Over the first nine years of its existence, the Blast on the Bay Songwriters Festival had come to feel like a family reunion for Debbie Hooper.
So, no real surprise that Hooper captured that family in an online book Hooper called a “labor of love.”
The result of those labors is a 150-page volume containing more than 700 photos, two embedded videos and written reflections of the festival’s first nine years, from artists, fans and Hooper.
The book is available for download at the Apple bookstore app, titled, “Nashville Singer Songwriters Festival.”
Those interested can also access the book through Hooper’s web page, JoeBay.net.
“I decided it would be nice to share with people,” Hooper said of the book. “I wanted to share everything, the artists, the fans.
“It’s my favorite festival. It has the flavor of life, and Port St. Joe, in that festival. And in time it became a family to me.”
The concept for the book took shape as the 2017 festival was coming to a close.
The following year would bring the 10th year of the festival, a decade of great artists providing a weekend of entertainment around the area.
Hooper began the excruciating task of whittling thousands of photos taken over the years to a more manageable number, a task made even more difficult when a tech glitch meant the temporary loss, and recovery only after months, of several thousand photos.
The book was taking shape when Hurricane Michael arrived and demolished plans, and several venues, for the 2018 festival.
“We had nine years of good times, good weather and great artists,” Hooper said. “And suddenly it was all gone, including many of the venues.”
But, with Blast on the Bay scheduled to return next month for that 10th year, with several dozen artists already pledged to appear at revamped venues, the urgency for Hooper to complete the project fueled her work.
Friends from a writers group in Eastpoint helped her hone the text and Hooper reached out to her circle of connections established via the festival to solicit reflections of the festival from a host of artists.
“My idea with the reflections was to tell people we really have some talented songwriters here, songwriters for major artists,” Hooper said.
“To have them in our little town … we have a treasure here.”
The entry to the book, the first Blast on the Bay, was provided as Hooper was doing what she does with local events; attend, observe and take photos.
Be it Ghost on the Coast, Christmas on the Coast, St. Patty’s parade or a Blast on the Bay, Hooper is present and accounted for with her camera.
“I started going from the get-go, it is what I like to do, be around people and taking pictures,” Hooper said. “After awhile it became very personal. I am a people person and enjoy meeting people.
“It’s always personal for me, knowing and growing. It’s just a feeling. When I am out there without my camera I feel weird.”
And, steadily, that personal connected was reflected back for Hooper, in songs she heard on the radio and knew the songwriter, in songs which spoke to her, in the artists who came to know and appreciate her presence.
There was also the deep connection for several years between the songwriters and the Semper Fi Sisters, who gathered for a weekend of relaxation and to assemble and ship boxes from home to military personnel deployed overseas.
There was also the personal in the love story between one of the songwriters and the local businesswoman who became his wife.
“I definitely feel affection for all of the songwriters,” Hooper said. “They give of themselves and normally do in the background, not up front and personal like the artists who perform their work.
“This book shows off the joys and sparks these Nashville singer songwriters add to little old Port St. Joe. They are gifts to Port St. Joe and to me. After 10 years I know the artists and fans so it is truly a family reunion for me.”