Friday, May 2, 2008 – The weather is BEAUTIFUL!!! If you ain’t here, you’re messin’ up BIG TIME! The new edition of the Gamble Rogers Folk Fest kicked off Friday at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds a bit west of St. Augustine on SR 207 just outside of Elkins, Fl. For years the fest has been held on Anistasia Island at the amphitheatre on A1A. But circumstances (cost and others) forced the festival to move to new quarters to survive and continue on. Frankly, it seems like a good move. The fairgrounds are spacious and in many ways more “Gamble-like” since the amphitheatre went Hollywood in the past couple of years. This feels like home and exudes the kind of down home warmth that typified Gambles music and stories. We got on the road early today and it took less than two hours to get on site. Lis Williamson had helped me out with arrangement s for a campsite (thank ya mam!) and we were all set . Once we got the camper situated we strolled the grounds, located the stages, said hello’s to many, many friends and then kicked back to enjoy the afternoon. I was a little concerned that our campsite was completely unshaded and the sun was beating down, but the weather stayed in the mid 80’s and a consistent breeze kept everything wonderfully comfortable. So I sat under the awning, sipped a little libation and restrung guitars – even picked a tune or two. At 6 p.m. we joined the throngs for the renewed Friday night fish fry. What a feed!! Exceptional food – fish with hush puppies, cole slaw, baked beans (with some jalopenas for a little kick). Excellent!! The volunteers working that duty really earned everyone’s thanks. The long line for the food moved at a trot – literally – as everyone hustled to get the loaded plates out to us all. Outstanding guys – really enjoyed it! Then a great line-up on the Big Top Stage to kick things off. The Aaron O’Rourke Trio came on at 7 p.m. – WOW! You hear that the trio is centered around the mountain dulcimer and you think melodic, old time, plucky / strummy music – WRONG!! Aaron is to mountain dulcimer what Jimmy Hendricks was to electric guitar. You can sit right there and watch him and still not believe what you’re hearing. Unbelievable music. And lest you think Aaron is the only hot picker up there, Mickey Abraham on mandolin is world class as well. If you get a chance to see these guys do yourself a favor and get there. Mary Flower was up next. This amazing musician who currently makes her home in Portland, OR. Is an incredibly uanassuming virtuoso in intricate syncopated Piedmont styled finger picking and bluesy lap-slide guitar. I had heard of Mary, but had not seen her perform. Another WOW!! She has such a great relaxed and familiar stage presence interlaced with personal humor – simply a treat! Mary will be in Orlando Monday night at Fodor’s in Orlando sponsored by CFFI. Check the Central Florida Folk, Inc. website (http://www.cffolk.org/ ) for more details. Stevie Coyle then took the stage. A co-founder of the high energy California group The Waybacks, Stevie left the group to tour solo. Another amazing guitarist, Stevie’s show is a combination of immaculate guitar work and zany humor that hits everyone in the audience “right where they live” at some point in his non-stop banter and lyrics. Stevie puts out a newsletter that is as entertaining as his stage performance and you can subscribe for free at http://steviecoyle.com – highly recommended. Wrapping up the formal stage shows for the night was the amazing Carolina Chocolate Drops – three kids (everyone less than 30 is a kid to me) from North Carolina who are adept students of traditional music heritage and bring those styles to the present with astounding energy, versatility and infectious vibe. Their show includes fiddles, banjo’s, guitars, resonator guitars, jugs, jars, drums, fifes, mouth harps, harmonicas, stomping feet, clapping hands, dancing, amazing vocals and huge smiles on every face in the crowd. I had the chance to see them in Memphis two years ago at Folk Alliance and their ability to create music even simply with rhythm and rudimentary instruments, some of which they make themselves, is inspirational. Another don’t miss act. With the stage closing down we headed back to the camper, got out the fire pit and fied her up. I had no sooner sat down, evening libation in hand, than folks began to gather - Larry Mangum, Ray Lewis, Larry’s old rock n’ roll buddy Jack, Woody, Chris ____?, John William Davis, Tina ______(damn I’m bad at last names!!), Grant Peeples and others ended up circled round the fire swapping tunes, jokes and jibes. Incredibly talented people all. I was particularly blown away by John William Davis’ friend Tina whose voice, guitar work and songwriting were just awesome. And, as we passed midnight we went from Grant Peeples’ birthday to Tina and Larry Mangum’s birthdays – all around one small campfire – too cool! Not a terribly late night – everyone started easing away around 1 a.m. or a little after. What a beautiful night. Nice and cool, not a cloud in the star heavy skies and the smell of wood smoke. Sure hated to call it a night.