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A master of Florida folk

Jeanie Fitchen's gig at the Studio Art Center is a warmup for her 34th appearance at the annual Florida Folk Festival.

Jeanie Fitchen says she thrives on performing live, preferably in front of an intimate coffeehouse audience.

On Saturday, Fitchen, the songbird of Florida folk music, will once again be in her favorite setting. And that should please fans of traditional folk music.

"In a concert setting, it's important to move the audience," Fitchen said. "I want to make them laugh, cry and think."

Fitchen's clear and strong singing voice carries her emotions like a sweet dream into the minds and hearts of an audience. Steeped in traditional British Isles folk music, she treats the old songs like treasures. Fitchen performs some contemporary songs, but her forte has always been her honest interpretations of traditional music.

It is a style that has paid off well for her. She earned a Grammy nomination in 1999 for Roads, a CD recorded at her home and finished off in Nashville. Fitchen released two CDs last year, the second being Love Flows Like A River.

The Studio Arts Center concert is a warmup gig for yet another appearance at the Florida Folk Festival on May 26 to 28 at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs. It will be her 34th consecutive appearance at the annual festival. Fitchen, 48, first appeared at the folk singing mecca when she was 15.

"The women had to wear Scarlett O'Hara-type dresses and the men were forbidden to have beards," she said of the early years at White Springs.

"So much has changed now. There are too many performers and too many venues," she said. "I wish it would go back to the simpler format."

With her lifelong devotion to folk music, especially Florida folk music, Fitchen reflected on her role as the genre's leader. With the death of Don Grooms and the breakup of DiNella and Geiger last year, the musical descendants of Will McLean have dwindled.

Does she consider herself at the top of Florida folk?

"Yeah I do. I hope it doesn't mean I'm going to die soon, though," she said.