The Florida folk music season began for many fans the first weekend in April, not so much with a bang as, perhaps, with a splash.
Torrential rains did their best to wash out thousands of attendees at the 19th annual Will McLean Music Festival at a campground near Dunnellon, but they managed to dampen more bodies than they did spirits.
Following on the heels of the McLean festival will be the annual Gamble Rogers Folk Festival in St. Augustine May 2-4, and then the Florida Folk Festival at White Springs May 23-25.
The McLean festival this year is dedicated to well-known Florida folk figure Bobby Hicks, who died last year of cancer.
McLean, deemed by many to be the father of Florida folk music, died in 1990, and his funeral turned into an impromptu music festival, video recordings of which are still being marketed.
The first formal festival took place the following year at Rainbow Springs and then made one appearance, 12 years ago, at what is now the new location, the Withlacoochee Bluegrass Campground just outside Dunnellon. The festival was at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City for 11 years and has now moved back to the Withlacoochee site.
This year, the festival adjusted well to the new site, which had different stage locations (but larger seating capacity at the main stage) and increased camping access. Musicians and music fans were for the most part undaunted by the weather, which ranged from fair to awful.
Saturday night's main stage performances took place with the loud roar of rain drumming on the stage's tin roof. Headliners Rod MacDonald, Mindy Simmons, Amy Carol Webb accompanied by Cary Blackwell Hussy, Mike Jurgensen and Dan Leach even managed an onstage recording session for an upcoming CD.
I was on stage doing emcee duty Sunday when first a power-outage and then heavy rain drowned out Bill and Eli Perras in their first main stage appearance, but they took it like pros. Later, when the rain sound abated somewhat but the sound system was still out, Simple Gifts, a guitar and dulcimer duo with backup, simply moved their instruments down to the front of the stage and performed unplugged.
All in all the festival was a success, although the new dates (it used to be in March) caused some grumbling. When major festivals like McLean, Rogers and the state festival come hard on each other's heels, it's hard on old folkies, including, ahem, me.
But I'm pretty sure I will stop coughing in a day or two, and my neck (stiff from sleeping in my van) has loosened up to where I could almost watch a tennis match.
But I'd rather listen to music.