WIMAUMA — Promising canopy-covering oak trees, canoeing, kayaking, campfires and — most important — music, the Little Manatee River Jam continues to grow in prominence in its fourth year.
Held for the past three years on the weekend before Thanksgiving at the Canoe Outpost in Wimauma, the annual festival has become a tradition for devoted WMNF-FM 88.5 community radio listeners and outpost customers. And it's backed by a grass roots effort from homegrown talent.
"This is an awesome musical festival right in our own back yard," says Gene Young, drummer for St. Petersburg's Talk to Mark band.
Talk to Mark is an alt-rock group with a world beat, three- and four-part harmonies, strong keyboard backing and guitar. Young, who says he plans to surprise his fans at River Jam IV with several new songs, calls the Canoe Outpost site magical.
"It's perfect because it's large enough to host an event like this that draws about 300 people and is growing each year, but, it's small enough to keep an intimate vibe."
River Jam IV will feed guests with eclectic music right out of the starting gate, from hand-clappin', foot-stompin' folk to classic and alternative rock and funk.
From the Florida setting to the music and the relaxed and communal atmosphere, it fits anybody from enthusiastic campers to families and even pets. WMNF program director Randy Wynne characterizes the Little Manatee River Jam as a perfect partnership for the station.
"It celebrates nature and the outdoors," Wynne said. "We are part of the planet and this celebrates it in a positive way."
The station's sponsorship for the past three years has been paramount to the River Jam's success because of the depth and breadth of its listeners. When the Canoe Outpost first invited station officials to view the location of the River Jam, Wynne and his colleagues took a brief paddle trip on the Little Manatee River.
Wynne said after the trip, there was no doubt the Jam was the right fit for the station.
For those who want to arrive early this year, there's free entertainment beginning Friday evening with Cristi Massey and Ober Rivers and his D.U.I. Band. On Saturday, the jamming begins in the afternoon and continues until 11 p.m. Tickets are $20 advance, or $25 at the gate.
In addition to four bands that played in previously, this year's lineup will feature two new bands, Come Back Alice and the Deadfields from Atlanta.
Saturday morning, before the music starts, guests can enjoy the picturesque beauty of the Little Manatee River by canoe or kayak, which will be specially discounted for the weekend. Landlubbers can walk or hike on the Canoe Outpost's nearby trails among the oaks, or just put up a tent and relax.
River Jam IV welcomes pets on leashes, and dogs can board the paddling trips with their owners.
Brian Ruddeforth and his wife, Andi, owners of the Canoe Outpost for the past 35 years, refer to the River Jam as a "house party" because it takes place literally on the grounds of his home.
"People feel a real affinity for this place," he said. "We have a small piece of property. It's bohemian, relaxed and friendly here. We are music lovers ourselves so the Jam is a lot of fun."
The Canoe Outpost is renting several cabins and a few RVs to guests who wish to stay the entire weekend. In addition, people are welcome to put up tents in the front and the back yard. The Canoe Outpost will donate $5 from each rental to WMNF, which is entirely listener-supported.
Tickets for the Little Manatee River Jam IV are available at the Canoe Outpost and WMNF, (813) 238-8001; www.wmnf.org. To reserve a campsite for the weekend, call the Canoe Outpost at (813) 634-2228.
Kathryn Moschella can be reached at [email protected]