SPRING LAKE — The Will McLean Music Festival has been around for 22 years, and Mindy Simmons has performed almost every year.
Every March, Simmons looks forward to the assemblage of what she calls "good, kind and humble people" who gather to perform and celebrate the legacy of the man known as the father of Florida folk music.
Dubbed "the Sarasota Songbird," Simmons, who headlines this weekend's "Willfest," feels right at home with her fellow song crafters because she's one of them. Her comic original tune, Ain't Florida Neat, has been a favorite with audiences for years.
"I think anyone who writes Florida songs does so because they're concerned about educating people about the place they call home," Simmons said by phone from her home this week. "They want to create awareness and concern, and perhaps inspire people not to take for granted the beauty around them. That's why Will McLean remains such a hero to them."
Simmons never met McLean. She moved to Florida from Denver a couple of years after his death in 1990. Although steeped in the pop music of her youth, she began turning her interest toward folk music because of its accessibility.
"I always loved to sing, and I sang along with the radio and records," she said. "But that wasn't enough. I wanted to sing all the time, so I started playing guitar to accompany myself."
After landing in Sarasota, Simmons began finding work in restaurants and bars. Though patrons mostly wanted to hear covers of popular tunes, Simmons would occasionally sneak in a few of her originals during later sets.
"The scene wasn't really conducive to what I wanted to do musically," Simmons said. "Music in those places was pretty much an afterthought. I knew I wanted more than that."
After joining the Sarasota Folk Club, Simmons quickly branched out. Her expressive voice and warm wit soon earned her prime spots on prestigious folk stages around the state, including the Florida Folk Festival and the Sarasota Folk Festival.
"Playing those kinds of events inspires you," said Simmons. "The audiences are all about the music They truly appreciate what you bring to them."
With six CDs to her credit, including a well-received tribute album to the late Peggy Lee, Simmons has continued to show fans her versatility.
"I have fun playing wherever I perform," she said. "To me, sharing my music with others is what I was born to do."
Simmons will perform solo at 2 p.m. today and at 8 p.m. Saturday, and will join with singer/songwriters Amy Carol Webb and Jeanie Fitchen at 2 p.m. Sunday for a performance titled "Daughters Of Florida."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.