Tag Archives: florida folk festival

Red HenrySaturday was our biggest day at White Springs, and I'd actually had plenty of sleep--six hours or so. We all started picking---warming up for our show---by about 10:00 in the morning, because our set was scheduled for 11 on the Old Marble Stage, the festival's old, historic main stage.

The rain held off for the morning, so we ran through quite a few songs and tunes. Then, somehow, we hit on a particular Bill Monroe number called "Stoney Lonesome". Recorded by Bill in the 1950s, the tune is named after a place in Indiana, and not many people play it now. But it's an absolutely amazing number if you get it to sound right, and this weekend we had the folks to do that: John Hedgecoth, who'd played a stint on banjo for Monroe and is a national authority on Bill's old tunes; me, and I like to play Monroe stuff; Chris, who's been studying (and recording) Monroe-style tunes for years; and fiddler Jenny Leigh Obert, who's been studying Monroe and Kenny Baker, one of his great fiddlers, fanatically. So when we tried playing "Stoney Lonesome", it worked. It sounded RIGHT. Everybody was aiming in the same direction, going for an in-depth Monroe sound, with the spirit and drive Bill and his fiddlers put into the tune to begin with. So we added the number into the show.

I'd thought, when I first saw our 11:00 set time on the festival schedule, that it was way too early to draw a crowd. "Who's going to be there at 11?" ---but I was wrong! We had a big crowd, and they were very nice to us. We kicked things off with Monroe's "Toy Heart" and Chubby Anthony's "Stay Out of Your Way", and then veered into some more obscure and original material sung by Chris and John. The audience ate it up, enjoying every instrumental break. And now, it was time for "Stoney Lonesome". We played that tune for the very first time on stage, and it worked great. We finished up with "Helton Creek", and the audience really liked it all. And there wasn't a drop of rain!

After the set, we went back to the campground. Now it was time for some relaxing and more picking until 3:00, when we planned to back up our friend Dale Crider on his own set. But this weekend being the rainiest I remember lately, it started to rain. In fact, it was raining hard by about 1:00, and showed no signs of quitting at the 3:00 show time. So John, who'd brought his big van, gave us all a ride over to Dale's stage, and each of us made a mad dash to get under cover.

We were all pretty wet by the time we got under the tent and Dale started his set. The rain was coming down so fast that the sound men had to turn off the system, and we played all-acoustic. But this didn't faze Dale Crider, who's an understated but great natural showman. He simply carried on, and had the whole crowd singing along with him on Will McLean's "Hold Back the Waters" and his own "Tallahassee Wolf". The rain was pouring down a few feet away, but Dale pulled off a great success.

Chris and I had a mandolin workshop scheduled for 4:00 nearby, but as Dale's set finished we saw that the rain had really set in for a while. John carried us over to the workshop tent, and about a dozen dedicated, determined mandolin students showed up. We played a few mandolin tunes, answered a lot of questions, and tried to be heard over the downpour. I think the students learned something to take home with them, and we sold some CDs and Murphy Method DVDs. That sure helps with the gas money.

About suppertime the rain finally stopped, thank goodness. We clustered under an awning in the campground, and spent the evening talking and picking. Dale Crider, old game warden and coon-hunter that he is, regaled us with a hilarious story about "Coon Dogs A-Go-Go", an official Florida Game & Fish Department event at Daytona Beach in 1970. (No, I'm not making that up. You'll have to hear the story from Dale.) Finally we all got into some high-powered picking which went until after midnight.

It was a good day.

Red HenryFriday at White Springs came early. I hadn’t had much sleep, but dragged myself out ready to go. It was raining off-and-on, but we had some shelter: our friend Gary brought a 10-by-10-foot awning, and we set it up and stayed dry and picked. Chris and I had a mandolin workshop at 11:00 a.m., though, and it rained heavily before, during, and after that! – but we had an audience of seven or eight dedicated mandolin learners, and played some tunes and answered some questions and had a good time anyway. Before going back to the campground I dropped off a box of CDs at the festival’s sales tent—anything to drum up some more gas money! The folk festivals don’t pay the way the bluegrass festivals do, so we need to hustle all we can.

In the early afternoon we received reinforcements. John Hedgecoth arrived, bringing my mother Renee. John fell right in with the picking, and he, Chris, Barbara, Jenny, and I started running over the tunes for our set, which was scheduled for 4:00. Since Jenny hadn’t performed with us before we did mostly things that were pretty easy to catch on to. The music really sounded good. When our set-time approached—behold—the rain stopped! We went over to the stage and played a good high-energy set to a very nice, enthusiastic crowd. We usually include some stories in the set but the audience was responding more for the songs and tunes than for the stories, so I rolled with that and fit in an extra song or two. Good show! And the rain held off until after we’d finished playing, a real morale booster and crowd-builder.

The evening picking on Friday didn’t go as late as the previous evening. I’d learned that I needed more sleep than the four hours I had the night before, so I dropped off before midnight with campground picking ringing in my ears. Saturday would be our biggest day of the festival, and I needed to be ready!

Red HenryFolks, there's one show I try to perform at every year. It’s the Florida Folk Festival, held each year for three days at the Stephen Foster State Park at White Springs, Florida. I haven't found anyplace else in the country where it's more fun to perform. And why is that? Partly, it's because the crowds are so responsive and glad to be there, and so much fun to play for. And it's also because of the picking.

At White Springs, the performers-- and there are hundreds of them-- mostly stay in one campground, and there's music all over the place. There's folk music of all kinds, old-time fiddle and banjo playing, bluegrass, and completely non-classifiable music going on for almost 24 hours. You'll hear instruments ranging from Mastertone banjos and F-5 mandolins all the way to jazz guitars and washtub basses. Once there was an Australian didgeridoo in a jam session, and another time we had a troupe of Masai dancers. Whatever kind of picking (or listening) you like, it's there! So each year, I go perform at White Springs.

Chris and I timed our trip south to arrive at Randy Wood's shop, near Savannah, soon after he opened up on Thursday. We had a special reason for dropping by: Randy's very first mandolin, which I've owned for 38 years, had been in the shop for several months for major work, and the good news was that Randy had it ready to pick up! Naturally, I was eagerly anticipating seeing (and hearing) that mandolin. What would it play and sound like? After major repairs, would it have its old, amazing bluegrass tone and response? How many weeks or months of "playing in" would it take before it sounded like it did in the old days?

Randy Wood Mandolin #1Well, when we walked in the shop, Randy had the mandolin lying on his workbench with the strings ready to tighten up. He quickly dressed the frets, tuned it up, and handed it to me. I played an open G note. Wow. I played a G chord. Oh, mercy! The sound filled the room, rich and full. I played some G stuff and some C stuff and some D stuff. I tried it up the neck. The chords were full and clear even up to the 15th fret. The mandolin was a-mazing! Far from needing any "playing in", it sounded as great as ever. I about fell all over myself thanking Randy for the repair job. I think he was pretty pleased, too.

So we had the mandolin, and it really sounded terrific, and now it was time for lunch. And what should offer itself but bar-b-que? Randy recently built a restaurant, attached to the front of his shop. And his bar-b-que cook had recently quit, so... who should be making the bar-b-que now, but Randy himself! Chris and I had Mighty Fine jumbo Randy Wood pulled-pork sandwiches with trimmings (greens, potato salad, brunswick stew, and more) and talked with Randy while we ate. What an experience--- to have Randy's first mandolin all ready to play, to eat Randy's bar-be-que, and to have some table conversation with him, reminiscing about old times picking in Georgia!

After lunch we regretfully hit the road, since it would be about another three hours to White Springs. Driving in and out of rain, we arrived there in the mid-afternoon, checked in, and parked in the campground. Some friends were waiting for us, and we started picking. For the time being, the rain held off and we just picked and picked.

This year I was fortunate enough to have a really fine band at the festival. My uncle John Hedgecoth, who got me into playing bluegrass music to begin with, was playing banjo. Our son Chris, who's a mighty fine picker, singer, and songwriter, was playing guitar. Our Florida friend Barbara Johnson was playing bass for us, and as a special treat, for the first time we'd have a fiddle in the band: Chris's friend Jenny Leigh Obert was coming down from Nashville. So it was going to be a really fine musical weekend.

We were still picking after dark when Jenny Leigh arrived, and with her fiddle playing to energize the music, we kept on going until a late hour. I think we picked until about 2:30 in the morning, and I finally quit and sacked out in my van. What a good day--- and the festival hadn't even started yet!

Next time-- Day 2-- Friday!

Red HenryFolks, I just wanted to let you know about a couple of folk festivals where Christopher and I will be playing this Spring. These are both relaxed, outdoor, very enjoyable family-style events, and we're looking forward to them a lot.

May 1-2-3: Gamble Rogers Folk Festival, held at the fairgrounds outside St. Augustine, Florida. This event is held annually to commemorate our old friend and inspiration Gamble Rogers, and (comparatively speaking) it's a small festival, with several stages and other activities all within easy walking distance.

May 22-23-24: Florida Folk Festival, held at Stephen Foster State Park at White Springs, Florida. This festival, held every year since 1952, is a much larger event, and it runs about ten stages during the days, plus the big main stage at the Amphitheater. Wear some comfortable shoes, because there are a great many enjoyable performers and folklife craftsmen (and craftswomen) busy for your entertainment over a wide area all three days.

My band for these events will be:

Myself on mandolin and guitar;

Christopher on guitar and mandolin;

John Hedgecoth on banjo; and

Barbara Johnson on bass.

--In addition to our stage sets, I expect to be leading a mandolin workshop at each festival. Whether you like picking or listening (or both), come out and have a good time with us

Red and Chris played at the Florida Folk Festival over Memorial Day weekend. This is Red's account of the trip.

We had a terrific time playing with our band at the Florida Folk Fest at White Springs. All of us--Chris Henry (guitar/mandolin), John Hedgecoth (banjo), Barbara Johnson (bass) and I, say "Thanks!" to all the folks who came out to see us.

The Friday night set on the main stage drew a big crowd, and they were listening. On-stage sound was uncertain due to the lack of monitors, but the main mix was good. I had a time getting the crowd to start responding to our stories, but they caught on and really started digging it. We finished up with "Helton Creek," and the folks really liked John's banjo (a pre-war style 75, by the way) and Chris's guitar (hot picking there).

Outstanding picking in the campground both Friday and Saturday night-- I didn't make it much after midnight, but certain persons were up till dawn. And they could still stand up the next day!

Folk Festival Picking

Chris Henry, John Hedgecoth, Barbara Johnson, Red Henry, Dale Crider, Renee Henry. Photo by Ira Winarsky.

Our Saturday set was on the Marble Stage, and the place was packed. We put my new tune "Centerville Road" into the set, and the folks liked it. Many thanks to all who heard us and enjoyed the show. We finished out with "Rawhide"-- pretty fast for an old man. Thanks to Michael Monroe for a great mix.

We had a lot of good students with good questions at the mandolin and banjo workshops. It makes us feel good if you leave knowing something more about playing than you did before.
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