At its core, the inaugural Sing Out Loud Festival is a continuation. Of the video series of the same name that features touring musicians performing en plein air on boat ramps and back porches around St. Augustine. Of our rich, wildly divergent local music tapestry. Of St. Johns County Cultural Events Division Director Ryan Murphy’s tireless passion for spotlighting those artists. And of our county representatives’ embrace of live music as an economic driver.
In that sense, maybe Sing Out Loud is more a culmination than a continuation. It distills the spirit of giddy excitement we get after a great night out discovering a ridiculously talented local band at Nobby’s or Ann O’Malley’s or Planet Sarbez. It captures the anticipatory joy that leads up to checking off a bucket list show at the Amphitheatre or Colonial Quarter. Of stumbling upon a hidden gem during an afternoon show at the Gazebo or Café Alcazar. Of lucking into a big-city-quality theatrical production at Limelight. Of strolling (or stumbling) down Aviles Street and feeling, if only for a moment, that you’re lucky enough to live in some weird mix of a 21st-century European capital and a pre-Revolution 18th-century American port town.
“Sing Out Loud is a true St. Augustine celebration of music that spans as much of the musical spectrum as possible,” Murphy explained in a Festival press release. In a more far-ranging phone conversation with Folio Weekly Magazine, he doubled down on that all-inclusiveness, raving about all of his local prospects getting their due while giggling about the prospect of seeing Brandi Carlile, Indigo Girls, Booker T. Jones and Rhett Miller of Old 97’s at the Amphitheatre.
“That Miller show is gonna have the vibe that I think is most indicative of what we’re trying to do with Sing Out Loud,” Murphy says. “The concept started as a way to take national artists and 1) record them in cool locations, then 2) have them perform with a cool local artist. Putting our homegrown talent side by side on the same stage with big stars is a way to really showcase what we have going on in St. Augustine.”
And, contrary to critics’ long-held (but long-wrong) assumption that St. Augustine is a one-note reggae-rock-cover-band town, there’s a hell of a lot going on. Yes, our prolific acoustic side is well-represented — with separate days dedicated to Stetson Kennedy and Gamble Rogers, several countrified Lincolnville Porch Fest showcases, and six-string sensation Sam Pacetti setting a sumptuous scene at Café Alcazar. But electronic whiz kids also drop complex beats each night at Planet Sarbez, while St. Augustine’s profligate hardcore community infiltrates lineups around town. And if you like reggae (and c’mon, who doesn’t?), the chance to see local favorite Soulo and WFCF staple DJ Ragamuffin share the stage with The Original Wailers qualifies as a religious experience.
“I’ve always wanted to do this kind of festival,” Murphy says. “Look at the venues we have! Look at the artists we have! We’ve got kids with laptops writing songs in their bedroom, we’ve got women with acoustic guitars, we’ve got fantastic punk and reggae bands … We really run the gamut here, and Sing Out Loud is going to capture that.” Laughing, he adds, “At least I hope so — I invited everyone I could think of.”
Murphy emphasizes the fact that such artistic freedom is possible only because of generous support from the St. Johns Cultural Council, Tourist Development Council, and Community First Credit Union. “With so much funding, we can pay all 150 artists,” Murphy says with pride. “And that makes everybody take ownership of the festival.” Looking forward, he hopes Sing Out Loud might become more industry-focused, with business workshops, artist development, and other useful tools. “Some of our local musicians are great at promoting themselves,” he says. “There are others who are phenomenally talented but don’t know how to do it, then get stuck in the cycle of playing the same random bar. Teaching them how to put out records and really make it as musicians — that’s the impetus of Sing Out Loud. I want to spread the knowledge accumulated here in St. Augustine and bring people together so everybody can enjoy the same opportunities to succeed.”
Even better for local musicians is that Sing Out Loud falls in a traditionally quiet month in St. Augustine. “A big push came from the Tourist Development Council,” says Murphy. “They recognized that this time of year is typically down, which justifies the spending of tax dollars because it brings more people to town.” It goes hand in hand with recent successful September shows like Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road Stopover and St. Augustine’s 450th birthday celebration.
“At the Cultural Arts Division, we feel like we’re still riding that momentum,” Murphy believes. “And we want to spread it to as many artists on as many cool stages around town as possible.”