DUNNELLON — A power outage at last year's Will McLean Music Festival reminded Margaret Longhill why the 20-year-old festival has become so special to performers and fans alike.
Despite the lack of microphones, the musicians carried on, taking their acoustic instruments and voices into the audience, where they serenaded listeners in small groups.
"I think it shows the incredible bond that the musicians have with the people who come to hear them every year," Longhill said. "You just don't find that in other kinds of music."
Longhill is keeper of the flame of the man who was known as Florida's Black Hat Troubadour. Since McLean's death in 1990, she has endeavored to have McLean's musical legacy inspire others to follow. In addition to serving as director of the music education foundation that bears his name, she coordinates the annual music festival that welcomes dozens of folk musicians to the Withlacoochee Campground in Dunnellon.
The festival, which is celebrating its 20th year this weekend, is everything McLean would have loved, with one exception, Longhill said.
"Will probably would have nixed any idea of naming anything after him," she said. "He wouldn't have felt he was worth it."
It is estimated that during his 71 years, McLean wrote more than 2,000 original songs, many of which centered around the fragile wonder and beauty of Florida and its early inhabitants.
There were historical ballads like the plaintive Hold Back the Waters, which recalled the devastation of the Everglades flood during a September 1928 hurricane. He also wrote earthy melodies like Wild Hog, which chronicled the dangers of pioneer life when Florida was mostly wilderness.
A champion of the environment, McLean was perhaps the first musician to promote the notion of protecting Florida's natural beauty from pollution and developers. One of the musicians he inspired was fellow Florida singer-songwriter Dale Crider, who has penned hundreds of environmentally themed tunes.
Crider was a young guitar player who worked by day as a state wildlife biologist when the two met in 1963 at the Florida Folk Festival. After listening to McLean perform, Crider realized that songs could help him spread the message of wildlife conservation.
"The beauty of Will's music was that it made people aware in a way that wasn't threatening to them," said Crider. "It was a more subtle message, but it worked just the same."
Crider, who has performed at all 20 festivals and is slated to take the stage Sunday, says McLean might have envisioned the event as the ultimate Florida music family reunion.
"You used to see Will at all the folk and bluegrass festivals," Crider said. "He was a musician, but he also loved listening to anyone play music."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.