This Memorial Day weekend, amid the hum of cicadas and light, gentle river breezes, the 59th edition of the Florida Folk Festival returns to the beautiful and majestic Stephen Foster Memorial Park in White Springs. From May 27-29 celebrate Florida music, dance, food, crafts and history along the banks of the legendary Suwanee River.
It’s just a short hour’s drive west to the quaint little community of White Springs, known for its miracle waters that have historically attracted everyone from presidents to royalty and still possesses a unique allure. Every Christmas, one of our smallest neighbor communities celebrates the holiday in the biggest way, with a month-long illumination display, turning the Stephen Foster Park into a magical winter wonderland for families to enjoy.
Since its infancy in the early 1950s, the Florida Folk Festival has gained a reputation as a premiere event for both nature and music lovers during the hectic Memorial Day holiday. One of the oldest state folk festivals in America will continue a grand tradition of celebrating Florida’s land, people and diverse cultural heritage. With more than 300 performances each day by Florida’s greatest folk and roots artists, including national recording artists, songwriters and musicians of swing, folk, blues, gospel, country, Latin, jazz, bluegrass, Caribbean and zydeco music, it is truly an event not to be missed. This year’s festival featured headliners will be Florida’s own superstars John Anderson and Billy Dean, plus hundreds more folk music legends from throughout the Sunshine State.
When Billy Dean steps onto the main stage at the 2011 Florida Folk Festival on Friday night May 27, it won’t be for the first time. For this North Florida native, it’s just like coming home to Mama’s cooking. Dean is no stranger to the Folk Festival, as revealed when we asked him about his musical beginnings.
“I had a great music teacher in high school, and he put together a group of us from a music choir, and we created a little Barber Shop Quartet. We learned to sing harmony, and we would compete. In fact, one of the first places we ever played was down on the Suwannee River at the Stephen Foster Memorial when they had the Folk Festival down there. I was, I think, 12 years old when we performed down there, so I’ve been doing that for a long time and it just seemed like the natural thing to keep doing.”
This award-winning Nashville megacat went on to explain, “Yeah, a lot of good memories down there at the Folk Festival. I would like to see the Folk Festival continue to grow and always be a place to come home to and play. It’s a great venue and it’s a great opportunity for local artists and us to get together and inspire and create and collaborate. It’s just a great tradition, man. The Stephen Foster Memorial Park down there on the Suwannee River, it’s got a lot of magic to it.”
We asked about talent competition TV shows and his opinion of American Idol. Dean made an early appearance once on Star Search and explained, “It helped Nashville take notice of what I was doing . Star Search was a really great experience. It was a nerve-wracking experience. I remember I had never been so nervous in my life. Being on TV and competing, all at the same time. So I have a big appreciation for the kids that go through that on American Idol. It’s a great test to see if you have that savviness to overcome all the obstacles. I remember I was so nervous, and putting everything I had into it, that I made myself sick. It wreaks havoc on the nervous system, I’ll tell ya. I’m hearing a lot of good things about this years Idols. In fact, Richie McDonald (Lonestar) and I are writing together, kind of a Josh Turner song, and he said, ‘Man, that kid on American Idol, this song would be perfect for him.’ So we’re gonna try to write a song for that kid.”
So don’t be surprised if one day you hear American Idol contestant Scotty McCreery on the radio singing a song written by Billy Dean, and don’t miss Billy Dean at this year’s Florida Folk Festival. Additional featured performers include Aaron O’Rourke, Ariana Hall, Ben Prestage, Bullard Brothers & Friends, Chuck Hardwicke and The Hartline, Ellen & Gary Bukstel, Frank Thomas, Jeanie Fitchen, Men of the House, Roadside Review, SAIL High School Acoustic Ensemble, Sam Pacetti, Tom Shed, and The Morse Family.
Right at Home