HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) — Music fans are gathered at concert spots all around Henderson for the Sandy Lee Watkins Songwriting Festival.
Some of the talent behind legendary hits bring their star power to the Tri-State.
The festival was named after former Henderson County Judge Executive Sandy Lee W atkins.
The festival is in its 10th year, and keeps growing, thanks to unique personal connections that keep crowds coming back.
“My husband was Sandy Watkins. He loved music and wanted to get involved.”
So they did, attending a Henderson songwriter’s festival 10 years ago that had three artists, and fewer than 200 people.
“Unfortunately, he died before the next songwriters’ festival,” says Sandy’s wife and festival co-chair, Susie.
Now Sandy Watkins has his very own festival.
“They couldn’t think of anyone they knew that liked music more than he did, and as a tribute they named the music festival after him.”
Husband and wife Keith and Shelbi decided to go all in as volunteers because of their own personal connection.
“I had a history with Sandy Watkins, a family history there, so that was kind of inspiring to do that,” Keith explains.
His mother was the county treasurer and worked with Watkins for years, and now her son had a hand in memorializing him.
“I kind of grew up with Sandy, and Susie, and music was a big part.”
Thanks to Sandy’s memory music is an even bigger part of Henderson than ever before.
“Now we have 3 venues, a total of 19 shows.”
Even the big legends like Tony Arata, who wrote Garth Brook’s “The Dance”, have a person connection here.
“I have two daughters, they thought the coolest thing I ever did was get a song cut by Dolly Parton,” he laughs. “It’s maybe my 7th or 8th time that I’ve done this, it’s like the movie Field of Dreams, where they said ‘build it and they will come.'”
Getting up close and personal to the artists is another unique benefit of this festival.
“The intimate setting, the stories they tell about how they wrote the songs, you can’t really compare it to anything.”
And as for Susie, she says she knows Sandy is enjoying it from the best seats in the house.
“If you can sit in Heaven and look down, he’s smiling.”
This story was originally published on July 26, 2019