One afternoon in 2000, Joe Kurtright was playing guitar in his camp at the Brooksville Raid, the annual Civil War reenactment that draws hundreds from across and beyond Florida, when a stranger walked by with a mandolin. The two struck up a musical dialog, and eventually another buddy joined in on vocals and washtub bass. People around the camp noticed and came to dance in the lantern light.
Nearly 20 years — and as many Raids — later, Kurtright is readying for this year's festivities, which span Saturday and Sunday at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation. Seven Pounds of Bacon, his band that grew out of that campsite jam, will play at this year's 39th annual Raid, as they have the past several years.
Kurtright, 66, who lives just south of County Line Road, started going to the Raid in the late '90s, he said. Immediately, he felt at home.
As a history buff — though taught math in the Pasco County school system — he was struck by the zeal of the reenactors and the encyclopedic Civil War knowledge of other attendees, including teenagers.
But the family-friendliness attracted him most. He had three young daughters at the time, and people at the Raid didn't swear or drink too much, he said. They found a cohort of fast friends.
"We could go to the dance with our girls, and there was never any kind of behavior that was alarming to us," he said. "It was a great, wholesome atmosphere."
Many people, he acknowledged, object to Civil War reenactments in general, citing racism's role in fostering the war and its remaining ties to the war's iconography.
"People just have a real difficult time with that period of history," he said.
But for Kurtright, a sixth-generation Floridian, the reenactment is a way to tap into the state's history. His interest in the Civil War most recently led him to a deep dive on the history of the American cattle trade.
Not much has changed in his years going to the Raid. The vendors sell their root beer and fry bread. The attendees fall into various categories, from the hunt-and-camp types to the "campaigners" obsessing over having the era-appropriate number of stitches in their jackets. The Raid's website says it draws 1,500 people each year.
Kurtright does feel older than he did 20 years ago, and he's given up the battlefield reenactments. He plays music and hangs around camp with his friends, he said, and that's enough for him.
"We don't sleep on the ground anymore."
Contact Jack Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JackHEvans.