There’s simply no way to succinctly describe the experience of the annual Will McLean Festival at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City. I’m back home and exhausted, but filled to the brim with the friendship and music shared over the weekend. If you weren’t there you missed a terrific festival and should make your plans right now to be sure to be there next year. Here’s a recap. I went over Wednesday morning a dropped my camper off in a good site. I’m glad I did because all of the sites went quickly and by late afternoon Friday people were already being turned away if they needed water and electric. Tent campers can always find a clear piece of ground somewhere. I came back Thursday afternoon to settle in and get into Willfest mode. We had a nice relaxed song circle at Ron & Bari Litschaer’s campsite Thursday night and turned in at a reasonable hour for a good night’s sleep. The real crowd really swelled Friday morning and the Cypress stage opened at 1 pm. Now, I’m not going to run through all the great performances I saw for fear of leaving someone out. However, I have to say that James Hawkins and Cold Harbor really impressed me with a really tight set - escellent! But all of the music, and the sound by Tom Ellis, was exceptional throughout the afternoon. Then at 7:30 pm the Main Stage opened with a set from Chris Kahl followed by wonderful performances including Val C. Wisecracker, Cathy DeWitt’s exceptional group, Patchwork, and special guests for the festival, Still on the Hill. If you are reading this and not recognizing these names then you should know that you are missing the very best in folk and acoustic music and entertainment around. Get away from your TV and conventional, industry controlled radio stations and get out amongst the people! Friday also included a “new talent” showcase on the Azalea Stage. Congratulations to my good friends Paul and Tami from the Tampa area who were selected best new talent in the showcase and invited to perform the next day - way to go guys! Friday night also included the usual campfire pickin’. Two great friends I made last year at Willfest, Tisa and her daughter Cassaundra, camped near to my trailer and invited my buddy Ally Smith to bunk in with them. So, Friday night we sat around Tisa’s fire and played tunes to the wee hours (about 3 am), but still managed to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for Saturday. Saturday was truly wall to wall folks!! So many good friends and fans of this music that it was hard to find time to get to spend a moment or two with them all. Again, just terrific performances on all stages all day long. I followed my buddy Bob Patterson with a set on the Azalea stage and was joined, impromptu, by Ally Smith on This Old House - she is simply one of the best vocalists around and her harmonies are to die for - thanks my friend! Saturday night’s Main Stage line up included stellar performances by Rod MacDonald, Amy Carol Webb, Magda Hiller (whose very small daughter Wyatt joined her on stage for a song that stole the show) and Grant Livingston (Grant - never follow children or animals on stage!!!!). Saturday night also included a special tribute to Steve Blackwell with many family and friends presenting his songs and honoring the spirit of this very special friend who left us last year. It was a celebration that proved that Steve is not gone, he’s right here with us always. Now, the Saturday night campfires were really great. I stopped in and played some tunes with James Hawkins and his crowd, then wandered over to the Blackwell Punta Gorda Guitar Army encampment for a bit. Then, with all good intentions of turning in at a reasonable hour (particularly with the time change) I strolled back towards home, stopping a Tisa and Cassaundra’s campsite to chat a minute and say good night. Well, I did get the guitar out and play a tune or two. Then a group of folks including Emmett Carlisle, Dennis Devine, Raven and few others ambled in. Ally Smith got her violin out and more folks joined the circle. Before I knew it it was 4 am! I started to put away my guitar when out of the darkness strolled two of my favorite incorrigibles, Bari Litschauer and Dawn DeWitt (sans their husbands who had the good sense to leave them to their own devices and go to bed) and kicked the party into a new gear. There was much hootin’ and howlin’, some dancin’ and side bruising laughter. I finally stumbled back to my camper a 6 am and they were still going!!! One thing you have to remember about camping at one of these festivals is that you could end up next to a late night, raucous group like this making sleep somewhat difficult. I advise a good set of foam ear plugs and perhaps a shot or two of your favorite sleep aid before turning in. Just ask Bill and Eli Perras who were camped just across from the site of all this early morning merriment and had to open the Cypress stage at 10 am Sunday morning!!! But, the Cypress stage is right where Tisa, et al were camped and thus revenge was sweet. Eli opened their set at 10 am by screaming into the microphone Wake up over there, get moving, come out and let’s see you, you kept me up all night and now its my turn WAKE UP!!! Eli, you’re a piece of work girl! Desperately needing intravenous caffeine and sugar I was invited to Mark Harris’ motor home for his special twisted egg bread french toast - WOW! Ably assisted by his main squeeze, the lovely and vivacious Josie, the stuffed many of us full of syrup laden french toast and I finally got to where my eyes would stay open and actually communicate to my brain what they were seeing. Now, cooking is only one of Mark’s talents. He is also one hell of a musician playing bass, percussion, guitar, mandolin, flute and probably just about other instrument you stuck in his hands. He sits in with a number of groups, principally the Peters Road Swamp Band, but freely assists others (inculding me from time to time) as a backing musician. He played with Ally Smith all weekend in her sets and they were terrific! Sunday was, again filled with non-stop exceptional entertainment on all three stages and great workshops as well. I performed on the Main Stage at 2:30 and, with the able assistance of Ally Smith, played my tribute song written for Steve Blackwell, Welcome Home. The festival wound down to the finale at 5:30 pm with all available performers gathering on the Main Stage with the heart and soul of this event, Margaret Longhill, to sing Will’s great song Hold Back the Waters. Then it was time for many, many goodbyes, hugs and handshakes before turning to the chores of loading up the camper and heading home. So, sadly, its over again for another year. If you missed Will McLean this year, don’t make the same mistake next year. Mark the dates off on your calendar now and start the anticipation clock running. Hope to see you there. Coming up next for me . . . Yalaha Country Bakery on April 7th and The Barberville Spring Frolic on April 14th and 15th. Stay tuned.