Notes from the Road – Florida Folk Festival – Saturday, May 24, 2008 Up and at ‘em. Kelly’s RV Park has a pancake breakfast each morning so I started with the breakfast of champions, sugar and caffeine – the blueberry pancakes were great! My set today is on the Ann Thomas River Gazebo Stage that perches above the Suwannee River in the Stephen Foster Memorial State Park. It is my favorite place to perform here. The weather is PERFECT – clear, breezy and comfortable. I’m really looking forward to this! Tradition is a huge element of the Florida Folk Festival and the Gazebo Stage is at the center of that tradition. For decades Frank and Ann Thomas have hosted that stage and invited only those writers who have a body of musical work about Florida and received the Thomas Seal of Approval. It’s all acoustic, no microphones or speakers, so you have to be ready to project to the considerable crowd that comes in under the gazebo structure itself and then spills out to the surrounding walkways and hillside bleachers that were added after Ann passed away and the Gazebo was named in her honor. Being included in Frank’s line-up is a premium, sought after slot and I’m always thankful and honored to be included. The crowd at the Gazebo builds during the morning with the most dedicated of the audience coming early to get prime seats and staying right there all day. We arrived in time to hear the last couple of songs by Bill & Eli Perras and then I busied myself off to the side of the Gazebo down a little foot trail warming up for my set. By the time I was introduced the Gazebo was pushing capacity and folks were backing up along the walkways leading down from the parking lot. As groups of kids swam in the Suwannee off of the canoe launch platform far below us I took the stage. My set included a lot of songs that I haven’t recorded yet (like Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams (#3 in the Will McLean judging this year), Hemingway’s Hurricane (#6 at Willfest), Withlacoochee Dreamer ( #7 at Willfest last year) and Welcome Home, my tribute to Steve Blackwell). Those songs will all be on a new CD titled Welcome Home which is scheduled for release in the late fall or winter. Playing Welcome Home was particularly special since Steve’s daughters, son and band mates were all there, now performing as Still Friends – got to sing the chorus looking right at Carrie Blackwell Hussey, such a treat! The crowd was exuberant and primed for more good things to come. Right after me came The Ashley Gang with some of their crowd favorites, River Road, The Ashley Gang, Joe Hotel, etc. I’m particularly jealous of Al Scortino’s The Ashley Gang – one of the best written historical songs around. Great show, even without Paul Garfinkel who was unable to make this show. Then came Still Friends - Carrie Blackwell, Japhy Blackwell, Dan Leach and new band member, Tiffiny Coffey. In addition to their own new tunes they played several of Steve’s songs including Steve’s song about Stetson Kennedy’s home in Caloosahatchee, Steve’s tribute to Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, The Real Magic Kingdom, Carrie’s protest song about big sugar in the Everglades that she wrote with a couple of contributors and, finally, at Frank Thomas’ personal request, Steve’s song The Line which, with Carrie’s knock you dead in your tracks vocals, is just one of Steve’s best works. Still Friends take my breath away, they are carrying on Steve’s music and tradition in a way that I know makes him so proud. If I don’t say so myself (actually, Norm McDonald of The Ashley Gang said it), between the three of us (me, The Ashley Gang and Still Friends) that was one hell of an hour of music! With our friends Paul and Tami (Hannah’s Whirl) in tow, we headed for Nelly Blye’s Kitchen where all that cholesterol laden goodness I wrote about yesterday simmered away. Today my menu was fried catfish, collard greens, white lima beans and okra-tomato gumbo with cornbread – OINK!! We chowed down to the sounds of our St. Augustine buddy Bob Patterson who is among the finest guitarists, songwriters and storytellers on the planet. Great show from Bob as always. With full stomachs and a few laughs from Bob stashed away we waddled back down to the Gazebo for The Roadside Revue’s great set – as you can tell we are big fans and end up catching a couple of their sets every festival – you should too. But now the nap clouds are rolling in – those low hanging shapes formed by your eyelids drooping down insistently across your eyes. So we’re here back at the camper for a few winks and maybe a shower before we head back for the Saturday main stage starting with Del Suggs at 8:15 and culminating with Amy Carol Webb at 9:45. Then campfiring some more tonight. More later. Ok, so it’s later – a LOT later, presently 4 a.m. For obvious reasons I’ll keep this relatively brief. I need some sleep! As planned, we got back for Del Suggs who put on a great show. He did some new tunes I hadn’t heard, but he also threw in some old favorites – Magic Chair and Wooden Boat. If he’d have included Broken Places, my favorite, it would have been perfect. Terrific energy. And, they announced that, due to his work on behalf of various charities, Del has been nominated for the Harry Chapin Award – that is a HUGE deal! Congrats to Del for giving so much and being nominated. Harry was a shining example in a world with few who can measure up. Harry’s World Hunger Foundation received more than 50% of his annual income (I’ve actually heard the number was closer to 70%) – who can we point to among today’s “stars” that come close to even a small percentage of that. Del, my friend, I’ll immensely proud of you! Charlie McCoy was up next – that boy hasn’t lost a step! Wow! I still have a cassette tape of Charlie that I made off of an 8-track we had around the house when I was a kid (and not as young a kid as I’d like to claim). For many, the harmonica is simply a kazoo with more holes. In the hands of artists like Charlie McCoy it is an instrument worthy of any piece of music written. Superb. And, of course, closing the evening out was Amy Carol Webb. I was back stage before she went on and she was a little harried because she had come up one guitar stand short for what she needed. My car was nearby and I retrieved my compact stand for her to use. Consequently, my guitar stand has done something I’m never likely to do – accompany Amy Carol on stage – sniff, sniff, I’m sooooo proud!!! Exceptional show from Amy, as you’d expect, with guest spots by Ron and Bari Litschauer, Lon & Lis Williamson with Jason Thomas, Carrie Blackwell Hussey with Dan Leach (doing Steve’s song Mystery Tree) and Jeannie Fitchen with Mindy Simmons – Stellar all! Then on to the campfires. We stopped first at Goody and Mike Haines’ campsite shared with Carl and Barbara Wade and Doug Purcell. Doug has learned my tune Sinner’s Song and I couldn’t wait to hear it. I loved his rendition and am so flattered that he’s learned it! James Hawkins sat in a s well and we swapped tunes for an hour or so there before moving on. Next we hit the Gypsy Commune site assembled by Joel Kelly, Margie Laroe, Norm McDonald, Steve and Michelle and various others – a real tarp city. As it happened, Ron and Bari had just arrived and we joined the existing circle which included Norm, Michelle, Glen Smith, Linda Smith and, later on, Cathy Dewitt. We stayed there until 3 and wandered back towards the car, made a quick check at Ron & Bari’s campsite to see if there was any damage – Dawn was wearing beads which is never a good sign – then headed on back here to the trailer. We could have easily stayed up all night playing and it was tempting. But I do have that Seminole Camp Stage gig at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow so I guess I’ll close my eyes for a bit. What a great Day! You shoulda been here if you wasn’t! See you tomorrow.