Notes from the Road – Florida Folk Festival – Sunday, May 25, 2008 Oooooohhhhhhhhh – 10:30 a.m., what the heck am I doing awake? Guess we missed the breakfast today (only goes until 9:15). COFFEE!!! I’m on the Seminole Camp Stage for my last show today at 1:00 p.m. and I need to restring a guitar. This humid weather kills guitar strings at an alarming rate, everything starts sounding like you’re playing shoe strings. I think I’ll play my custom Orange Blossom made by my friend Doug Montgomery at the Guitar Factory in Orlando – it has a huge sound and the Seminole Stage is all acoustic so it’ll carry well. As I was lying here this morning trying not to wake up I was thinking how important this festival is to me. You know it’s the longest continuously running folk festival in the country. When I first started playing here I wanted the prestige of being included in this group of wonderful musicians, to have my name next to those of Gamble Rogers, Will McLean, Jim Bellew, Paul Champion, Vassar Clements and so many others who were the giants of Florida Folk - kind of a badge of accomplishment. Then it became one of a dwindling number of opportunities to play in front of larger crowds In a festival setting. There have been years when I considered (and sometimes did) skip the festival because it is always so hot here on Memorial Day weekend and coincides with other festivals in other parts of the country. But like a kid looking back after he has been out on his own a few years, now I think of White Springs as the place I come back to time and again to be with family and friends – home to me, my Florida heritage, my Florida Folk family and much more. You know, this is the 56th edition of the FFF and last night in the Amphitheatre the MC, Wayne Martin, was calling out to the thousands on the hillside to see who had been coming to the festival for how long. There were many who had been coming for 15 – 20 years. As he kept creeping up the calendar the numbers responding dwindled. He finally asked if anyone had been coming for 50 or more years. There was a guy right behind me that hollered out that he had been at every FFF for 51 years, the first time with his parents when he was 3 years old. When you’re sitting on that hillside under the stars peeking down through the pines and oaks surrounded by people so appreciative and supportive of Florida’s musical heritage and talent you can’t help but feel like you are among the best people there are anywhere. Ok, enough of waxing philosophical – time to get ready to do some pickin’ and singin’. More in a bit. Well, I knew today was going to be a tough situation. I was following Ben Prestage at the Seminole Stage and he is quite the buzz at this year’s festival – well deserved I might add. So, I knew that (a) he would have a large crowd gathered and (b) when he finished they would mostly get up and follow him over to the side to buy CD’s, chat, head to other shows, etc. I was correct on both counts. However, I managed to generate enough guitar sound with the intro to Steam Train as folks were getting up and milling about that I was able to keep a good crowd in place for my set. Man was it hot! They’d oriented the performer so that I was standing in full sun playing to folks sitting under the thatched roof Chickee. I was sopping wet before my first tune was done. However, the group I had retained continued to grow as folks came back to the stage or I caught them as they passed by. I got a good strong 7 song set in with tunes off of both current CD’s, as well as a new song I’ve been getting great response to, As the Crow Flies. Really enjoyed the set and the crowd – my last for this year’s festival. We went on back to Nelly Blye’s for one last round of the great food over there, listened to Amy Carol Webb’s set on the Old Marble Stage, then headed for the ice cream guy – what a day for that! It was still not as hot today as it has been in past years and there was a breeze that would come and go while you were in the shade, but it was warm nevertheless. Ice cream in hand we headed back down to the Seminole Stage to hear Mindy Simmons, wonderful as always, another set of The Ashley Gang and the Jackson Creek (Joe & Katie Waller). Great sets by all and the breeze was nice sitting under the Chickee instead of standing out in the sun. Now it’s shower and nap time. I don’t know what tonight will have in store – I’m starting to wind down. We’re going to head back to hear Gatorbone at 8 and probably the Daughters of Florida (Amy Carol, Mindy and Jeannie Fitchen at 8:45. Whether I will have enough juice to hang out and pay any music is a big question mark at the moment. My mind is already turning to the tasks of getting things packed up to go so that we get home at a reasonable time tomorrow. We’ll see. So, here’s the thing – we went back, got dinner, ate in the beer garden while we listened to Patchwork (over the somewhat distracting play of the beer attendants on guitar and mandolin) the settled in and watched a GREAT set by Gatorbone. Those guys are TIGHT! I enjoy listening to them as much as anyone I saw all weekend and beyond. I was finding new energy - uh oh. In the beer garden we had run into some new fans, Florence and her boyfriend Jerry from Destin, and they invited us over to their campground (Suwannee Campground just outside of White Springs) for a fire circle. Once I checked out of the CD booth and said our goodbyes to those who were available, we decided “what the heck” and went on over to Suwannee to visit for a minute of two. Well, there were a lot of folks there and they insisted that the guitar come out and before we knew it – well, you see what time I’m posting this (nearly 1 a.m.). While it’s not that late by ordinary standards, given that I was up until 4 a.m. last night it’s a whole lot later than I thought I’d be. But it was a lot of fun and we were made very welcome by all – some who are from the Tampa area and plan on coming to my shows over there in a couple of weeks. Very nice folks. So that’s it, another FFF wrapped - a really great festival weekend with wonderful weather, tremendous music, dear friends and a spirit that carries you up and beyond. Thanks so much to Elaine McGrath, our festival director without whom none of this would continue to happen. Kudos to Tom Shed who really got the sound issues from the past couple of festivals under control – the sound on all stages was very good all weekend, the first time I’ve been able to say that in a long while – GREAT JOB TOM!! That boy worked himself to a frazzle and it paid off. Thanks to Frank Thomas for including me again in his River Gazebo line-up. Thanks to all the hard working volunteers doing every crummy job you can think of with enthusiasm and a smile – you guys are great. And, most of all, thanks to all the fans of Florida Folk music that came out to support the art and create / sustain the community – GROUP HUG! And, if you weren’t here (and particularly if you’ve never been to the Florida Folk Festival) we hope you’ll come be part of the magic next year. All the Best – Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242