Road trip to White Springs for Old Florida and the Florida Folk Festival

What if there was one event you could attend this Memorial Day weekend that would be safe, fun, and refreshing for the weary mind, without having to book a flight or take out a home loan to pay for the trip? The answer is an old-school road trip to the annual Florida Folk Festival, May 27-29, at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, Florida.

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White Springs is 60 miles north of Gainesville, making it about a 4.5 hour drive from Fort Myers. It’s an “old Florida” town of mossy oaks and antique shops on the bank of the Suwannee River, populated by perhaps a thousand people.

If you’ve never visited White Springs or Stephen Foster State Park, or the Florida Folk Festival, “one of America’s oldest and most revered state folk festivals” and “the best cultural event in Florida,” “…recognized by the Southeastern Tourism Society as a “Top 20 Event” in the Southeastern United States,” there’s no better time than now to do it.

Joe Kurtright of the 7 Pounds of Bacon Mess Band talks about antique instrument making in the Children's Zone during the Florida Folk Festival at Stephen Foster State Park.

This three-day festival is your chance to experience “the music, dance, stories, crafts, and food that make Florida unique.” And you’ll need all three days to take full advantage of it, so book rooms NOW, anywhere as close to White Springs as possible.

A Smorgasbord feast for the senses

The following is just a glimpse of this phenomenal event, which best of all takes place outdoors in the fresh, healthy open air of North Florida, where you can lean against a pine tree to enjoy hand-cranked ice cream, and dance asleep under a starry sky each night. The festival is a feast for the senses – all five:

Ross Morton talks about building furniture in the Florida Remembered area.

• Your first sense will be excited by the unusual, colorful and fascinating sights you encounter at every turn. In the Florida Remembered area, for example, you’ll see frontier trapper traders and farmers in a cracker camp threshing barley and grinding corn. In the Seminole Family Camp area, you’ll find Seminole women with whirring sewing machines making traditional patchwork clothing. And in the crafts section, your eyes will widen in amazement at the artistry of some 25 artisans selling everything from handcrafted acoustic guitars to calabash banjos, hand-woven garments to Hungarian embroidery, stained glass windows inspired by Florida nature to primitive handicrafts. Floridian style home furnishings. Here you can see a blacksmith forging everything from barbecue tools to children’s toys, a spinner making rag rugs on a crested loom, and a woodcarver turning Florida bamboo into flutes, whistles and screeches. ‘birds.

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• Your hearing will be fully awakened by the sound of music, music reflecting the wonderful diversity of cultures that have marked Florida’s history, from the fiddle of Florida to the Dôdô Awoko of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire in Africa; from old-school banjo (preceding bluegrass!) to Spanish flamenco performed by dance masters. You can enjoy Caribbean-style music, like reggae, as well as Haitian-style dance music performed by the Karibbean Groove, which is, by the way, a group of Haitians who met in a church in Immokalee where their families were farm workers.

Jam N Jelly performed at a recent Florida Folk Festival at Stephen Foster State Park.

Among these mainstream performers (sponsored in part by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council for Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts), you’ll appreciate the style of music Cuban of the early 20th century. by Grammy-nominated José Elias. Puerto Rico is represented by Plena Es, a band playing a combination of bomba, “the 17th century music created by West African slaves on Puerto Rico’s sugar cane plantations”, and plena, “mixed bomba with indigenous Taíno music, the jibaro music of the island’s mountain farmers, the chamber music of the Spanish colonizers and the rhyming verses of urban satirists. a force so powerful that it doesn’t matter where you come from. I bet you’ll move on.

The festival music reflects the wonderful diversity of cultures that have marked Florida's history, including Dôdô Awoko from the Republic of Ivory Coast of Africa.

And, as if the international music of these traditional artists were not enough, music lovers will be able to satisfy their appetite during the performances in the amphitheater, during the three nights of the festival, of special guest musicians, international stars of the record, inducted in all the music- halls. of fame in existence, and winners of every known music award in genres as diverse as rock and roll and holy steel (a type of music described as “an inspired and unique form of gospel music with a powerful blues-based rhythm”), Americana, or “harmony-based folk-rock”, and psychedelic bluegrass from the Firewater Tent Revival, Florida folk music and tropical rock. Songwriters/singers and Grammy winners like Jim Stafford, Billy Dean, Bertie Higgins and Del Suggs are just a few of the featured artists performing under the stars each night of the festival. Not to mention John McEwen (co-founder of the group Nitty Gritty Dirt, and producer of the platinum album, Grammy Hall of Fame “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, named by the 2004 ZAGAT survey, “the most important record of country music.”

Betty Ford-Smith demonstrates making pinecone quilts in Folklife at a recent Florida Folk Festival.

• Your senses of smell and taste will draw you irresistibly to food as varied and delicious as part of the entertainment, crafts, history and music of this folk festival phenomenon. Come hungry for breakfast and stay all day, because no invitation to sample Florida’s cultural diversity is as compelling as the aromas of fried chicken, cornbread and collard greens, smoked mullet and Hoppin’ John, Mexican empanadas and Greek gyros, fried okra, catfish, corndogs and roasted turkey legs. In this multicultural extravaganza of food choices, you’ll find the drinks everything from chai tea and latte to freshly squeezed lemonade and pineapple smoothies. And for dessert, how about homemade ice cream and a fruit cobbler, fried snickers or sweet potato pie, a root beer float, or just for fun, a a cloud of spun sugar, pink cotton candy?

• Your fifth sense, touch, will find satisfaction in workshops where you can test your dexterity in weaving with saw palmetto and cabbage palms, or try your hand at drawing music from instruments from the pioneer era from Florida, such as the dobro, dulcimer and banjo. In fact, you really shouldn’t leave the Florida Folk Festival in Stephen Foster Memorial Park without at least running your fingers over the strings of a banjo. It is inconceivable that anyone has ever written more songs for and about banjos than Stephen Collins Foster.

The Festival Marketplace is a popular stop on the Florida Folk Festival.

Foster was not, as one might imagine, a native of Florida, or even a native of the South. The man who wrote “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Massa’s in Cold Ground” and the Suwannee River song was born, raised and lived his entire life in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.


In the previous description of the amazing Florida Folk Festival, I didn’t scratch the surface of its entertainment. I didn’t mention, for example, that the festival organizers planned to satisfy your sixth (paranormal) sense, as well as your five (physical) senses. Modeled after the spiritualist activities of the famous Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in Volusia County, Florida, psychic readings are given throughout the festival.

I didn’t ask you if you wanted to dance either. If you like to dance, you can take classes in counter-dance or 19th century folk dance, learn swing or Haitian voodoo pop dance. Or just take to the Heritage and Dance stage under the stars on Saturday night and do your own thing.

Palmetto weaving at the Florida Folk Festival

But here’s what I think; the dreamiest way to end your long weekend at the Florida Folk Festival is to slow dance with someone you love, singing softly,

“Deep down the Suwanee River,

Far far away,

It’s where my heart always yearns,

House where old people stay.”

For more information about the festival, please visit

Cynthia A. Williams ([email protected])

If you are going to

What: Florida Folk Festival

When: May 27-29

Where: Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs


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