For Ryan Murphy, all the world’s a stage. Everything from a coffee house to a grassy field holds the possibility of music. It’s that kind of out-of-the-box thinking that’s helped grow his Sing Out Loud Festival into one of St. Augustine‘s signature music events celebrating local, regional and national artists.
“For me, anywhere and everywhere could be a stage. I look at everything like the back of someone’s store or a parking lot and think I would know how to put a small stage and PA here and make it really cool. And I love doing that. I think it comes from a year of touring and having to play weird spots, not just typical clubs and playing in people’s basements. I love to be able to see people adapt,” says Murphy.
Held Sept. 1-23, Sing Out Loud features 253 artists in every discipline from Americana to hip-hop performing at multiple venues throughout the Oldest City. The showcases are all free. Headliners Lucero, The Decemberists, and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit will host the only ticketed show. At $25, all proceeds will benefit the Betty Griffin House for battered women.
“We had a list of nonprofits that we work with. I pitched this to Jason Isbell’s camp and he and his wife Amanda and some of the people in the band are supportive of an organization in Nashville that helps get women off the street,” says Murphy. “I think they have a soft spot for the work that Betty Griffin does and they’re going to make a big difference.”
Now in its third year, Sing Out Loud continues to expand its reach, attracting new artists as well as participating venues. Curating such a bold schedule is the part that Murphy looks forward to the most. The eclectic lineup features The Mountain Goats, The Weepies, Christina Wagner, Rising Appalachia, Leftover Salmon, Propagandhi, War On Women, Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, Southern Avenue, The Commonheart, David Dondero, Leah Song, Al Riggs, Katie Grace Helow and more.
“I want people to go see the things that they want to see and they know but also kind of push them to see some showcases of some bands they’ve never heard of,” Murphy says. “There’s some people kind of popping up organically doing their own showcases. For me, there’s a ton of stuff I’d like to bounce around and see. Even though I’ve booked it, I haven’t seen it before so I hope that people get exposed to things they haven’t seen before.”
Murphy’s signature is stamped on every inch of this ambitious production. He thoughtfully curates each showcase to pair like-minded bands together to create a sense of artistic cohesion but also foster relationships in the music community. New this year is a panel discussion, which Murphy will moderate, on Sept. 20 at The Corazon Cinema to talk about the state of the music industry in Florida. Panelists will include venue owners, promoters, managers, and artists to discuss the regional music scene.
“We have 253 artists we are plugging in this year so we’re looking at all the showcases, the venues, the dates. I just kind of take a step back and go ‘what would I like to see popping up around town?’ No matter what, you’re going to have some conflicts here and there but for the most part, it flows really nicely,” says Murphy. “I like putting artists with other artists who either really like each other or who don’t quite know each other and I know will like each other. I try to do it with personality and not just genre. That’s the fun part. I kind of thrive on the chaos.”
Throughout all the planning, Murphy remains conscious of the experience he’s creating for the audience and artists alike. That’s why every musician that plays receives compensation to let them know their contribution is valued.
“It’s not a ton of money but all the money we bring in from the grants and stuff, we turn around and pay every single artist that plays. I never want it to be something like ‘hey, play this festival and appreciate that you get to be part of it’. I want people to be excited to be part of it but I want them to realize not only was that a way to get my music out there but that it was appreciated,” he says.
“To me, it’s so bad when I see festivals and promoters put together things and don’t pay any artists or ask artists to sell tickets. There are so many festivals artists that are desperate to be a part of that they end up paying a lot of money just to be part of something. It’s kind of backward to me. Anything I can do to help any of these artists along makes me really happy to be able to do.”