Folks, 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?
Well, 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!