TARPON SPRINGS — For those who want to see and hear some of Florida's best traditional performing and visual artists, Saturday's your day. The city's first Gulf Coast Folklife Festival kicks into gear at noon on Lemon Street.
Although the schedule shines with artisans who are sought after around the state, the country and internationally, admission to the festival is free.
"The excellence of these artists and the array of Florida traditions they cover is amazing," said Tina Bucuvalas, Tarpon Springs' curator of arts and historical resources. "Most of the artists coming have won Florida Folk Awards."
Bucuvalas knows Florida folklife. For 13 years she served as director of the Florida Folklife Program and State Folklorist.
Michael A. Berg knows ducks and how to carve duck decoys. He was a 2006 recipient of a Florida Folk Heritage Award and lives in Monticello. Berg hails from five generations of duck decoy carvers and uses simple tools like a plane, carving knife, files and rasps. He also uses traditional materials to create his decoys, woods likes cork and cedar, and basswood for the body. Basswood is his choice for the duck's head. Mahogany and teakwood for the tail.
"I'm always proud to be a part of a folk art festival that has anything to do with traditional arts and crafts," Berg said. "It's a dying tradition, so carrying on the tradition of ancestors — whether it's your families or anyone else's — is important.
"We need to sit down with the younger generation and teach them, whether the art or craft is weaving or basketmaking, building a boat, making a net, cooking or making clothing. We need to take time to pass it on. It's an absolute necessity."
Besides the many performers and artists who have won Florida Folk Heritage awards, the festival touts two National Heritage Fellows. Tarpon Springs resident Nicholas Toth, known for his sponge-diving helmet designs, and Luis Ezequiel Torres, of Miami, known for his Afro-Cuban drumming, will both showcase their work.
Ezequiel Torres learned batá drumming and Orisha chanting in his native Havana. He served an apprenticeship to master drum-makers and learned to create Afro-Cuban and other traditional percussion instruments including the batá drum and its beaded cover; the conga drum; the cajon, a box-shaped percussion instrument; and hand-held shekeres. He now travels the world to lead and perform at traditional celebrations and events.
"It's so great to be a part of the city's first Folklife Festival," Ezequiel Torres said from his home in Miami. "I like being part of folk art festivals. I always love the opportunity to stretch myself with my art. It will be a great opportunity to share with people what I do."
James Kelly won a Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2001 and learned to play the fiddle in his native town of Dublin. His father, John Kelly, a renowned fiddler and concertina player from County Clare, taught the younger Kelly so well, he won "Fiddler of the Year" in Ireland at 16. He recorded two albums before he came to the United States in 1978.
"I've been to Tarpon Springs a couple of times in the last 15 years, but now I have the chance to take part in this festival where a variety of musicians are coming to play a variety of music from around Florida," Kelly said. "This is an opportunity for people to listen to that variety, and a high standard of music at that."
Festivalgoers will also see an eclectic mix of visual art from traditional textiles, ritual arts and costumes as well as traditional Florida artisans such as chair caners and Cracker whipmakers. There will also be workshops on how to play the Hawaiian ukulele, the Greek violin, lessons on Hungarian embroidery, Hawaiian quilting and bobbin lace.
Music from various cultures will continue into the night, and the event will end with a street dance featuring the sounds of Middle Eastern, Cuban and Haitian music.
The Folk Masters Forum at 4:30 p.m. includes some of the musicians noted here as well as string instrumentalists George Soffos on the Greek bouzouki and Joe Zeytoonian on the Armenian oud.
"Florida is home to every kind of ethnic community you can imagine," Bucuvalas said. "This festival reflects that."