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“Folk music is not so much a body of art as it is a process, an attitude and a way of life; its distinguishing features lie not within the songs themselves, but in the relations of those songs to a folk culture.” – Sam Hinton

In his storied career as a folk artist and naturalist, Sam Hinton innately understood the intimate connection between the music he played and its relationship to the culture it served. History is transferred through the storytelling element that is an integral link to folk music. As a student and teacher of natural history, Hinton contributed much of his life to sharing and preserving in tandem both the arts and sciences.

The Florida Folk Festival is continuing the rich folk tradition with a celebration of Florida’s land, people, and diverse cultural heritage. The three-day festival held May 27-29 at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park celebrates the music, dance, stories, crafts, and food that reflect the lives of generations of Florida families and communities. More than 300 performances will give voice and meaning to Florida’s heritage along the Suwannee River.

Each year, the Department of State’s Florida Folklife Program presents a special topic relating to Florida’s traditional heritage. The Festival’s 2016 Folklife Area will feature performances and demonstrations celebrating the diverse living traditions of Miami-Dade County. Visitors will experience the compelling traditions and savor the flavors, sights, and sounds of some of Florida’s oldest and newest cultural communities.

Florida-Folk-FestFeatured festival activities also include jam sessions, demonstrations, and workshops. Try your own hand at playing mandolin, telling stories, or making a pine needle basket. Learn how to collect your family’s history, call a square dance, or the importance of native plant and animal species. Visit with Florida’s traditional and contemporary craftsmen, and feast on collard greens and cornbread, chicken pilau and hoppin’ john, shrimp gumbo, barbecue, curries, gyros, and lime fizzes. As the sun sets, settle in for concerts by moonlight or dance the night away at the Heritage Stage.

Legendary musician, performer and folk historian Arlo Guthrie headlines the 64th Annual Florida Folk Festival. Guthrie is the eldest son of America’s beloved singer/writer/philosopher Woody Guthrie and Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Company. Arlo’s father, Woody, composed and performed hundreds of songs, including the still-celebrated ‘This Land Is Your Land.’

A child of the Folk Boom era, Guthrie witnessed the transition from an earlier generation of ballad singers like Richard Dyer-Bennet and blues-men like Mississippi John Hurt, to a new era of singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs. Guthrie developed his own style, becoming a distinctive, expressive voice in a crowded community of singer-songwriters and political-social commentators. His career exploded in 1967 with the release of Alice’s Restaurant, the title song of which premiered at the Newport Folk Festival and helped foster a new commitment to social consciousness among the ’60s generation.

Performers also include Jim Stafford, John McCuen, Frank Thomas. Tom Shed and Billy Dean. A native of Winter Haven, Stafford is a comedian, singer, songwriter and entertainer. He wrote and recorded his first chart making song, ‘The Swamp Witch’ in 1974, followed with a gold single, ‘Spiders and Snakes’, which stayed on the American pop charts for 26 weeks. Stafford’s hits included ‘My Girl Bill’ and ‘Wildwood Weed’.

Stafford is self-taught on guitar, fiddle, piano, banjo, organ, and harmonica. Stafford’s songs are featured on several movie soundtracks including the satirical ‘Cow Patti’, written for the Clint Eastwood movie Any Which Way You Can, in which he appeared. He also received a gold record for his work in the Disney movie The Fox and The Hound.

A native of Quincy, Florida, festival favorite Billy Dean was raised appreciating the value of music and has a diverse array of musical influences. Dean moved to Nashville in 1983 and by 1990 had recorded his first Top 5 Hit ‘Only Here For A Little While’. Since then, he has transcended genres with his unique repertoire earning numerous awards, including the Academy of Country Music’s Song of the Year for ‘Somewhere In My Broken Heart’, ACM New Male Vocalist of The Year, BMI Pop Awards, BMI Song Awards, BMI Million Air Plays Award, Country Music Television Rising Star Award, NSAI Song of The Year, and a Grammy for ‘Country Tribute: Amazing Grace’.

Three years before he became a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, teenage magician John McEuen discovered that he liked being in front of people. McEuen incorporated his banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, lap steel, and piano with songs and comedic storytelling to create a unique experience. He joined The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966 and recorded 34 albums including the platinum-selling Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The album is recognized as a music milestone and integral part of Americana history. It was inducted into the Library of Congress as “one of America’s most important historic recordings.”

Florida songwriter Frank Thomas has native lineage dating back to the late 18th century. Few other songwriters can claim such a strong Florida heritage and sharing his love of Florida is the inspirational thread woven throughout his music and storytelling. Thomas has earned many titles including the Dean of Florida Folk for the many song-writing assignments he has given over the years, The Grand Old Man of Florida Folk, and is considered one of the most prolific songwriters in Florida.

In the 60s, Thomas toured nationally with several well-known bluegrass groups, most notably the legendary Arkansas Travelers. Thomas settled into the “Cracker Palace,” a Florida-style home down Rattlesnake Hammock Road on the ridge just outside of Lake Wales. From there, Thomas and his wife Ann became the most well known duo in Florida music.

Find all of these artists and more at the Florida Folk Festival May 27-29. For tickets and more info, visit

Event: Florida Folk Festival

Venue: Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Date/Time: May 27-29

Tickets: $5-$60


About Liza Mitchell