Festival’s aim to extend tourist season

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In an effort to extend the summer tourism season into the first weeks of September, the St. Johns County Cultural Events Division, St. Johns Cultural Council and Tourist Development Council on Thursday announced an inaugural event highlighting music, art and entertainment in St. Augustine and beyond.

The Sounds of Summer Celebration, featuring the Sing Out Loud Festival, will include free concerts by Brandi Carlile, the Indigo Girls, Booker T. Jones, The Travelin’ McCourys and more than 130 other national, regional and local acts providing an estimated 150 hours of music spanning three weekends.

Beginning Aug. 26 and running on select dates through Sept. 11, residents and visitors are invited to 19 concert locations including venues in downtown St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach as well as the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.

Sing Out Loud will be presented by Community First Credit Union, which has made a three-year sponsorship commitment to help keep the event free of cost to attendees.

Officials in a news conference Thursday said there will also be no street closures associated with the festival.

Richard Goldman, president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, said Sounds of Summer is an attempt to attract more locals and visitors during a slower time of year.

“It’s a time that, typically, we don’t have a lot of visitation,” he said. “The mission was, ‘Let’s try and get more of the locals to become local tourists and have more visitors come enjoy what we do here.’”

St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns said the event would be yet another chance for St. Augustine and the surrounding area to showcase its talents and culture to the world.

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver encouraged residents and visitors alike to attend and support local musicians and artists.

“There is so much incredible musical talent in St. Augustine — and I love to dance — and I’m out a lot,” she said.

Andy Witt, executive director of the St. Johns County Cultural Council, said the event answers the question of how the county would follow up on last year’s Celebrate 450! festivities in St. Augustine — with a more local spin.

“This is what’s next,” he said. “This is a time around September 8th, the founding of St. Augustine, when we can celebrate — without all the tourists — our own local musicians, local artists, local culture, in a way that we really can’t do otherwise.”

Ryan Murphy, director of the St. Johns County Cultural Events Division, said it’s hard being a local working musician and that the festival is a chance for dozens of local acts to get some much-deserved exposure.

“This festival is an all-inclusive celebration,” he said. “And by all-inclusive, I mean it encompasses as many musical genres as possible, from the guy with a laptop kicking out crazy electronic music to the five-piece Americana jam session.”

John Hirabayashi, CEO and president of Community First Credit Union, called the St. Augustine Amphitheatre a “community treasure” and said his company was eager to help provide an entertainment event that will give local acts a chance to display their talents on a big stage.

Irving Kass, owner of the St. George Inn and past chairman of the TDC, said there’s “grassroots marketing” happening every day in local hotels and restaurants, selling visitors on returning in December and January for events like the Nights of Lights.

He said it wasn’t always like that and touted the benefits of having events such as Sounds of Summer and Sing Out Loud to stretch the season.

“Imagine how powerful that is five years or 10 years from now,” Kass said. “The economic development of the county would be significant. Instead of having these times where people are laid off, or where hours are greatly reduced. It has a huge impact on all the people who work in the county.”

While all Sing Out Loud events are free and open to the public, attendees can secure reserved seats to the Sept. 9 Main Showcase at the Amphitheatre by donating $5 to OneOrlando via TicketMaster, or by reserving a Sing Out Loud Hotel Package with one of a dozen partner hotels.

For more information, including a schedule of performances, go to singoutloudfestival.com.

Along with Sing Out Loud, more than 100 arts, culture and entertainment events are scheduled from August through the end of September throughout St. Johns County. Other Sounds of Summer events include the National Park Service Centennial at the Castillo de San Marcos, the Spanish Wine Festival, Lincolnville Festival, film and performing art productions, as well as culinary, walking, sporting and arts events.

For a listing of Sounds of Summer events, go to soundsofsummerevents.com.