of Texas, the current Tennessee native crooned his first chart-topping song “Baby Blue” and classic “A Love Without End, Amen” during Sunday’s final day of sets at the Indian Pass Raw Bar.
After his rousing performance, Barker had a poignant answer when asked about what still stands out to him the most after such a highlight-filled career as a songwriter.
“Honestly, being in the living rooms of some of my hero songwriters, the people that wrote the songs that my mother and I grew up with, and being invited to their homes to write together, that’s the most spectacular part of my life,” he said.
Although the bulk of artists at Blast on the Bay currently reside in Nashville and its surrounding suburbs, a few homegrown songwriters like Lauren Spring brought a taste of their Port St. Joe and Forgotten Coast roots to festival goers from out of town.
A founding member of folk group The Krickets, she has earned a wealth of notoriety on the music scene for her production efforts on the project These Games and thanks to a number of songs influenced by her upbringing on the Gulf Coast.
Despite her rapidly rising success on Music Row, Spring proudly touts that she still lives in Port St. Joe and would never be where she is in her music and songwriting career without the unwavering love from her hometown supporters and the advice over the years from fellow songwriters at the annual event.
“The folks here have such reverence for the music and want to hear every word,” Spring said, without hesitation, on what she loves most about Blast on the Bay. “To have people support you and listen to your songs like that, there’s nothing better.”