If you want to hear what an emotion sounds like, go to a concert, but if you want to know what it feels like, listen to the songwriter.
Scores of the musical story spinners are set to bring their art to Northwest Florida for the 9th annual Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival Oct. 4-8. The festival, rooted in country music, but also includes a variety of music styles, is spread across 15 stages at venues that include local bars, restaurants, hotels and even a church.
The performances are set within a one mile radius of each other, with the sugar white sands of Pensacola Beach never far away. The temperatures are forecast to be near perfect that week, with high in the low 80s and lows in the mid 60s. The festival is the perfect excuse for a fall getaway to Pensacola Beach. Several lodging specials are offered just for the event.
“People love to hear the stories behind the songs,” said Reneda Cross, who founded the festival with her husband, Jim Pasquale.
While vocalists may be responsible for making a particular song famous, fans recognize that songwriters are the source for the stories. She points to Bridgette Tatum, who will be appearing at the festival. Tatum co-penned Jason Aldean’s No. 1 hit, “She’s Country.”
“The songwriters have a draw just like the artists have a draw,” Cross said. “They love Jason Aldean, but they love Bridgette, too, because she wrote Jason Aldean’s song.”
Other songwriters scheduled for the festival that people may recognize include, Jim McBride, 2017 inductee to the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His No. 1 hits include Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” and “Someday,” as well as Waylon Jenning’s “Rose in Paradise.”
Dana and Charlie Black are also set to appear at the festival. Dana’s credits include No. 1 hits by George Strait, “Write This Down” and “Check Yes or No.” Charlie’s tunes have been recorded by country greats like Anne Murray, Reba McEntire, Phil Vassar and Alan Jackson. Dana and Charlie met as staff songwriters in Nashville in the 1990s.
In all, more than 100 songwriters are scheduled for the festival, with more than 200 performances.
Ross Orenstein is a songwriter on the Festival’s Board of Directors who has been working with the festival for the last eight years. He said the beauty of the event is the interchange it allows between writers and their fans.
“The venues are intimate,” Orenstein said. “The songwriters share the stories behind their songs during their performances and are very open to interacting with attendees after the show.”
The Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival drew more 16,000 visitors in 2016. Of those, 58 percent were from out-of-town.
One special part of this year’s festival is set for Oct. 6. The “Honoring Our Songwriting Warriors” session will allow military veterans to share how writing music has helped heal their wounds of war.
“The veterans are able to express what they’re feeling through music,” Cross said. “Music can be a lot of things, even a psychologist.”