Notes from the Road – Barberville Spring Frolic 2009 If you’ve never been to the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts in Barberville you really are missing one of the most interesting, quaint villages in Central Florida. The Settlement consists of many acres of land covered with historical buildings that have been moved to the grounds from the central Florida area. Native crafts (blacksmithing, woodworking, turpentine manufacturing, quilting, etc.) are demonstrated on the grounds periodically and twice a year the folk music community descends for a couple of days of terrific acoustic music. The stages are set up inside some of the buildings (the Church and the Barn are my favorites) and some are outdoors under canvas canopies. In all, 6 stages of music run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the Barn stage continuing on until 11 pm on Saturday night. Friday, April 24 In the past I’ve not camped at the Spring Frolic as the weather tends to be hot and, in some years, very wet. It’s only about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Orlando, so it’s not a big deal to go back and forth. However, this year the weather is predicted to be very comfortable and I hate to miss the late night pickin’ in the camping area, so I’m hauling the camper on over. Judy has to stay home and care for her dad so I’m flying solo on this trip. I got hooked up and underway by about 3:30. It’s a pretty easy drive, just east on I-4 to Lake Helen, into Deland, take the bypass around downtown and catch 17 north up through Deleon Springs to Barberville. The only interesting part of the drive is the last few miles on 17 – otherwise just regular old highway and town roads. I’ve been having a problem with my car’s electrical system when I tow the trailer. For some reason hooking the trailer lights, etc. to the car puts a tremendous draw on the battery and it starts with difficulty after just a short time. I stopped in Deland to pick up some supplies and shut the car down – mistake. When I came back out and tried to crank back up all I got was that rapid clicking sound that lets you know you’ve got trouble. Lucky for me there was a guy parked next to me in a big F150 Ford pick-up chatting on his cell phone and, learning of my situation, agreed to assist with jumper cables. Vvvrrrooommm – On the road again . . . I swung into the campground right at 5:30 and quickly located a somewhat shady spot right next to my friend Doug Purcell. In no time I was unhooked and set up (I let the car continue to idle for about 20 minutes after disconnecting the trailer to let the battery recover). Soon I was sipping a beer and chatting with all the musicians that had gathered early, enjoying the evening breeze and the cooling air. Joe and Katie Waller are the pair responsible for this bi-annual event. The job of organizing a festival of this size is a herculean, thankless task and they do a magnificent job. Besides the setting in the historical pioneer settlement, another unique aspect of the program is that all stages are 100% acoustic – no sound amplification of any kind and all acoustic instruments. Some find that daunting, but I love it. The acoustics in buildings like the Church are fabulous and its so much fun to be able to perform free of microphones, speakers, wires and such. It really creates a connection with the audience that is “house concert like” though in a more formal setting. In addition, there are no Emcees – each stage has a large clock on a stand directly in front of the performer and you are expected to start and conclude your show on time. While you might think that would lead to time problems with no one in charge, the opposite is actually true – the musicians are fastidious in respecting the time schedule and everything runs . . . well . . . like clockwork. That was a Joe Waller innovation a couple of years back and was a master stroke! I circulated and sipped a while and then decided to fix a little something to eat – a heaped turkey sandwich did me just fine. I brought some boiled peanuts and some ice cream for later if I get snacky. Time to hit the song circles. I quickly settled in with James Hawkins, Leigh and Steve Humes, Mike Worral and Larry Mangum. We began swapping tunes, some truly great tunes. Larry’s got a new one which I’m guessing is called ‘These are the Times of Our Lives’ that’s gonna be a crowd favorite. I kept dreggin up old ones that I rarely play and have never been recorded. Mike Worral is also one heck of a writer who I’ve not had the chance to sit and appreciate before. It seemed like in no time at all the tequila had suffered mortal injury and, well, it just got late all of a sudden. Everyone started to sag around midnight and I settled back into the camper for a late night snack, a little reading and some serious zzzz’s. Tomorrow things get under way. Saturday April 25th With all the windows open (no electricity in this camping facility, just open ground and trees) I woke to the melodious sounds of Triad (Doug Purcell with Carl and Barbara Wade) as they rehearsed for their 10 a.m. set. Charley Groth was also there and soon he was running tunes with the various folks he had joining him for his shows. I made coffee on the gas stove (the old fashioned way) while I washed the night from my face. Then, armed with coffee, I ventured forth to check in at the musicians’ table and start thinking about my day. I’m starting off with a noon show in the Church, one of my favorite stages. I’m a little nervous about my voice – it still seemed a little weak last night, apparently still recovering from my Will McLean illness. I restrung my guitar over a second cup of coffee and then fixed myself a little breakfast (hard boiled eggs and fruit). Now with third cup of coffee in hand I began to consider my set list for the first show. I tested the voice and it really seemed ok, though not full strength and I didn’t want to strain it. So I eased into Banks of the Old St. Johns, Teppintine, Hemingways Hurricane, Marker 26 and Steam Train. Everything seems fine, so I’m ready. The Church, while one of my favorite stages, is sometimes not as well attended as others. Audiences can be really small – in past years often as few as 8 to 10. However, today folks are out and looking for music (and, hopefully, for me). I had around 30 or better for this first show, a great turn out. Lots of old friends, but many new faces as well. The voice really worked well (a few cracks and yodels, but nothing embarrassing) and the set went without a hitch. I added many new names to my mailing list and sold a couple of CD’s too. Terrific start. After chatting outside the Church with a few folks I headed over to do my songwriting workshop with Larry Mangum. I never find one hour workshops to be very productive in terms of really imparting much information on the craft itself, but I was looking forward to this one because I enjoy Larry’s company. We had a small determined group in attendance, but as it came time to start, no Larry. Hmmmm . . . Oh well, we got started anyway and really had a nice one hour session – much more productive than the typical. The attendees were all business and knew what they wanted to ask and learn about. Quite a pleasure even without Sir Mango. Wonder what happened to him? With that work done I was in need of nourishment. They have a hospitality area for the performers serving stew, cornbread, etc. and it fit the bill just fine. I sat and chatted with some old friends and as I was finishing up I happened to look over at a table under one of the Chickees and there was Larry Mangum! So, I went over, chastised him (to his great embarrassment) for ditching the workshop (which he totally forgot as he was sitting in with some other musicians on their set) and informed him that I would be taking his half of the workshop fee. What is half of zero anyway? Also sat and chatted a bit with Ron and Mary (soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Johnson) about their upcoming CD release and the status of mine. Lots of time to kill now as my next set isn’t until 7 pm. I headed back to the camper to take care of some housekeeping issues, write a little of this stuff here and otherwise chill. My laptop battery had expired so I went over to the Settlement schoolhouse and sat in one of the old desks (a tight fit) and plugged into an outlet to recharge while I worked. An older fellow came over and talked to me for a bit. Turns out he is from Pierson and as an elementary school kid had gone to school in the very building in which we sat. In fact, he allowed as how he had gotten the only “F” in his life in that very classroom – it taught him not to argue with the teacher!! Interesting fellow and I enjoyed out chat. Back in the camping area I sat over with Doug Purcell, Rick Kennedy and Denise Adams while I constructed my set list for my evening Barn set. The evening lineup in the Barn is quite special – everything else shuts down except for the dance stage and you always have a great crowd for the Barn on Saturday night. I always appreciate being included. I settled on a song list of On the Other Side, Withlacoochee Dreamer, State of Dreams, Welcome Home, This Old House and Yellow Butter Moon. That accomplished I practiced a bit back at the camper. Raven Stands Alone stopped by for a while as did Bill & Eli Perras, Brian and Tia Smalley and a couple of others. Idle time passes so quickly and soon I grabbed my gear and headed over to the Barn. I got there in time to hear a little of Hannah’s Whirl (my friends Tami and Paul from Tampa) and Garrison Doles (my great songwriter compatriot from Orlando). Then, show time! As expected I had nearly a full house (was full if you counted the lingerers outside the back doors where the breeze was cooling the evening down. In that room I felt like I needed to push the vocals more to be heard throughout the room (and beyond) and I found that while I’m recovered from my Willfest ills my voice is still a little weak from lack of use. So, I had some more noticeable cracks and yodels early, but again nothing terrible or embarrassing. I truly enjoyed the set and the crowd response was awesome. There were mailing list fans there that I hadn’t seen in quite some time and lots of new faces as well. So much fun. James Hawkins and Cold Harbor came next with their usual terrific set, then The Ashley Gang, another of my favorites (Al Scortino is, in my opinion, one of the best songwriters I know) and then the ever popular and superb M.T. Pawkets. What a great line up and a real treat to hear. Joe & Katie Waller with Jackson Creek finished out the night, but I confess that I had not yet eaten and I was feeling the considerable gravitational pull of that tequila. So, I ducked out and repaired to the campground for nourishment and refreshment. Of course, others were already there and the song circles and jams were in full swing. So after my bite to eat I headed back over to the Cold Harbor campsite where my badly wounded tequila bottle had been left to languish. Larry Mangum, Mike Worral, Mike McKee, Raven Stands Alone and a couple others were in full song swap. I just listened for a bit, but then drug out the guitar. We were soon joined by James Hawkins, Leigh and Steve Humes (whose chairs, etc. we were already using in their absence), Ron & Mary Johnson, Jonathon and Sherry Hodge, Charlie Groth (and I’m sure I’m leaving someone out). Great, great, great song swap with some great players who could back any song that came up – quite a treat. I had a fair amount of help with the libations - the tequila finally succumbed to the beating it had sustained and lay dead on the field of battle. By midnight I was no longer able to concentrate enough to finish a song so off to bed I went, though I could hear others continuing on for hours after that. Nice cool evening with a refreshing breeze coming through the windows – holler if I snore! Sunday September 26 Surprisingly, it got pretty cool last night and at one point I woke reaching for the blanket. I really slept well and didn’t roll out until around 8 a.m. I made coffee and worked a little on this epic chronicle for a while before venturing out. I visited hither and yon with these and those, circling back for more coffee when appropriate. Everyone is really enjoying the weekend of magnificent weather, great music and good friends. But, you already sense the restlessness that comes with knowing today it all ends and soon it’ll be time to pack up and head out. My sole set on Sunday wasn’t until 2:30 back in the Barn, so I had plenty of time to futz around with things. I got my set list together – today I thought I’d do Annie’s Chairs, The One Not There, Break Some Stones, Okeechobee and, the only repeater for the weekend, Hemingway’s Hurricane. After establishing what I would play I cleaned up (as best I could with no running water, etc. – shower is first priority today when I get home) and then headed over to the Settlement buildings to recharge my computer battery and get some lunch from the hospitality area. I sat down to lunch and solved many of the world’s problems with Chuck and Varney Hardwicke and Joe Waller. The only feature of the Pioneer Settlement that I am not fond of is the large aviary full of peacocks near the Barn and Sugar Cane stages and right across from where we were eating lunch. Peacocks, though beautiful, are noisy, irritating birds. This is even more so in the spring when they are full time engaged in activities of the amorous nature. The males are strutting, fanning and preening while the girls look just about as bored and put off as when us males try to show off by proving who can drink the most beer. They kept screeching and calling to the point that I was having murderous fantasies involving a guitar string garrote, colorful feathers and a BBQ. Having finished lunch and settled most all of the pressing problems of mankind I headed back to get my gear for my show. I did not really expect to have much of a crowd for this show since I had stiff competition on other stages and the Sunday crowd tends to be lighter in any event. I got to the Barn in time to hear Triad (Doug Purcell, Carl Wade, Barbara Shaeffer and Rick Kennedy) do a very nice set including Will McLean’s Hold Back the Waters. Bill & Eli Perras, Bluesgotus, followed with a great set of their originals accompanied by Bill’s exceptional guitar licks, Chuck Spano’s tasteful percussion and Eli’s heartfelt and expressive vocals. Wonderful stuff. To my surprise and pleasure I had a very nice crowd for a Sunday afternoon and the song selections fit right in with the mood. Having learned my lesson last night I took it easier and did not push the vocals so hard – all went well. Such a pleasure to play for lovers of the music there to listen and let you into their hearts. Well, time to load up. Everyone was breaking down by the time I got back to the campground. My first order of business was to go fill up with gas so there’d be no stopping once I hooked up to the behemoth and started home. Alas, the strain of getting to Barberville Friday with the mysterious power drain on my battery had proved too much and the car just wouldn’t start. Fortunately Carl Wade had jumper cables reasonably handy and we used Doug Purcell’s car to get me cranked. I went on to the gas station and violated one of the usual rules – I left the car running while I pumped the gas. If I hadn’t it likely would not have restarted. No incident however and soon I was back at the campground putting things away and hooking up to get under way. Goodbyes were shared all around. Many of us will be at Gamble Rogers next weekend, but some I won’t see until the Florida Folk Festival towards the end of May. That’s as it is for this family of musicians and none of us would have it any other way. Still no Granddaughter – ARRRGGGG!!! Next weekend, Gamble Rogers near St. Augustine at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds. Hope to see you there!