I have limited Internet access here, so I’m going to keep this diary style and post in one long entry. Bear with me. When I left Suwannee Springfest last weekend we came to Dunnellon and dropped off the camper on site in the campground where “Willfest” is to be held this year. The campground is eclectic, but very nice. There is a lot of shade, plenty of sites with water and power hookups and many sites right on the Withlacoochee River. We got a site centrally located and then sent out emails to folks we knew were coming so they could camp nearby if they wanted. The plan had been to come over Thursday night for the annual potluck dinner for the early arrivers then settle in for the festival Friday through Sunday. However, events conspired against us and we didn’t get back until late morning on Friday – Oh well. Friday, April 4th – This is a day that Judy and I expected to be a little difficult, and it was. This would have been our son Tanner’s 18th birthday. It’s still so hard more than four months later to accept and comprehend that he’s gone. But we were surrounded here by so many good friends, family and music that it helped ease the strain. Putting the word out on where we were camped did the trick. Ron & Bari Litschauer and Charles & Dawn DeWitt (Roadside Revue) got in on one side of us. Clyde & Lorelei Walker were just beyond them. Joe & Katie Bailey (Jackson Creek) were right behind us. And, Joel Kelly, Marjorie LaRoe and Dan Gribben (Work Release Program) were on the other side of us. Norm MacDonald was tucked in next to Dan Gribben and Al & Cindy Scortino (The Ashley Gang) were just one site over. Ally Smith, with Tisa, Rob and Cassaundra, were right across the road in one direction, Ron & Nancy Hagen in the other. So, as I said, we were surrounded by wonderful friends. I was scheduled on the Main Stage in the evening at 8 p.m. right before the Dean of Florida Folk, Frank Thomas. I followed Carrie Hamby and Singing Biscuit – tough act to follow, let me tell you. They had the crowd fired up before they left the stage. I had wondered how many people we would have, particularly on Friday night, since this was a different venue for the festival. The answer was - big crowd, actually bigger than usual for the first night under the big pole barn style pavilion. So, at 8 p.m. sharp they brought me on. What a fun, well received set! My folks were there with a close family friend, as well as my brother and sister-in-law, and it made the performance all the more special. Since we were sitting within both sight and sound of the Withlacoochee I started off with Withlacoochee Dreamer, a song I wrote last year (a top ten winner at Willfest last year) and which will be included on an “all Florida” CD I hope to release later this year. I followed that with Break Some Stones, the title cut of my 2007 release which recently won another award, this one from the Great American Songwriting Competition. Then I played Welcome Home, the song I wrote for my friend Steve Blackwell who passed away September 2006, dedicating it not only to him, but also to Bobby Hicks who passed away earlier this year. Both Steve and Bobby are beloved members of our Florida Folk Family and are sorely missed. Then Ron Litschauer honored me by joining me on stage with his mandolin. We kicked it up a notch with Teppintine featuring Ron’s “workin’ man blues” style approach that makes that song a stand out on my 2005 Truths & Lies CD. From there we did This Old House, always a crowd favorite, and finished strong with a driving rendition of Steam Train. An excellent set, wonderfully well received and so much fun. With the “work” behind me I visited with so many friends outside the pavilion while listening to Frank Thomas (assisted by a cast of several, including Ron who switched to guitar for Frank’s material). After the stage closed at 11:30, I slung a guitar over my shoulder and, refreshments in hand, began to wander. I sat and played for an hour or so over at Ally/Tisa/Rob/Cassaundra’s. They went to great lengths to decorate their campfire area with wispy white cloth strung on a high line between trees, Christmas style lights, rope lights on the ground and even solar powered ground stake lights. I told them that it looked like they’d had a rear-end collision with a WalMart stock truck on the way to the festival – very nouveau-folkie / redneck kitsch. They are such a great crowd, love those folks. Then I filtered back to Ron & Bari’s where a serious, high energy jam was going on driven by Roadside Revue, Bob Patterson and Clyde Walker. Some serious hot pickin’ goin’ on there. I listened to that great music for a while, then wandered off into the dark looking for Tom Shed’s campsite down by the river. As it turned out I found it, but didn’t know it. I saw a motor home like his with a screen room next to it about where he had told me it would be and there was a song circle proceeding inside. But when I stuck my head in I saw neither Tom, nor anyone I recognized, and, though everyone is welcome everywhere, it was getting late enough (after 1 a.m. by this point) that I didn’t want to do the old “introduction to new folks dance” so I just kept on going. Turns out that was Tom’s circle after all and he was just inside doing host duties of some kind. Anyway, I wandered back past the Cypress Stage where a large song circle was in progress with many folks I know (Tom Ellis , Mike Jurgensen, Dan Leach, Glenn Smith, Lee Hunter & Arvid Smith (Tammerlin) and several others). However, I was starting to sag, so after listening to several tunes, rather than jump in and start playing I decided to go get horizontal (about 2 a.m. or so). I’ve got a packed schedule tomorrow, so best not do it with little sleep. Great night – I got comfortable and drifted off to sleep to the deep resonance of Dawn DeWitt’s bass next door (they said that circle didn’t break up until about 4 a.m.). More tomorrow. Saturday, April 5th Got a great night’s sleep and woke to a beautiful morning. Coffee, a little campfire (for atmosphere, certainly not heat), conversation with passers-by, then time to start some rehearsing. I had three shows today, two of which were as one of the winners of this year’s Song Contest – a new tune, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams, was #3 and Hemmingway’s Hurricane was #6. My other set was on the Cypress stage and Ally Smith agreed to sing harmonies for me there so we spent an hour running those tunes to get set for that. At noon I was on the Magnolia Stage to present Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams, get my award plaque, etc. Malcolm McKinney from Southeast Florida was #2 and Debary’s Rog Lee took the top spot. At 1:30 p.m. I was at the Cypress Stage in time to hear Still Friends (Carrie Blackwell, Jaffe Blackwell, Dan Leach and another woman who, unfortunately, I haven’t yet met). These guys are just the cream of the crop and are in fine trim. Carrie’s vocals just knock you out and it’s great to hear Steve’s songs continue to live on. Great set guys. Then Ally and I gave the crowd Mournful Eyes, Lies, Sinner’s Song, Annie’s Chairs, This Old House and Hemingway’s Hurricane. I love playing for the crowds at Wilfest. They are among the most appreciative, respectful and giving anywhere. After I finished at the Cypress Stage I hung around to hear Bob Patterson’s set. Bob, of course, hails from the St. Augustine area, was a close friend of Gamble Rogers and an integral member of the Florida Folk community. He is the master of the twelve string guitar and spins a tale like Gamble himself. Bob is the consummate showman and I envy both his talent and exceptional stage presence. If you’re not familiar with him, catch Bob’s show soon in St. Augustine or at any of Florida’s best festivals. Then on to the Azalea Stage where all top ten song finalists presented their songs. What a great group of tunes. Rog Lee and I both had two songs in the top ten. He was #1 and #5 and I was #3 and #6. So, I lost to him TWICE in the same contest!! Every song I heard was exceptional, particularly Larry Mangum’s “tale of Dale Crider and Gamble Rogers.” I was honored to be included in this group of terrific writers and songs. Now with all of my work for the weekend done I went and got rid of my guitar, grabbed a little flask of refreshment that Lis Williamson had returned to me earlier and headed back to the Azalea Stage to hear a terrific line-up there of some of my favorites. Ron Johnson & Mary Matthews came right after the song contest presentation and did an excellent set of tunes – one of their best shows I’ve heard. Excellent driving tunes with Art Crummer on Dobro and solid vocals from both Ron & Mary. Great set guys. I only heard part of Jerry Mincey’s set (that’s when I went to dump my guitar, etc), but what I heard was outstanding. Jerry was followed by my good friends, The Roadside Revue. It was kind of tight on that small stage for the full band, including Daffy Dawn DeWitt’s stand up bass, Bitty Bari’s banjo and mandolin, Captain Ron and his guitar, plus their guest fiddler, the amazing Wayne Martin. But, I’ve never seen folks have more fun playing music, nor a crowd have more fun listening to it. Their spirit, energy and wit are irresistible. Next up, James Hawkins with Steve and Leigh Humes, plus a dobro player that I’m sorry to say I didn’t get the name of. Sound troubles delayed the start a bit, but James made up quickly for lost time. This group has got a terrific, very tight sound. Just when I think they’ve hit their stride they get even better yet. The last set I saw on that stage was Hannah’s Whirl, my friends Paul and Tammy from Tampa. Excellent set guys!! Their rendition of Steve Blackwell’s Mystery Tree is very stirring and Paul’s Tarzan Pants had everybody rolling in the aisles. Carrie Hamby was up next and I hated to go, but the storm clouds were forming and the word was that a major blow with up to 50 mph winds and heavy rain was headed our way – yikes!! I went back to the camper, pulled everything in and battened down the hatches before cooking dinner for Judy and I as the rain started to fall. Now our plan had been to eat, clean up and get back over to the Magnolia Stage to hear Mindy Simmons, Amy Carol-Webb and Lis Williamson’s shows. However, the rain persisted and while we could have gotten to the stage easy enough with umbrella’s, etc., I was concerned about the forecast of high winds and making sure the camper was ok. So, we never made it to the stage. As usual, the weather report never materialized and though the rain kept a low steady pace, the wind never appeared (thank goodness). Well, 11 p.m. and still raining – no campfiring for me tonight. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . . Sunday, April 5th Well, another VERY good night’s sleep. I’d love to stick around for the music today, but Judy and I both have busy weeks coming up so we’ll try to pull out by noon at the latest. A few notes before we get under way. The report from all was that all three of my intended shows last night, Mindy, Amy and Lis, were outstanding and played to a huge crowd that did not wimp out in the face of bad weather predictions like I did – HATE that I missed it!! Not only that, but apparently the true stalwarts among us took advantage when the rain stopped at around 1 a.m. and got the fires going. Some played all the way until 6 a.m. – now THAT’s FOLK MUSIC!!! We spent a while saying our goodbyes to all the folks around us and the many more that filtered by as we got the camper ready to go. Our review of the new location is all thumbs up. Though the old location at Sertoma near Dade City is very intimate and familiar, The Withlacoochee campground is larger, heavily shaded and has the great advantage of the frontage on the river. The stages all worked out well, particularly for a first time effort in a new location. Many, many thanks to Margaret Longhill and all of her crew for putting on yet another (the 19th!!!) amazing Willfest. Can’t wait until next year.