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Will McLean Music Festival provides a sweet escape

Sometimes some of us are lucky enough to have places where we can hide from the world for a while, immerse ourselves in something we enjoy doing and not really have to cope with what goes on outside.

Some of my friends do it in million-dollar beach condos. Some do it on golf courses or in airplanes. Some are possessed of meditative skills that let them go deep within themselves and then to places they really can't describe.

For me, it is folk music and folk festivals. Once a year I go to the Withlacoochee Campground near Dunnellon and, figuratively speaking, pull the musical covers over my face for several days until I am forced to leave and re-enter the world.

It is the annual Will McLean Music Festival, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this month, that provides a chance to hear good music from some good and some great musicians in an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie open to anyone who comes looking for those things.

Newcomers almost always become regulars, for a variety of reasons other than sharing my geriatric paranoid agoraphobia. Very few go away dissatisfied.

There are a few of us old folkies who once thought that music would change the world and that a Dylan anthem or a Limelighters quip would help bring about peace and love and stability and end war, crime and discrimination.

Now I sometimes feel music has become a rearguard action aimed more at insulating listeners from the world than changing it.

Don't get me wrong.

There are still heart-swelling moments such as watching singer/songwriter folk divas Amy Carol Webb, Jeannie Fitchen and Mindy Simmons set the stage on fire (musically, not physically — we are peaceful, remember) two nights in a row. They live, respectively, in Miami, Cocoa and Sarasota, and, after an hour of intense rehearsal, produced sets (with help from flutist/drummer Annie Wenz on Saturday) that seemed as though they had been rehearsed for months.

Frank Thomas, who has been performing for more than 60 years — and who, like a lot of us, has a little trouble getting around because of age and health — sat on a chair for his own act, but a short time later was, literally, on stage and dancing to the women's second set.

But youth is as important as age at these events. A favorite moment for me was watching my old friend Dennis Devine from San Antonio working with his tiny protégé, 9-year-old Ingrid Richter, who can turn a classical violin into a blues, bluegrass, folk or country fiddle with the flick of a wrist.

And I saw a young man named Aaron O'Rourke make a mountain dulcimer do things it shouldn't be able to do.

Although the festival lasted for three days (April 3-5), I spent my usual five days there, arriving early under the guise of helping set up and, actually, just soaking up the sounds, smells and sights of the campground and the Withlacoochee River. A purist would camp there, and I have in the past, but I stayed in a Dunnellon motel/fish camp, which, since it has no room service, qualifies as primitive camping, as far as I am concerned.

I went all five days without seeing a newspaper and arrived back late enough at night that all of the major news networks were at that point where they start showing reruns of their moronic right-wing commentators pompously agreeing with each other.

(Left wing commentators often do the same thing, but we aren't quite that pompous about it. And never get on the air anyhow, except on Comedy Central.)

So I was shielded from life's realities for a few days.

I arrived home to open my paper and see accounts of three mass murders (21 persons) and the equally senseless murder of an 8-year-old St. Petersburg girl after a gunman pumped more than 50 bullets into her home because of a neighborhood dispute.

We were still involved in two wars. The economy was still in the toilet, and politicians were so busy pointing fingers at each other over the bailout fiasco(s) that I would bet most of them didn't even have the strength to dial a lobbyist's telephone number, and they actually wound up paying for their own meals.

Nationally known folksinger Rob McDonald, who performed at the festival, decried hearing someone else note that there really aren't any new protest songs being written. (He had, thank heavens, a couple of his own to offer.)

He was right. People are showing up to protest everything from CEO salaries to anti-gay initiatives — and they wind up singing Kumbaya and Blowing in the Wind without noting that "kumbaya" is a Gullah word used in a spiritual song of the 1930s and means "come by here" and that the wind the answers are blowing in is probably polluted and either dumping two much heat on Antarctica or too much rain on poor people.

I wanted to go back to the campground and hear a flat-picked guitar, a twangy banjo or a sweet mandolin accompanying voices of old friends who still try to inject a little beauty and a little reason into the world.

But I knew it would be empty … for a year anyhow.

Will McLean Music Festival provides a sweet escape 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 2:29pm]
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