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Will McLean folk festival returns to Sertoma Youth Ranch north of Dade City

Okay, where did we leave off?

When last I wrote about the Will McLean Festival, I may overly have dwelt on the fact that none of us involved in the event is getting any younger and that I was wondering if the tradition would survive.

Good news. The festival is back, and back at its old stomping grounds, the Sertoma Youth Ranch, just south of Spring Lake. My advice this year: Look for some golden threads among the silver.

The festival took a two-year detour to the Withlacoochee Bluegrass Campground near Dunnellon, but now, with the closing of that venue, has returned to Sertoma, where most of its 20 performances have taken place. It will run from noon Friday through sunset March 14.

And most of us made it back for another go-round, except for Mem Semmes, a member of the Will McLean Foundation who was integrally involved in planning and presenting the festival since its storied beginnings during an impromptu musicians' jam in the parking lot outside of Will McLean's funeral in 1990.

A memorial performance of her songs (she was also a well-known country and folk song writer) will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday on the Azalea stage, her favorite.

Mrs. Semmes, 79, died after a long and courageous battle against several illnesses and was remembered in December with a memorial concert. She was honored again on Valentine's Day when singer/songwriter Mindy Simmons put down her guitar and donned rhinestones for a Peggy Lee tribute concert at the season's end performance of the Dunnellon Sunday Sampler. Mrs. Semmes created the Sampler 18 years ago to showcase music one might expect to hear at the annual McLean Festival.

(Little journalistic inside joke here. I also wanted to say that Simmons wore a certain glittery type of fabric jacket for the performance, but the Times' typographical software has trouble making accent marks, and if I said she wore a lame outfit I would have to hide from her for the entire three-day event.)

McLean, generally regarded as the father of Florida folk music, wrote more than 3,000 songs about the state and its history. His memory has been the impetus for 20 years of celebration through the performance of his and other folk music.

And, trust me, all of the old favorites will be back: Southwind, 2PM (two Petes and a Mike: Pete Hennings, Pete Price and Mike Jurgenson), Peters Road Swamp Band, Amy Carol Webb, Jeannie Fitchen, Ken Skeens, Clyde Walker, Frank Thomas and Doug Spears, to name just a few of 30 expected acts.

But festival director Margaret Longhill has long been concerned about the level of youth participation in the event, and says young and new performers will be featured prominently in this year's mix.

For a great example of the youth influence, check out 10-year-old Ingrid Richter, who has been studying classical violin under the Suzuki method and old-time and bluegrass fiddling under the tutelage of Florida folk great Dennis Devine.

"She just graduated from a one-fourth to a one-half size fiddle," said Devine, "and she loves folk music and old-time music as much as the classical."

Devine started sharing some of his stage time with his tiny protege a few years ago, and says he marvels at her steady improvement. "A lot of it just seems to come naturally to her," he said.

In addition to probably sharing part of Devine's slot on the Azalea stage on Friday, Ingrid will also be part of the Teen Turf Tent (although she won't be a teen for three years), which has become a full-scale part of the three-day festival.

That's where you will see a lot of the new youth movement in the folk family. Among other activities, the event will feature banjo, fiddle, mandolin and vocal showcases and performances by the Allen Family Band, the Second Sons, the Stone Family Band, Jubal's Kin, Shelby Rafkin and others.

If you divide the cost, (weekend advance tickets purchased online are $30) by the number of acts, it will cost literally pennies per performance — not to mention nightly campfire jams for campers or others who just want to stay late.

Weekend tickets purchased at the gate will be $35. Tickets for Friday will be $15; Saturday are $18 and March 14 are $15 if purchased at the gate. Camping with hookups will be $20 and rough camping will be $10. There will be no advance reservations for camping, and the campground tends to fill up quickly, so getting there early is a good idea.

For information about the festival, you can go to the Web site at willmclean.com or call (352) 465-7208.

See you there. I'll be the old guy between all the young ones.

Will McLean folk festival returns to Sertoma Youth Ranch north of Dade City 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 6, 2010 12:07pm]
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