SongFest Hits the Town

Sandpoint’s songwriters show kicks off its inaugural year

By Abigail Thorpe

Photos courtesy of Sandpoint SongFest

Musician and songwriter Thom Shepherd has been visiting Sandpoint since he first stopped off here in 1992. Almost 30 years and Nashville, Texas and a world tour later, Sandpoint is now home to Thom and his wife and fellow musician Coley McCabe Shepherd.


It was after moving here in 2019 that Thom stopped off at the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint to inquire about posting a flyer for a songwriters seminar he was planning. He met with the director of the conservatory, Karin Wedemeyer, and Thom ended up teaching the first songwriting class at the conservatory in spring of 2020—and the roots of SongFest were planted.


The Shepherds are no stranger to songwriter weekends, which occur all over the nation and are an incredible way to unite the community with the artists behind the music we love. “I have always thought Sandpoint would be the perfect place for a songwriters festival. I really felt like the community would ‘get it,’” explains Thom. The Music Conservatory of Sandoint said, “Why not!” and so SongFest 2021 was born. From Thursday, September 16, to Saturday, September 18, nationally recognized hit songwriters and songwriters and artists from the Inland Northwest will be performing their original music and sharing the stories behind the songs.


Thom and Coley are passionate about music, songwriting and sharing the stories behind the music, and SongFest was the perfect opportunity to share this with the community. Both hit songwriters, the couple met while working in Nashville and are now a full-time traveling duo singing songs from Key West to Seattle and abroad. They are the Trop Rock Music Association Duo of the Year for 2019 and 2020, and their Lone Star Luau music festival happening at Margaritaville Lake Resort in Conroe, Texas, in 2022 is in its fifth year and has won TRMA Event of the Year twice.


Beyond their traveling duo, you’ll recognize both for their extensive songwriter resumes. Thom has written two number one country hits: “Riding with Private Malone” and “Redneck Yacht Club”; three Texas Music number ones; has had over 100 songs recorded by other artists—two songs on Grammy nominated albums; and multiple top 10 hits nationwide and in Texas. He is a former CMA of Texas Songwriter of the Year and even appears in “The Parrot Heads Documentary” with Jimmy Buffett.


Coley has songs recorded by artists ranging from Kristi Lee Cook to Loretta Lynn, and her song “Grow Young with You” was featured in the Natalie Portman / Ashley Judd film “Where the Heart is.” She co-wrote the top 5 platinum-selling SheDaisy hit “Lucky 4 U,” and even took her talent to the movies, starring in the film “Alabama Love Story.”

Both will be performing and sharing the stories behind the songs during SongFest, along with other Nashville songwriters Wil Nance, Leslie Satcher and Steve Azar, and local talent including Ben Olson, Sam Leyde, Hannah King and Ben Vogel.


“We did a couple of preview events so far, and the reaction from most has always been the same—people say, ‘Wow! I had no idea that a songwriters show was such a really cool unique thing!’ I look forward to seeing more members of the community open this gift we are giving to Sandpoint and see what's inside,” shares Thom.


Beyond creating a unique event that will “feed this community's seemingly never-ending appetite for the arts,” as Thom puts it, SongFest was started as a way to benefit the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint, which along with Thom and Coley, is helping to bring the songwriters weekend to Sandpoint. Proceeds from the event will go to help support the conservatory, which has helped bring outstanding and affordable music opportunities to the youth of this area.


“I have been very impressed by the talent songwriters possess, and I resonate hearing the untold stories behind each song,” explains Kathi Samuels, board president of the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint. “I never really thought about the fact that many famous songs have been written by someone other than the artist who sings them. Plus, hearing the story broadens the soul of the song for the audience.”


Kathi first visited the conservatory in 2010, when she enrolled her son in a group recorder glass to help him learn to read music. Today, in addition to serving as board president, she also volunteers on the grants team. “I believe in their mission, and I witness on a weekly basis the number of lives [that] are impacted by our truly talented staff,” she adds.


Over its life, the conservatory has grown from eight or nine students from its start in 2009 to more than 500 today. With 24 instructors on staff, the conservatory is committed to instructing and inspiring musical excellence. For a small rural town, its impact and standard of instruction is incredible, and an inspiration for other small towns across America.


“Kids should not need to drive to the big city to receive quality arts education,” says Kathi. “We work to remove barriers to participation, and we focus on weekly skill building. It takes years to grow a musician, and we are excited to be part of that journey alongside our students.”


The songwriting class Thom started is now a part of the Summer Academy, and the conservatory offers opportunities for both contemporary and classical learning. SongFest is an exciting opportunity to both inspire students and share with the community a whole new layer behind the scenes of music, explains Kathi. It will also help support the conservatory’s many scholarship opportunities and affordable outreach programs that help keep music affordable for students of all ages and abilities.


“Especially after the isolation of COVID, my executive director, Karin Wedemeyer, reminds me on a weekly basis of the musical renaissance we are experiencing in 2021. Kids are hungry to interact with something other than a tablet, and music is an incredible skill-building tool for healthy self-expression, a place for creativity and innovation,” she adds.


Thom and Coley hope SongFest will become an annual event, and this will mark the first year of many wonderful songwriters weekends.


In addition to an evening with Thom and Coley and featured songwriters at the Idaho Club on September 16, there will be various songwriters shows in downtown Sandpoint on September 17. Saturday, September 18, will feature an open mic show at the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint hosted by the North Idaho Songwriters Association for those interested in performing.


Show up and enjoy the multiple amazing shows from artists behind some of our top music favorites, and support the program and the conservatory by purchasing a ticket, sponsoring the event, or even volunteering. For more information, visit SandpointSongFest.com, and to volunteer, contact the Music Conservatory at SandpointConservatory.org.



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