The face behind this year’s inaugural SongFest
By Abigail Thorpe | Photo by Rachel Adair
Thom Shepherd originally hails from St. Louis, Missouri, but the former CMA of Texas Songwriter of the Year, writer of two number one country hits—“Riding with Private Malone” and “Redneck Yacht Club”—three Texas Music number ones, and over 100 songs recorded by other artists now makes Sandpoint his home with wife and fellow musician and writer Coley McCabe. The duo has spent years performing and touring the world, making their home in Nashville and Texas, but in 2019 they moved to Sandpoint to be closer to Thom’s children, just shy of 30 years from the first time Thom visited Sandpoint in 1992 with his first wife.
This September, the musical duo is the face behind Sandpoint SongFest to benefit the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint. The three-night event features nationally recognized hit songwriters performing their original music, as well as songwriters and artists from the Inland Northwest. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to hear the stories behind the hits, and to benefit an incredible organization that helps drive a passion for music in our community and our youth.
Q. How did you first get involved with the Music Conservatory, and what led you to Sandpoint? A. In 2019, after living in Nashville and then Texas and touring the world, my second wife Coley and I decided to make Sandpoint our home so that we could see the kids a lot more. It has been so great; we really love the community.
I was planning a songwriter's seminar and stopped off at the conservatory to ask if I could post a flier about it there. I met with Karin Wedemeyer, the director of MCS, and she told me they were planning on expanding their curriculum to add a contemporary music element and that a songwriting class would fit into that perfectly. I gave the first songwriting class there for six weeks in the spring of 2020.
Q. What influenced your passion for music and sharing it with others? A. I know how music makes me feel and wanted to be able to share that feeling with other people. When I moved to Nashville, I wanted to be a performer because it was so much fun, but everyone told me you need to write songs too. Being able to touch people emotionally with something you created is the most incredible feeling. My favorite setting to hear music is the singer-songwriter type of show. The intimate story behind the song, just one singer, one guitar, the audience hanging on every word—it’s magic. I love being the performer in that setting, but I also love witnessing it. Coley always says, "We're fans first," which is true, and that's why we pursued music as a career.
My first big hit, "Riding with Private Malone," was a number one song. I always hoped I'd write a song one day that people would say, "Oh yeah, I know that one!" but with “Private Malone” I got so much more. That song has touched so many people in the military and their families. It makes people cry. I met one man who said he joined the military because of my song—that is powerful stuff.
Q. What do you love about Sandpoint and its community? A. Sandpoint has such a vibrant, creative community that you just don't see everywhere. Plus the beauty of North Idaho is breathtaking. I am hooked on skiing and getting out on the lake, and we love being able to ride our bikes everywhere in the summertime. But the best part of living here is when my son calls and says, "Let's go to Pie Hut" or "Let's go fishing" or "Let's go get an ice cream at Panhandle Cone & Coffee" or "Are we skiing today?"
Q. What inspired you to start SongFest, and what are you most excited about? A. I have always thought Sandpoint would be the perfect place for a songwriters festival. I really felt like the community would "get it." And I can't wait to see the reaction. We have done two sneak preview shows for the SongFest so far, and both have been very well received.
Q. Why is sharing stories and uniting people through music such an important thing, and what do you hope to bring to the community through SongFest this year? A. We love doing something that affects people on an emotional level. There is no better feeling than connecting with people through shared experiences and making them laugh or cry. And having that experience benefit others who are following in our footsteps is the icing on the cake.
Q. How would you encourage aspiring musicians to get involved and pursue their passion? A. The main thing I always tell aspiring musicians is to do it because you love it. Because it makes you feel good. Don't chase it for money. At the same time, be smart with your time and choices. It's a marathon, not a sprint—doing music is a lifestyle.
You can purchase tickets to this year’s SongFest and find out more about being a sponsor at SandpointSongFest.com.