Bonus: Q+A with Grammy-nominated songwriter James Slater
Two weeks after the Palm Coast Songwriters Festival was held in May, a group of those same writers performed again at one of the most famous little venues in Nashville: the Bluebird Café. James Slater, a pianist who wrote hits such as the Grammy-nominated “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” recorded by Martina McBride, brought the writers together for the Bluebird event, which he hosts every year as a cancer fundraiser.
“I wanted to reprise what we had down in Palm Coast,” Slater said. “We had stories to tell about the Palm Coast event.”
In a phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer on May 21, Slater said, “Today, I wrote with Tony Lane, one of the best writers in town, and he was so sorry he couldn’t come, but he said he wanted to go next year. … So I think it’s really getting a good buzz.”
That’s music to the ears of Garry Lubi, who organized the event again this year. He estimated that over 800 people attended the three-day event, including dozens from out of town responsible for over 180 hotel room nights. One couple told him they were visiting from Virginia and saw a flier in March at Captain’s BBQ, so they returned to town two months later for the festival.
As Lubi looks toward the third-annual event, in 2020, he is optimistic that the festival will continue to grow. Tweaks for next year include reducing the price for lawn seats and trying to get the word out that this is a unique opportunity to see world-class talent in Palm Coast.
The dates for next year are May 1-3, the weekend before the Key West Songwriters Festival, which is an established draw in the industry. Many writers who are going to perform in Palm Coast in 2020 will then travel to Key West.
Another major change for next year will be the direct involvement of the Tourist Development Council, according to interim director Amy Lukasik. She said that, if the County Commission votes to approve the expenditure, the TDC is planning to invest $15,000 in marketing and other strategies for the 2020 event. That’s the same amount the TDC has spent on the event each of the past years, but that money came out of a discretionary fund and was used to pay for things like venue rental and equipment charges, not necessarily to help draw bigger crowds.
With better marketing, Lukasik believes the event has great potential for attracting visitors to Flagler County.
“I do, I really do,” she said, “with the quality of songwriters that he (Lubi) has.”
(She added that the TDC could be focusing on cultural events more in the future; in the past, sports has been the prime focus. She hopes to have a communitywide strategic planning session for the TDC this year.)
Lubi feels the TDC’s involvement will help the Palm Coast Songwriters Festival to flourish.
“It has the real potential to become a very substantial tourism draw,” he said.
“That festival is going to be promoted here in Nashville, and we’re going to be bringing more people out there,” Slater said. “I can’t wait to come down there and play again.