In View: Safety Harbor SongFest 2018
by MIKELL HERRICK
The Signature guitar cutout on the waterfront in Safety Harbor, updated to reflect this year’s SongFest, with the pavilion on the pier visible at its center, awaits many people who will inevitably take turns framing themselves in photos, as a perfect reminder of their day at the annual festival. The previously two-day event was compacted into one day for its fifth year but that didn’t diminish the incredible musical and artistic offerings enjoyed by all who attended. Since the opening of the new Safety Harbor Art & Music Center (SHAMc), it has been the source of constant events for visual, spoken and performing arts in the area, with a year-round lineup of remarkable talent. SongFest brings it all together and into the community, in a big way each year.
Headliner Fantastic Negrito played at Safety Harbor SongFest last year, and his many fans here couldn’t wait for the chance to see him perform again. This multi-talented Grammy award winner and his accomplished band bring audiences to their feet with their edgy contemporary blues. Here, he was doing a sound check as the day was just beginning and before the scheduled lineup got underway. Later, after a brief rainstorm passed through, the band closed out the festival with another powerful performance.
SongFest is truly a family friendly event that is enjoyed by all ages, and with kite-flying, soap bubble chasing and painting opportunities among the featured fun things to do, kids of all ages were entertained throughout the day. Here, Lulu of Comedy Connection Caring Clowns paints the face of one of the young festival goers – a popular activity with kids and adults alike.
The Betty Fox Band is a crowd pleaser far beyond their Pinellas origins, with fans of the bluesy, soulful sounds around the state and country. After performing for volunteers and general public at the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center the night before SongFest, the band returned to the festival’s TransAmerica Stage the next day to put on a high energy set on the TransAmerica Stage that wowed the crowd.
Despite the threats of rain throughout the day, the fifth annual Safety Harbor SongFest saw a record daytime crowd for its one day event this year. Cooling breezes and partly cloudy skies kept attendees comfortable, and when a brief rain storm did pass through early in the evening, only a short break was needed before the show and headliners – Larkin Poe and Fantastic Negrito – were able to go on.
They were roaming minstrels around the grounds and stages at Safety Harbor SongFest this year. Leta Woloshuk and Barney Waterbury – better known to their many area fans as the Urban Gypsies of Florida – always demonstrate their love of life and music when they perform, and their accomplished blend of tribal, disco, bluegrass, folk and funk spread the good vibes throughout the festival, to the delight of all.
Never content to let people be observers only of art, the SHAMc crew provided this interactivity activity – a four-sided structure and all the paints needed to indulge personal creativity during SongFest. Kids donned oversize festival t-shirts to keep clothes clean while they painted, and the brushes were busy throughout the day on the bright, abstract, collaborative efforts.
Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root was a much-anticipated addition to the SongFest lineup this year, as he has fans across the country who have always loved his music. Touring as a duo with Rusted Root’s long time guitar player and background vocalist, Dirk Miller, he has been presenting some new tunes and re-worked favorites which appear to be big hits with his fans, if this festival was any indication. After his set, Glabicki took time to meet and have pictures taken with many fans who lined up for the opportunity.
SongFest is also “ArtFest” each year, with works of visual art materializing while attendees watch. Here St. Petersburg artist, Demeree Barth (of DemiGod Art) adds color and imagination to her canvas, as one of several area artists creating masterpieces at the waterfront festival.
The Garden Fairies and their always incredible wearable art creations are a crowd favorite at Safety Harbor SongFest each year. It took most of the day to complete the artistic additions on these two models – Jada Vellucci and Michael Povlow – but when they debuted the work for photo ops on the waterfront, the cameras and spectators were lining up. The creations were a collaborative effort by Siobhan Niehen, Ruth Bebenseee, Beth Warmath, Shannon O’Leary-Beck, and Terri Gray, along with other Garden Fairy contributions.
Locals were ready to welcome Dunedin native Danielle Mohr to the stage during the afternoon at SongFest, as others were introduced to her soul-pop vocals and acoustic guitar playing for the first time. The talented singer-songwriter has many area fans and she released her first album – Momentum – late last summer.
With the backdrop of palm trees swaying and colourful scarves fluttering in the strong breezes that blew through Safety Harbor’s fifth annual SongFest, Josh Ritter drew a very appreciative audience to the Waterfront Stage for his afternoon set. He’s been playing music for more than twenty years, and this folk-rock singer/songwriter/storyteller has been gathering dedicated fans across the country and internationally with a string of hit albums – music lovers who enjoy his Americana style and narrative lyrics.