Florida Folk Festival 2011/ News from Behind the Pine Curtain
Most people don’t realize that Florida is almost a thousand miles long, from the Alabama state line west of Pensacola to Key West. That’s over two hundred miles longer than California.
It’s 362 miles from that same Alabama state line straight across to Jacksonville. Almost a hundred miles wider than New York State.
Maggie and I live in the ‘panhandle‘, about 100 miles west of Tallahassee.
This geography lesson is part of a tale of two Floridas.
Just as California is divided socially North and South (as is Korea, but that’s another story….maybe), Florida is divided the same way. The Florida panhandle, much older socially and culturally than the part of the state that dangles limply into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, is mockingly called ‘Lower Alabama‘ by many people south of the Big Bend.
Those people are referred to as ‘idiots‘ by those of us in the panhandle. It’s a fair trade. Most of them have lived in Florida less than ten years. (A good percentage of them will be gone by the time we finish playing at the Florida Folk Festival over this Memorial Day weekend – just in time for the start of Hurricane Season). Maggie and I are different in that respect. Our families have been here for almost two hundred years. Each. We’re well-rooted.
The first Florida constitution was written and signed in the panhandle city of Port Saint Joe, thirty miles east of Panama City, our home town. One of Maggie’s ancestors was an original signer of that constitution. Refrigeration was invented in the same area after a tidal wave and yellow fever epidemic left residents there reeling from the after-effects.
True, we might say ‘laigs and aigs‘ instead of legs and eggs as they do around the bend, but we’re more than happy to be here.
What does all this have to do with the Florida Folk Festival? It’s a fair question, but one that needed this preamble to give the correct answer.
The Florida Folk Festival has been held every year for the last fifty-seven at the Stephen Foster (who penned the original state song) State Park in White Springs, Florida (just south of the Georgia state line). It has showcased some of the most awesome talent from this state for well over half a century, and that ain’t bad.
The festival is run mostly by folks who consider the panhandle superfluous. After all, even on some Florida state maps the panhandle has been neatly excised and left floating in the lower left corner, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
In this year of changes, the festival is flush with rumors of change. We’ll be there representing the ‘panhandle,’ playing our songs, one stage a day, until Sunday. Then, it’s quickly home to our own little festival – Maggie’s Farm; home to a hot summer, two great puppies and another year of touring (we hope) the world.
In 2008, members of the state legislature were embarrassed by the official Florida state song ‘Old Folks at Home,’ better known by its first line, ‘Way Down Upon the Suwannee River,’ which Stephen Foster spelled ‘Swanee Ribber.’ (Foster had never been to Florida but loved minstrel shows, and wrote this song for one).
The chorus, written by him in dialect, goes…
All de world am sad and dreary,
Ebry where I roam,
Oh! darkies how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home
So the legislature got a new official state song – Where the Wiregrass Meets the Sky. It was written by Jan Hinton, from England. She moved to Florida in 1999, then went back home to the UK and returned to teach in Florida in 2003.
To be fair, that means she’s lived here longer than our new governor, Rick Scott, who moved to Florida from Texas in 2009, just in time to run for the 2010 governor’s race. Some things never change.
There are several Florida folk song contests throughout the state every year, but you have to mention Florida in the song for it to qualify. Not just the mood, not just the passion for something in the state: you have to mention Florida. It doesn’t hurt to make lists of things like the names of rivers, birds, endangered species or the like.
Most of our own songs don’t qualify, because we forget to name the state of our birth. So, for this year’s contests, I wrote one:
Even at midnight it’s too hot to sleep
So humid, it’s like living under water
birds don’t sing in the morning trees
clothes stick to my skin
I’d pay money for a breeze
Young men get old working in the sun
Old men die just for a day off
Women shade their eyes with a glistening hand
Not even a cloud
to cool the land
So why does my heart beat faster?
Why do I love it so?
Why do I hate to leave this state?
When I’m away, I only want to go
back to Florida
My blood runs hot
like it or not
It’s my Florida
……love it or leave it
Black clouds stick to the tops of the trees
Rain beats down on the black dirt
There’s a hole in the fence where the cows got through
Got to patch it up
Just one more thing to do
Dogs lie panting in the shade of the porch
Weeds growing up around the car
but just remember if you don’t love my state
Then just stay where the hell you are
I’ll keep Florida
Like it or not
It’s my Florida
…..Love it or leave it
I’ll let you know how it goes, if you’d like.