Touring the Panhandle.
We recently had the good fortune to be invited to participate in the concert series organized by Mike and Maggie of Lucky Mud,The deal was a Thursday evening concert at Topsail Hill State Park in Santa Rosa Beach and a Sunday evening concert at Roberts Hall, in Lynn Haven. In order to fill out our trip, we arranged to play at Cafe Amavida in historic St Andrews on Friday, and Little Village in Panama City on Saturday afternoon. So we packed up a rented U-Haul trailer and headed north.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is one of Florida’s often forgotten gems, tucked up on the Emerald Coast just to the west of Panama City. This stretch of preserved north Florida beach also encompasses an old RV resort, with both campsites and cabins for rent. The Thursday evening concert series usually takes place in an outdoor amphitheater by a small lake. This particular weekend, however, heavy rains forced us to take it inside the little club house, where we played for a small but very appreciative audience.
Friday night: Cafe Amavida is a small, locally owned shop in a freshly redeveloping part of Panama City. The owner, Phil, is part of a local community of young entrepreneurs currently working hard to bring life, culture and (most importantly for us) live music to PC. We arrived early to scope out the place and spent a delightful afternoon taking advantage of their wifi, astonishingly good coffee, and a variety of edible treats. That evening we were able to play for an unusually lively crowd, mostly locals. When I say lively, I mean they were dancing in the aisles! We liked it there so much, we spent much of Sunday there as well– for the wifi.We were sad to learn that Phil had gone off to work on yet another music venue he was getting ready to open, and was pretty seriously injured by a run-away power saw. He wasn’t there Friday night because he was in the E.R. and then surgery! We wish him a full and speedy recovery. Saturday afternoon: Little Village is basically a shop and restaurant that occupies a small house that has been surrounded by a deck and a cluster of small shacks for the display of a unique collection of clothing, jewelry, knick knacks, and so on. We set up initially on the deck, overlooking a little lake, but had to hurriedly move under cover as a result of a rapidly moving line of thunderstorms that arrived just after we started our first set. Fortunately, they also have a covered courtyard where we were able to set up, after moving aside a few pieces of driftwood and carved wooden fish. Saturday night: Originally we had planned to head over to Tallahassee for the night, but our gig in Tally had fallen through. Out of the blue, we were invited to play a set at the A&M Theatre, right in downtown Panama City. Matt, one of the organizers of the A&M, invited us to join the line-up of a music festival they had going on. He said that there were other folk performers in the line-up, so we wouldn’t be too out of place. When we got to the A&M, however, we found that the other folkies were apparently no-shows. We ended up playing between a noise artist (quite good, actually) and a hard-core band. At first we were a little freaked out, but the audience was open-minded, welcoming and actually quite enthusiastic about our set. We even sold some CDs! It was such an unusual setting for us, Sara had to grab a shot with her iPhone.
Sunday evening: Our show at historic Roberts Hall was the best possible culmination of the weekend. The building itself is a century-old, beautifully restored Odd Fellows Hall, on the partially restored main street of Lynn Haven. Part of the point of the Americana Concert series, for Mike and Maggie, is to raise both awareness and money to maintain this building. It also happens to be an outstanding room for music, requiring only the slightest bit of sound reinforcement to get crystal clear sound. Even better, Mike and Maggie have done an amazing job of building up support for their concert series. It was a grey and rainy afternoon, and we were not expecting a great turn out. To our surprise, the place was pretty much full by the time we started.
Each week, they start with an open mic that brings out a diverse line-up of local talent, each contributing solid performances. Not the usual rag-tag open mic fare at all. Mike and Maggie have also solidly established the tradition of a “listening room,” which means that they have established a dedicated, serious, appreciative regular audience. We were able to add to the regulars with people who had seen us at Florida Folk Festival, or at one of the other shows around Panama City. One couple had driven 90 minutes to come see us!
After the open mic, Lucky Mud played a few songs and then introduced us. We played two sets, and got two standing ovations– one before and one after an encore. It was absolutely delightful. We found ourselves moving slowly as we packed up for the drive home. We almost didn’t want to leave.
Thanks, Mike and Maggie, for arranging this great weekend!
We were so excited by the response, we had plenty of energy to make the otherwise grueling 8 hour drive home that night.Sunday night on the road in Florida is very strange. At one point, we tried to stop at a rest area and all of the truck and trailer parking spots were taken, creating an amazing corridor of idling 18 wheelers. We made it home by about 5am, exhausted but happy.