62nd Florida Folk Festival
The 62nd annual Florida Folk Festival, at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center in White Springs, Florida, lived up to its reputation for heat, bugs, and a lot of great music and fun. We had a spectacular weekend, with absolutely epic late-night jams at our campsite.We established our usual campsite compound, with a ragtag collection of tents and campers. This year, we shared our little compound with Mindy Simmons and the Hot Pockets (Lisa and Annie). We should say that they shared the camping spot with us, for which we were very grateful. There is always a mad rush for camping spots on Thursday morning. As an added bonus, this led to a collaboration on stage. On Friday, we played our first set at 5:30 on the Azalea stage, closing out that stage for the day. In spite of the late afternoon heat and the approach of dinner time, we had a good crowd– including a bunch of old friends stopping by to see us.
The day didn’t end with the closing down of the official stages. It started out with just a sprinkling of people gathering at our campsite, sharing songs. We had our neighbors, Mindy & the Hot Pockets, and we were joined by our new friends, the Currys (definitely worth checking out this great band that we had just seen at GambleFest). Soon, more and more people began to gather– some joining in, some gathering just to listen. Our erstwhile bassist, Andres Colin, performed a beautiful duet with his equally talented better half, Kristen (who was also the photographer for the weekend). We discovered that Andres, aside from being an outstanding bassist and talented singer/songwriter, is also a skillful jam host, handing his guitar around and coaxing people out of the surrounding darkness to step into the light and do a song.
By 2:00am, the crowd had grown bigger and rowdier, and we realized that we had the most popular and outrageous jam in the whole campground, even before all the surrounding song circles had given it up for the night. A songwriter who identified himself as Jimmy stepped forward to do a couple of his songs that became the anthems of the weekend: “Mashed Potatoes,” and “Captain Beachman.” It was the talk of the campground the next day. (You can get a little taste of this at the end of the video below…)
On Saturday, we had the challenge of following Jim Stafford on the “Under the Oaks Stage.” As we waited for our set, he had the crowd roaring with laughter with his songs and stories. (You might remember Jim Stafford from his hit, “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes,” and from his stint on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.) Tough act to follow, but he left us with a great crowd, all warmed up for whooping and applauding. They even gave us a standing ovation at the end of our set.
There was a major power outage about about 5:30 on Saturday, right in the middle of Mindy & the Hot Pockets’ set. They finished their set without sound reinforcement, which was actually pretty great. Everybody quieted down and became a very appreciative listening audience. We learned that it wasn’t just that stage but the whole park and the neighboring town of White Springs had lost power. At first we were afraid that we had caused it, since we had overloaded the circuits in the campground the day before, with too many campers plugged in to one pylon. A remarkably patient and heroic guy from the Park Service had come out and replaced the burned out receptacle, and then helped us figure out how much load we could put on it without burning it out all over again. This time it wasn’t our fault, however.
Saturday night, we went down to the Amphitheatre stage to see the headliner for the weekend: J.J. Grey and Mofro. The opening acts on the main stage had to perform with only a few LED lights to case the stage in a red glow, running on the backup generator along with the sound system. Just before JJ Grey was scheduled to go on, however, they got power back so we got the full effect.We got back to the camp about 11:30 that night, and thought briefly about going to bed. There didn’t seem to be the energy for another jam. Then a guy we didn’t know showed up, took out his guitar and sat down. Then a guy with a banjo strolled up. Andres got everybody going with a rendition of “Oye Como Va,” (and we finally got to know the actual lyrics). Pretty soon the Currys were back, a fiddle player, Mindy and the Hot Pockets came over, and finally… “Mashed Potatoes,” this time with rousing support from probably 20 people who all now knew the words. It was some time in the wee hours of the morning when people slowly dispersed until there were just a few stragglers and one lone banjo picker. We knew it must have been getting dangerously close to dawn when our banjo-picking friend, Rob, finally told the guy, “Dude, it’s too late for banjo.”
The great thing about having our sets scheduled late in the day is that we could sleep late, wander about and see lots of music during the day, and still have time for a warm-up in the camp before loading into one of the golf carts for a ride to the stage. (Many thanks to the volunteers who drove all the musicians back and forth– it would have been no fun at all to lug our gear back and forth in that heat.)On Sunday afternoon, Mindy invited Carmela and Sara to join the Hot Pockets for a couple of songs. The five of them did a breathtakingly beautiful and moving version of “One Voice” (originally recorded by the Wailin’ Jennys). We played our final set on the “Heritage Stage,” finishing well before the rains came in that evening. We were sandwiched between the astonishing guitar work of Michael Jordan and the swampy Florida blues of Ben Prestage, so we were fortunate to be in good company and once again to have an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. And it was a thrill when Mindy & the Hot Pockets joined us for “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Sweet five-part harmony, just as if we had actually rehearsed it!
For a sampling of the weekend, here’s a video that Andres Colin, our Jam Master Extraordinaire, has edited together.