Music Lovers Enjoyed Debut of Fernandina’s Songwriter Festival

Fernandina’s “Songwriter Festival” featured three days of performances, including Runaway June, who Billboard magazine labeled the “Next Hot Trend in Country Music.”

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

Nashville is routinely and deservedly awarded the title of Music City USA. On a smaller scale, Fernandina Beach could now be a nominee for Music Town USA.

Like the waters of Egans Creek, an inflow of music talent arrives regularly in Fernandina Beach. And some of it comes from Nashville, like the headwaters to a stream.

It was on display last weekend, with the inaugural Fernandina Beach Songwriter Festival, featuring decorated talent from Music City as well as prominent local acts. Judging from the enthusiastic performances and the warm embrace, everyone likes what they see in newcomer Music Town.

“We’re ready to do it again,” says organizer and founder Sean McCarthy. “It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it.”

Fernandina Beach has a noteworthy history of music. It continues to evolve, with 20 or more live acts performing each weekend here. And the upcoming “Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival” has brought in big-time bands (like Atlanta Rhythm Section, Bertie Higgins, The Drifters).

Among local musicians, McCarthy is pretty much a legend. He regularly headlines an impressive lineup of performers here, like Davis Turner or Hupp or Sam McDonald. Some are homegrown, some moved here.

As an energetic and eclectic town, we are fortunate to have such talented entertainers. It’s a big draw for music lovers who live here or are visiting. It also gives us a cool, soothing vibe.

For many years, McCarthy has dreamt of putting together a songwriter festival. He has the connections, having lived and performed and written songs in Nashville for six years.

He also has an inside angle. Fernandina Beach natives Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis left for Nashville after growing up here with McCarthy. Both have hit it big, having written tunes for the likes of George Strait and Kenny Chesney.

It was also a homecoming for Geiger and Mullis, who performed at the festival. They also used their Nashville roots to help McCarthy attract a lengthy and star-studded lineup.

McCarthy and organizers arranged nearly 20 performances over three days at three sites – The Green Turtle, Amelia Island Brewing Company and the auditorium at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. An intimate kickoff show was held at The Florida House on Thursday. The melodic music ran from noon to late night on Friday and Saturday.

The biggest act at the festival by today’s standards was the all-woman band Runaway June, who Billboard magazine labeled the “Next Hot Trend in Country Music.” But the other performers had serious street credibility. Like Tammy Rogers King, Jennifer Wayne (famous actor John Wayne’s granddaughter) and Dave Gibson, who handed out his latest CD titled “Good & Gettin’ Better.” Gibson has written or co-written songs for Alabama, Tanya Tucker and Conway Twitty.

One of the headliners, Deanna Bryant, belted out some lyrics she wrote and some that others wrote. Her songs have been recorded by Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire and Willie Nelson. One song Bryant sang had a different spin, a twist. At songwriter festivals, the artists tell you about what they wrote, and why.

“We’re all gonna’ die of something, it might as well be a broken heart,” Bryant sang. You have to love poetic country lyrics.

Yet the songwriter festival here is far from dying, after a spectacular, stage-burning debut. It will only grow and thrive and prosper. To coin a popular lyric, we’ve only just begun.


Steve Nicklas is the managing partner of Nicklas Wealth Management in Fernandina Beach. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in Northeast Florida and in Southeast Georgia, and on his website He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He has also done financial reports for area radio stations and for National Public Radio in Jacksonville. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 904-753-0236.