St. Augustine Commission Gives Sing Out Loud Festival a Boost

St. Augustine Commission Gives Sing Out Loud Festival a Boost

Pending a final agreement with the city of St. Augustine, organizers of the Sing Out Loud Festival will be whistling a happy tune for at least the next five years.

The St. Augustine City Commission unanimously approved a request by festival promoter SJC Cultural Events Inc. to use Francis Field for the main event of the annual music event to attract national acts to the city. This year’s event featured performances by Mumford & Sons and The Black Keys at the city-owned venue, along with local and regional artists performing at a variety of locations during the month-long celebration of live music.

Diane Markovits, cultural affairs manager for SJC Cultural Events, said the festival spotlights the community, empowers local artists, raises funds for local charities and non-profits, and bolsters the local economy.

“This year’s festival featured 157 local and regional artists,” she said. “Since 2016 it has featured more than 800 local artists.”

The festival also offered artist development workshops and a music business panel to help performers hoping to make it in the music industry. In addition, the event raised more than $160,000 in ticket sales and food and beverage purchases. Of that, $70,000 was donated to the St. Johns County School District music program and $70,000 to the First Responders Project, which provides access to emotional support services, mental health resiliency training and peer-to-peer forums for first responders and their loved ones. Funds were also donated to the Gamble Rogers Folk Festival and the Florida State Parks Foundation.

Markovits said the early fall season dates for the festival make it an important economic driver for the city and county.

“September is historically the slowest month for tourism with an average occupancy rate of 54.7%,” she said. “The local economy struggles during September and a downturn in tourism impacts the local economy.”

Over the weekend during events at Francis Field, local merchants reported a 65% increase in customer traffic and a 60% increase in sales revenue, according to Markovits.

“So many businesses said this saved (their) September,” she said.

Markovits said SJC Cultural Events wants to build the Sing Out Loud Festival into a national brand and the first step is to guarantee a two-day event at Francis Field.

Commissioner Cynthia Garris said she initially requested the Francis Field shows be approved for one time only because she was unsure if it would present problems for the city and its residents.

“It was very well maintained,” she said of the 2023 event. “They handled everything well. I think it’s something that we should do.”

However, Commissioner Jim Springfield had reservations about agreeing to a long-term agreement.

“I think for us to commit for a long period of time is not wise at this time,” he said. “There needs to be something the city receives out of this. I would be willing to do two years, no more than that.”

Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline said she was “a very big supporter” of the festival and said she agrees with the idea that some of the proceeds should be shared with the city.

“Really what made me a fan is they are supporting our local artists,” she said. “All great cities have a musical signature; they have their own sound. I think Sing Out Loud is the best opportunity we have to shape our identify as a city that celebrates and supports its local musical talent.”

Sikes-Kline said the festival needs a long-term commitment from the city to build the festival’s brand identity and made a motion for an initial five-year agreement with specific details regarding revenue sharing to be worked out by city staff.