Ryan Murphy – The Puzzle Master Behind St. Augustine’s 450th

If history has taught us anything, it’s to reflect on our successes and our failures as a roadmap for the future. Ryan Murphy has a lot of practice staging massive events for the city of St. Augustine and is always looking back at past endeavors to determine what works and where he can find room for improvement. As the director of the city’s Cultural Events Division, Murphy and the St. Johns County staff are gearing up for the city’s 450th anniversary celebration featuring for over 80 bands and cultural arts performances over three days. This is Murphy’s wheelhouse. Putting on large concerts and events is what he does on a day-to-day basis.

“The scheduling of it is like a big puzzle you have to figure out, but I love that. I wanted to include as many artists with as much variety as possible to really paint an accurate picture of the musical and cultural community here in St. Augustine,” says Murphy. “I feel that the music, culture, and arts always tell the accurate story of a place and community. We have a really diverse and rich cultural community here, and it’s amazing to highlight it. I purposely chose the headliners I went after to reflect what I thought the majority of the community embraced. That’s why there is a soulful, earthy, and authentic vibe to all that I wanted to bring here for the celebration.”

All of the events held September 3-8 all offer a completely different experience from great historical reenactments and presentations, live music, and a variety of local artists. Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, JJ Grey & Mofro, Justin Townes Earle, and Nicki Bluhm will headline on Friday and Saturday night at the Bayfront Main Stage in Downtown St. Augustine. “Other than the headliners and the bands that are traveling here from Aviles, Spain, all the acts are local to the area and have local ties. All performers have expressed great interest and joy in being part of the celebration, and that means a lot,” he says. “It’s great when you have a full event of people that really get behind the whole purpose of why they are there and what they are celebrating.”

There is more to orchestrating such a vast undertaking than the artist lineup. Murphy and his team have many bases to cover, and that requires the combined efforts of the city and the county. When programming all of the moving parts for the 450th festivities, Murphy used the Mumford & Sons: Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour as a model for this event. “One of the biggest things that the city is doing is making sure that there are parking and traffic issues on the forefront of their minds when it comes to the logistics of this event. There is going to be a satellite parking and shuttle system, similar to but not as elaborate as the Mumford & Sons event,” Murphy says. “People will have a chance to park near the beaches, north of the city, and to the west, and take free shuttles into the main city center where the bulk of the events will be happening. I feel that there were some local businesses that got neglected during the Mumford event, and hopefully this time around the way the crowds flow through the city, everyone will see a nice engagement with the people here for the event.

Murphy says visitors will not only learn about the history of St. Augustine and its people, but the current culture, arts, food, music and community. “The historical significance of the event and helping tell the ‘story of St. Augustine’ I think is very important.  I am constantly learning more and more about the history of this town, spanning from the early days before it was settled and the indigenous communities here, to the Civil Rights Era history. It’s all pretty rich, interesting, frightening, and amazing all at once,” he says. “The city will be vibrant and celebratory all week/weekend long and truly, no matter what you are into, I am certain that you will find something that interests you, makes you dance, makes you learn, and makes you smile.”

About Liza Mitchell