USA Music festival enlivens Panhandle beach communities By Robert Silk / December 30, 2015 Share 1 A festival concert at Gulf Place Town Center in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. -- The relatively chilly weather of January typically translates to slow times in the beach communities that sit along Walton County’s scenic route 30A in the Florida Panhandle.But not during the annual 30A Songwriters Festival each Martin Luther King Day weekend.Returning for the seventh time from Jan. 15 through 17, the festival is expected to draw approximately 3,000 people to the 18-mile-long route, which passes through a dozen unincorporated beach communities, including Grayton Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, and most famously, the planned community of Seaside. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Visit South Walton, the 2015 festival brought $3.9 million to the county, which sits between the larger destinations of Destin and Panama City Beach.This year, the festival’s daytime headliners, including 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jackson Browne, will actually perform at an outdoor amphitheater at the Grand Boulevard mall in nearby Miramar Beach. But the remainder of the approximately 25 venues will still be located along 30A. They’ll offer more than 200 shows by 150 songwriters performing country, blues, soul and folk music. The eclectic selection of concert sites will reflect the artistic, small-town feel of the 30A corridor itself and venues will include coffee houses, restaurants, and meeting rooms, many of them specially retrofitted into small concert halls for the occasion by the festival’s production team.Indeed, the scope and atmosphere of the 30A Songwriters festival prompted the country music and lifestyle publication Wide Open Country in October to name it No. 3 on the publication’s list of seven songwriters festivals not to be missed.Festival co-producer Russell Carter has plenty of explanations for why the 30A event has done so well.“First of all, we book over 150 artists, and every one of them writes and performs their own music. So there’s an authenticity about it that appeals to people,” he said.He also pointed to the intimate venues and the wide array of acts over the course of the three days.Still, there wouldn’t be much hullabaloo about the 30A Songwriters Festival without a strong lineup of musicians. Browne, most famous for such hits as “Running on Empty” and “Somebody’s Baby,” will perform solo on guitar and piano. Other lead acts will include folk and alternative rock guitarist Ani DiFranco; Emerson Hart, front man for the Grammy nominated, multiplatinum rock band Tonic; and Grace Potter, who will be playing songs from her pop-rock solo debut album "Midnight."For more information about the 2016 30A Songwriters Festival, and to purchase a $250 weekend pass, click here.