Folk festival ‘a celebration of all things Florida'
Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 12:17 p.m.
It's a tune as recognizable as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” “Way down upon the Suwannee River” begins Stephen Foster's 1851 song, “Old Folks at Home.” The song serves as a source of pride for many Floridians, and a reminder of the natural beauty contained within their state.
61st Annual Florida Folk Festival
What: More than 300 performances on 15 stages along with Florida arts and crafts, ethnic foods, folk demonstrations, storytelling and more
When: 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Sunday, gates open daily at 10 a.m.
Where: Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, 11016 Lillian Saunders Dr., White Springs
Tickets: $30 per day or $60 for the weekend, $5 for ages 6-16 for all three days, free for ages 5 and younger
Info: 877-6FL-FOLK. Schedule highlights are listed below. For more see: www.floridafolkfestival.com
6 p.m.: Opening Ceremonies
6:15 p.m.: Ed Cotton
7 p.m.: Mindy Simmons and the Hot Pockets
7:45 p.m.: Bing Futch
8:30 p.m.: Moors & McCumber
9:15 p.m.: Jubal's Kin
6:30 p.m.: Rachel Carrick
7 p.m.: Passerine
7:45 p.m.: The Currys
8:30 p.m.: Ben Prestage
9:15 p.m.: Jim Stafford
5:45 p.m.: Awards Ceremonies and Folk Artist Memorials
6:30 p.m.: Montine Humphries
7:15 p.m.: Frank Thomas
8 p.m.: Bellamy Brothers
9:15 p.m.: Doug Gauss
10 p.m.: Festival finale
The 61st annual Florida Folk Festival in White Springs aims to recreate this same feeling with its 15 stages on 850 acres overlooking the Suwannee River this Memorial Day weekend.
Gainesville's Tom Shed, media coordinator and a performer for the Florida Folk Festival, says the event is held by Floridians for Floridians.
“This is the celebration of all things Florida,” Shed says. “And it's not just music. It's dance, crafts, art, spoken word and storytelling.”
One of the festival's crowning achievements is its ability to connect performers and audiences alike by their ties to their home state, Shed adds. “It allows people who live here to identify as Floridians. We live in a transitory state. Thirty million people come in out every year as tourists.”
The nonprofit event presented by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Recreation and Parks has been held since 1953, making it the longest-running state festival in the country.
Gainesville singer/songwriter Mark Smith has played 17 Florida Folk Festivals, beginning in 1993. He says he is proud to be part of a long-standing tradition.
“Many legendary people have walked the festival grounds, and we follow in their legacy,” he says.
This year's featured performers include the Bellamy Brothers, the country duo from Darby that charted the hit songs “Let Your Love Flow” and “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)”; and Jim Stafford, the Winter Haven native whose career spans music, comedy and television.
His first song, “Swamp Witch,” hit the charts in 1973 and was followed by the No. 3 pop hit, “Spiders & Snakes” (co-written with David Bellamy) in 1974.
Stafford has appeared on television for decades, starting with ABC's “The Jim Stafford Show” in 1975. In the 1980s, he performed and wrote for the revived version of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”
“His songs make you think,” Shed says of Stafford, who plays guitar, fiddle, banjo, organ and harmonica. “He puts on a full-service show. You're going to have virtuoso musicianship and the best comedy you'll ever hear.”
Stafford, who has spent many years performing in Branson, Mo., says he's looking forward to returning to his home state for such an occasion.
“I always look forward to coming back home to Florida and this time it's even more special,” he says. “The Florida Folk Festival has long been a state tradition for more than 60 years and I am thrilled to be part of this year's lineup.”
The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park features more than a dozen stages of varying sizes. The amphitheater holds 3,000 people and serves as the main stage for performances. The Ann Thomas Gazebo is a non-amplified stage without electricity that acts as an intimate space for performers to connect with audiences.
“It's built right on the banks of the Suwannee,” Shed says. “On this stage, the artist can just sing and talk with the crowd.”
Gainesville's Dale Crider has performed at the Florida Folk Festival for 50 years. This year he will play bluegrass music with a backing band. A longtime employee of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Crider says musicians feel creatively replenished after performing at the event, with its lush grounds and the nearby Suwannee River.
“All of us are celebrating the land, the water, the air, the pristine environment we're singing in,” he says. “We get recharged here every year.”
In addition to live music, the festival features campgrounds for tents and RVs, dancing under the stars, the state's official fiddle and banjo championships, artisans' workshops, a beer garden, a children's area complete with performers and crafts, and food from both coasts.
“There will be some lip-smacking good eats,” Shed says. Area vendors will sell barbecued meat, cornbread, black eyed peas, shrimp gumbo and collard greens among other area delicacies.
Mark Smith says he hopes festival-goers leave with a new or deeper appreciation for their home state.
“The focus is not just on performers — it's on a place, on Florida,” he says. “It's all there to help people understand this complex place called Florida, which has been around a lot longer than Disney.”