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Annual festival celebrates Florida folk music and Will McLean

By Michele Miller
Belle and the Band will perform at the 2018 Will McLean Music Festival, March 9-11, at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Hernado County. Courtesy Kathryn Belle Long

BROOKSVILLE — The Will McLean Music Festival gets underway March 9 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, with yet another nod to the "Father of Florida Folk."

The late McLean, who was known as the "Black Hat Troubadour," patched together a meager living while embarking on a mission to preserve the land and waterways he loved through his music and poems. In the years since his passing in 1990, Florida songwriters and performers have gathered in the natural setting of the Sertoma Youth Ranch to celebrate McLean’s life and Florida’s natural beauty, all while churning out a mix of folk classics and originals. Some have been entered in the festival’s annual "Best New Florida" song-writing contest.

The three-day festival also will pay tribute to McLean’s close friend, Margaret Longhill, who died March 1 at the age of 96. Longhill pushed to get Will McLean into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and was at the forefront of establishing the Will McLean Foundation and the Will McLean Music Festival.

Performances will be held on several stages throughout the weekend and include instrumentals, song writing, yodeling and vocal workshops for adults and youth. Other activities include jam sessions, a battle of the bands contest and a young performers showcase, along with special activities for children, food and beverages, and arts and crafts vendors.

Among the artists performing: Grant Peeples, a Tallahassee singer-songwriter who was the 2014 recipient of the Focus Foundation Award for Creative Excellence and a 2016 finalist in the New Folk Songwriters Showcase, sponsored by the Kerrville Folk Festival; Sarasota’s Mindy Simmons who has shared concert stages with Loudin Wainwright III, Cliff Eberhardt and Cosy Sheridan; Asleep at the Wheel; Vance Gilbert and John Hammond Jr.; Brian Smalley; and Brother Brother.

Marking their first appearance at the festival is Belle and The Band, featuring Kathryn Belle Long, who was named this year’s winner of the Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest.

Others performing over the weekend include Sam Pacetti, Amy Carol Webb, 2PM and Patchwork, Still Friends, David Beade and Janet Rucker, Jackson Creek and Simple Gifts.

Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.