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Festival celebrates fiddles, food, friends

(ran PW, PS editions of PASCO TIMES)

The air around the Sertoma Youth Ranch will be redolent with the aroma of kumquat and orange blossoms Saturday and Sunday, but the real sweetness will be the sounds of the 14th annual Will McLean Music Festival.

"WillFest takes place smack in the middle of orange groves whose aroma and visual beauty counterfeit paradise," said Mem Semmes, a co-founder and organizer of the popular folk music gathering.

The festival attracts singers, musicians, storytellers and their admirers from across Florida and adjoining states. Some come just for the music, others to set up camp and spend the whole weekend going from campsite to campsite renewing old friendships, swapping yarns and playing their instruments. Campfires often flicker all night long as folkies learn new tunes and recall favorites.

Starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, top musicians will be featured in 30-minute sets on three different stages: the small Azalea Stage overlooking a lake, the larger Cypress Stage at the back corner of the campgrounds, and the large Magnolia Stage near the entrance, where the music will continue far into the night.

There's also the Circle of Song, where songwriters gather to perform blues, Florida songs, vocal harmonies and on stringed instruments.

A line of food vendors, artisans and craftsmakers are adjacent to the Magnolia Stage.

Among the performers are Dale Crider, Dennis Devine, Simple Gifts, Mary Ann DiNella, Okefenokee Joe, Southwind, Jeanie Fitchen, Bettina Makley and Raven, Chuck Hardwicke, Common Ground, Mindy Simmons, Clyde Walker, Amy Carol Webb, Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters, and Jon Semmes and the Florida Friends.

Honored performer/guests are Frank and Ann Thomas, well-known singer/musicians on the Florida folk scene.

Special events include Kids' Corner, a series of special activities for ages 12 and younger, with prizes, and the Gospel Hour from 9 to 11 a.m. on Sunday. The winners of the annual "Best New Florida Song" contest will perform their winning compositions on the Magnolia Stage at noon Saturday.

Top musicians will hold workshops in fiddle, harmonica, bass, guitar, dulcimer, harp, mandolin and banjo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and in fiddle, banjo, voice, dulcimer, bass, harmonica, guitar and autoharp from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Sunday's highlight is "the Hour of Power" that features songs and stories of Will McLean and ends with the song most identified with him, Hold Back the Waters.

Detailed schedules are on the Web site,