Jan Glidewell turned 70 on Wednesday. He would have enjoyed all the heartfelt greetings his friends posted on his Facebook page, friends still deeply affected by his spirit and convinced it remains out there — somewhere.
He's been gone since September, a victim of lung and brain cancer, and hardly a week goes by that somebody doesn't ask me about him. He'd laugh about the "legend'' label, but in circles where people appreciate journalistic courage and talent, Jan stood out.
All those things combined to form a deep friendship with Margaret Longhill, a former nun and college professor who has spent much of her 92 years promoting and preserving Florida history and the arts, particularly through the music of one of America's greatest songwriters, Will McLean.
That said, Jan and Margaret might never have connected had he not spelled Will's name "McClean'' back in 1991. It was a story about other folk singers and only a passing reference, but Jan was mortified when Longhill called to tell him.
"That started a long friendship,'' she said last week from her home in Dunnellon.
Over the next 20-plus years, he not only spelled McLean's name often and right, he became an authority on Florida folk music. He admired the singers and used his space as a Times columnist to tell you about them. He came to consider them family and regularly served as a master of ceremonies at the annual Will McLean Music Festival.
This year, the 25th, the festival will be dedicated to Mr. Glidewell.
"It's the least we could do,'' offered Longhill. "He inspired us.''
The festival will be March 7-9 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City, where many of the same musicians showed up in September for a wake that included Jan's favorite foods (gumbo, cornbread and key lime pie) and plenty of tie-dyed T-shirts. If you know Florida folk music, you are also amazed that such a top-flight show is right in our back yard, although perhaps not for long. Its popularity, especially among three-day campers, puts a strain on the limited number of hookups.
Several thousand people will show up for the likes of Frank Thomas, recently inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and as a songwriter considered a legitimate musical heir to McLean, who died in 1990. Mark Johnson will bring his banjo and unique clawhammer style. Last year he received the Steve Martin Prize for excellence in banjo and bluegrass, which came with $50,000 and an appearance with David Letterman.
Music lovers will hear Jan's voice, fortunately not in song but on a recording of one of his favorite artists. "I'm going to give you the three most important words of your life: Amy Carol Webb.'' They collaborated on a song together about Tami's restaurant in Jan's hometown of Dade City.
This year's festival is certain to pay homage to Pete Seeger, the most famous of folk singers who died on Jan. 27 at age 94. If Jan were here to write his usual advance of the festival, he surely would pass along this story from Margaret Longhill.
Seeger and McLean had been friends since at least the 1960s when they performed at Carnegie Hall in New York with Gamble Rogers. Twenty years later, McLean and Longhill drove to Clearwater to see Seeger in concert with Arlo Guthrie at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Longhill recalls a special moment midway through the show when Seeger said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to know in this audience tonight is America's greatest living songwriter, Will McLean.''
Many who will flock to the Sertoma Youth Ranch in a few weeks will swear he's still in the audience, in spirit at least, enjoying the music with Seeger, Rogers and Glidewell.