All posts by Donna Green-Townsend

A true “Mother’s Day” story about courtship in Cross Creek

DSC08728Editor’s note: I’m tickled to say that even though he didn’t use his rifle to shoot down this year’s magnolia blossom, my husband kept his Mother’s Day tradition alive this year (2017).

 

 

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Here’s the audio version of the chapter called, “Mother’s Day” by Shelley Fraser Mickle. (full written text with pictures can be found below)

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I’m proud to call Shelley Fraser Mickle a friend.  Shelley is one of the most entertaining writers I’ve ever met.  For many years radio listeners were able to hear her commentaries on life on not only WUFT-FM, but also nationally as she contributed her talent doing commentaries for NPR‘s “Morning Edition.”  She’s also an award-winning author of several novels.

I always looked forward to the days she would come in to the station and record her commentaries because on those days we had the opportunity to catch up on life.  That being said, as a journalist I should have known that some of the “Cross Creek” stories I shared with her would one day make it into print.  I’m actually quite pleased she was listening so closely.  My family is very proud of the chapter she wrote on my Cross Creek romance called, “Mother’s Day.”  She genuinely captured some of the unique qualities of my husband Lee Townsend in our “courting days.”

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(Full text of chapter called “Mother’s Day” from Shelley Fraser Mickle’s book, The Kids are gone; The Dog is Depressed & Mom’s On The Loose.)

 

 

I have a friend who lives at Cross Creek. She moved there over a decade ago from up North, and she would have left probably any number of times except that she fell in love with a man from the Creek. And that made all the difference. Apparently men at the Creek take the romancing of a woman very seriously.

For instance, a first date might be only a midnight fishing trip under a full moon on Orange Lake. It might be a frog gigging, or a beer shared out on a wooden bench near the Creek until it is dark and quiet, so that then you can listen to the alligators bellow in Lochloosa.

scan0001And you’ll know when the courting gets serious if a fella invites you to ride a boat out into the cypress woods after a big rain to watch the water run into the lake.

 

 

 

Let's Go Fishin'But no matter if you are fishing, gigging, or watching water, it’s a pretty sure fact that all the while, a certain magic is being practiced on you. So that afterward, it is very likely, your life will never be the same.

Creek men are aware of their power. And they strut it comfortably. For instance, it was reported that at the Marjorie Rawlings’ house, the staff spotted a snake sneaking into one of the rooms, and out of desperation, called one of the Creek men. After all, a man who has grown up at the Creek knows more than you ever want to know about snakes and how to handle them.

Chicken Snake MKR pump house A 2012-11-04_12-36-26_781As the story goes, this Creek man sauntered up the steps to the house, saying he’d handle that snake, just point him to it. Then went into the room where the snake was and shut the door. In a few minutes he came back out and announced, “That’s a female chicken snake. And it won’t take me but a minute to get her to move on out of here.”  One of the caretakers was really curious and asked, “But how do you know it’s a female snake?”  The creek man didn’t even blink. “Because she quivered when she looked at me,” he said.

sweethearts 1985I guess that really does say it all. Yes, the men at the Creek have a certain powerful charm. And it’s said that everybody knows when a creek man is seriously courting a woman, because that’s the only time he wears shoes.

 

scan0002So after my friend fell under the spell of one and married him, then stayed there to raise a family with him, she had to learn how to take on all sorts of new ways of thinking and saying things.

 

 

 

Pregnant with Ellie

When she became pregnant with their first child, she says she had to relearn how to announce that fact. For out at the Creek no one is ever pregnant. No. Rather it’s that you’re fixin’ to have a youngin’.

 

Baby Ellie

And then when the second one came, it was that she was fixin’ to have another one.Jessie

In fact, my friend says, since she has made her life at the Creek, she has found that almost everything she does has the word fixin’ it it.

File0009Last year on Mother’s Day, she was in the kitchen fixin’ to have a cup of tea when her husband sauntered up behind her, put his arms around her waist, and said to follow him, that he was fixin’ to give her a Mother’s Day present.

 

 

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He then led her outside, and on the way, grabbed his rifle, so that in only a minute they were standing under the giant magnolia that shades the whole side of the backyard. Then he propped his rifle on his shoulder and aimed it up toward the tree.

My friend says the blooms were like round white stars, perfuming the air with a sweetness that was like the smell of warm honey, or of spun sugar. Then her husband said to her, “Pick out one darlin’.”

And when she raised her hand toward a bloom near the top, he focused his eye down the rifle’s barrel and shot it down.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” he said, as he bent down and picked up the sweet white blossom that had fallen at her feet.

Archival videos of the Father of Florida Folk Will McLean

Will McLean performing
Will McLean performing

The Father of Florida Folk, the late Will McLean, loved to entertain and share songs, poems and stories of the lore and legends of Florida.  Unfortunately, most of those performances were not captured on video or audio tape.  When those performances were recorded, it was special indeed.

Here are five such videos.

The first is the January 24, 1990 memorial service for Will at the Thomas Center in Gainesville. On that day in 1990 hundreds of people filled the Thomas Center in Gainesville, FL to capacity. They were all there to pay tribute to the Father of Florida Folk, Will McLean, who had just passed away from cancer a few days before. This archival video features many of his friends sharing not only their own precious stories about Will and how he touched their lives, but also sharing their versions of Will’s original songs. Some of those friends in attendance included Gamble Rogers, Don Grooms, Dale Crider, Jeanie Fitchen, Doug Gaus, Frank and Ann Thomas, Wayne Martin, Dennis Devine, Mary Ann DiNella, Barbara Sheen Todd, Margaret Longhill, Donna Green-Townsend and Bobby Hicks to name a few. There were not only tears, but laughter as many of the speakers shared personal memories demonstrating Will McLean’s sense of humor. Following the ceremony many friends travelled to McLean’s favorite camping spot, Gore’s Landing in Marion County to disperse his ashes into the Ocklawaha River. Will McLean’s desire to “save Florida through music” continues today through a music festival held in his honor. The festival is usually held the 2nd weekend of March at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, 7 miles west of Dade City and near Brooksville. For more information about the Will McLean Festival and Foundation go online to willmclean.com

 

The next four videos were made possible when his music buddy, the late Don Grooms, brought Will to a studio in Gainesville.  The first video is Will singing his most famous song, “Hold Back The Waters,” about the 1928 hurricane that drowned between  three and four thousand people around Lake Okeechobee. (You will see Will when he starts singing at about :24 seconds in)

 

 

Will McLean served during WWII
Will McLean served during WWII

It’s been said Will McLean wrote his song, “Florida Sand,” after returning home from WWII where he had been taken as a POW in the Philippines. When he landed in Florida he kissed the ground and said he would only write about his beloved Florida Sand. In this video his friend Lais provided dance interpretation of the song.

 

 

Early photo of Will McLean's grandparents
Early photo of Will McLean’s grandparents

Will McLean spent many of his early years with his grandfather who took him to a variety of places in Florida. Those travels influenced Will’s songwriting, poems and stories. Many of those writings bring attention to Will’s concern about Florida’s environment. That concern is very evident in his song, “Lament.” Lais also interprets this song through dance.

 

 

Will McLean, Tim DeMass and Don
Will McLean, Tim DeMass and Don Grooms

Today hundreds of singer songwriters have been inspired to write songs about Florida because of Will McLean’s passion for the state. Will’s dear music buddy, the late Don Grooms, wrote one of his most famous songs, “Vitachuko,” because of Will’s inspiration. It’s about the bloody skirmish between Native American Chief Vitachuko and Spanish Explorer Hernando de Soto. Grooms said when he played it for McLean Will said, “Grooms you have finally justified your existence.” In this recording Will accompanies Grooms by playing harmonica. The late Tim DeMass is playing bass. (You will see a closeup of Will on the harmonica at about two minutes into the video and at the end of the song.)

 

To go back to the page “Will McLean: The Father of Florida Folk” CLICK HERE:
To go to the official Will McLean website CLICK HERE
Don Grooms and Will McLean
Don Grooms and Will McLean
Will McLean resting beside his guitar
Will McLean resting beside his guitar

 

 

 

A Gatherin’ In The Live Oaks 4-Part Music Series

From my audio archives:

A Gatherin’ In The Live Oaks

Four One-Hour Music Programs produced from mainstage performances at the 45th Annual Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, FL

(including selections from the archives of other festivals and performances)

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The late Will McLean and Paul Champion in the late 1960s to early 1970s

Produced by Bill Beckett and hosted by Donna Green-Townsend with production assistance from Jim Bickerstaff, Ken Crawford, Pete Gallagher and Ray Valla

Part One:

Featuring music from Marie Nofsinger, Valarie Caracappa (Wisecracker), Upsala, Pete Gallagher and the Green Grass Revival, Wingnuts, Vassar Clements, John McCuen, Clyde Walker and Sam Pacetti

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Part Two:

Featuring music from Jeanie Fitchen, Chuck Hardwicke, Ken and Leigh Skeens, Grant Livingston, Frank and Ann Thomas, Dale Crider, Ron and Bari Litschauer, Happy and Patti, Simple Gifts and Mindy Simmons

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Part Three:

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The late Gamble Rogers at the FL Folk Festival

Featuring music and stories from Jim Ballew, Paul Champion, Cush Holston, Will McLean, Cousin Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers and Don Grooms.

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Part Four:

Featuring music from Long John Higginbotham, Rock Bottom, James Billie and John Anderson

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Willie Green- The Real Deal

Bluesman Willie Green……He’s the Real Deal

Willie Green 1 2007 FL Folk FestPatrons of the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, FL are treated every weekend with the Delta blues sound of Willie Green.  Music is Willie’s life.  He began playing harmonica as a teenager and eventually picked up the guitar.  But life wasn’t always kind to Willie in his early years.  Now in his “golden years” he’s attracting a tremendous following for his authentic blues music.  He’s become a favorite at various state festivals such as the Florida Folk Festival and the Gamble Rogers Festival and at blues competitions.  Willie even had the opportunity to perform with Eric Clapton in Jacksonville, FL in front of a crowd of three to four thousand people.  Reporter Trimmel Gomes and Donna Green-Townsend brought Willie into the WUFT studios in 2005 to hear the story of his life and to hear him play a little blues.

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Willie playing Baby You Mine

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Willie singing a song about Muddy Waters called Hoochie Coochie Man

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Willie performing Blue With A Feelin

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OCL-LOGO

Willie Green

On October 15th, 1935, or there abouts, a baby boy was born in a rural Alabama sharecropper’s cabin. His mother Mattie and father Willie Green Sr. named him Willie Grant Green. The Grant comes from the famous Union general. Willie doesn’t know the name of the little farm hamlet, only that it was near the city of Montgomery. He doesn’t have any family photos or even a birth certificate. Only that his family were sharecroppers and travelling migrant workers. He was lucky to go school for a of couple years, but was soon pulled from the 4th grade to start working in the fields, picking everything from peanuts to potatoes. Travelling around the southeast in the back of a truck, field to field, farm to farm, he picked vegetables and fruits through his teenage years and into his twenties. By then he had left the family following the crop harvest north as far as Maine, he met a girl there, a local farmer’s daughter. He says he always wished he would have stayed, but time to head back south: more crops coming in the spring. His brother was called to Vietnam. Willie never saw him again.

While still at home as a teenager, Willie would sneak out at night, sometimes catching a ride on a passing freight into Montgomery to the juke joints. He wanted to hear the music, the BLUES music, from the greats like John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Muddy Waters; all those cats getting home before sunrise to the welcome of a belt in the hands of Mama Mattie, who wasn’t fond of the juke joint scene.

Willie-Green Old City Life
Photo Courtesy of Old City Life publication

One day an old boy gave Willie a harp, and the rest is history. He continued his migrant worker job, with the harp in his back pocket, playing when he could, sitting in with anyone he could. In the 1960s Willie found his way to Florida, were some cousins lived in Pompano Beach. During this time he was called back to Alabama one time. Mama Mattie had passed away on the farm. This was the last time he saw the place and his only relatives there. Willie remembers he inherited her refrigerator, but had no way to haul it home on the Greyhound bus. Back in Florida he found new jobs like pipe laying, driving a pulp wood truck, laying cement roads; anything that made a little dough. Heven started learning to play some guitar to go with the harp. He got to sit in with some of the great blues players travelling through. Cash was king, no bank account needed…..

To continue reading more from this article in the publication, “Old City Life” about blues singer and performer Willie Green click here.

Celebrating the Life of John Henry Hankinson, Jr.

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John Henry Hankinson, Jr.

Florida lost an environmental giant on March 3rd when John Henry Hankinson, Jr. died.  On March 7, 2017 hundreds gathered at the Fort King Presbyterian Church in Ocala, FL for a celebration of his life. The service included not only friends and family, but environmental leaders from across the state and Southeast region of the United States.

 

During the “Celebration of Life” service, Hankinson was called a modern day Da Vinci,  a patriot and an environmental land use visionary and leader of the environmental protection movement.

He was described as a good husband and father who raised two sons and a person who could make people laugh and dream.

In an email read at the service former EPA Director, Carol Browner, described Hankinson as “a good friend to me and many, many others and mentor to untold number of conservationists.  He lived large and he lived well.”

Manley Fuller, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, described Hankinson as, “someone who could disarm people with his humor and his brilliant dry wit…He was a brilliant conservation advocate who functioned at a high level but, with the common touch, he could comfortably negotiate complex deals for clean water with captains of industry or sit down and find common ground with regular folks along Florida’s waterways or around the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”

See pictures and hear music from the celebration of life service below:

 

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John Hankinson shaking hands with President Barack Obama

John’s most recent position was the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force where he worked with 11 federal agencies and five states to develop strategy for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  It’s my understanding he was selected for the position by former President Barack Obama.

He has also served as the Regional Administrator of the EPA’s office in Atlanta overseeing federal wetland regulation and state implementation of delegated Clean Water Act programs in eight southern states.

Closer view of bayfront
Apalachicola Bayfront

His work included promoting comprehensive watershed and coastal aquatic ecosystem management including the Florida Everglades, National Estuary Programs, and efforts to establish a compact for the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint (ACF) River System.  The list of awards for his accomplishments is long.

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Before working for the EPA he held the position of Director of Planning and Acquisition at the St. John’s River Water Management District in Florida. In that capacity he helped the state acquire more than 200,000 acres of environmentally important lands.

Early in his career Hankinson told me he was inspired by the environmental activism of Marjorie Harris Carr.  Carr is best known for her work at helping stop the construction of the now defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal.  Even though the project came to a halt, there are dams on either side of the state, the Inglis Locke on the Gulf Side and the Kirkpatrick Dam (better known as the Rodman Dam)  between  the St. John’s and Ocklawaha Rivers.

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Cross Florida Barge Canal

In 1996 I produced a series on the Cross Florida Barge Canal controversy when the federal government gave money back to each of the counties who had contributed to the dream for the “Big Ditch.”   To hear John Hankinson’s comments about Marjorie Carr click on segment 5 of my Cross Florida Barge Canal Series entitled, “Remembering Marjorie Carr.”

Hankinson continued the efforts of Carr as he worked for years trying to restore the Ocklawaha River to be a free flowing system.  At times it seemed as if it would really happen as various governors and numerous environmental groups supported the idea.  But each time supporters thought the dam would finally be removed, state lawmakers pushed back.  Leading the opposition for many years was the late State Senator George Kirkpatrick who loved to fish on the Rodman Reservoir.

On the day I interviewed Hankinson for the series in 1997 he was in town for the first official “Undam the Dam Jam” held at the Cousin Thelma Boltin Center in Gainesville.   I can still recall how as we sat outside for our interview, a plane circled above us pulling a banner that read, “Save the Rodman.”  It was as if the opponents of the restoration effort knew I was talking to Hankinson and decided to disturb our interview.  We both got a pretty good laugh out of the scenario above us as I couldn’t keep interviewing him without picking up the sound of the plane overhead.  You can hear his comments in segment 6 of the series listed above.

Former Florida Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay spoke at the service and described Hankinson’s determination to “Free the Ocklawaha.”

DSC08170Hankinson loved playing music and was an avid blues harmonica player with several bands including the band known as Johnny Matanzas and the Hombres as well as the band called, The Non Essentials.

On the morning of March 7th, 2017 John Henry Hankinson, Jr.’s body was laid to rest at Prairie Creek Cemetery near Micanopy , FL.

In lieu of flowers, his family suggested a donation be made to Florida Defenders of the Environment for the John H. Hankinson, Jr. Ocklawaha River Restoration Fund.  (put on bottom of the check).  The address is P.O. Box 357086, Gainesville, FL  32635.

John Henry Hankinson, Jr.   May 8, 1948 – March 3, 2017

RIP John

 

To read two other interesting articles about Hankinson’s legacy go to the Orlando Sentinel at the following link:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-john-hankinson-environmentalist-death-20170306-story.html

Another interesting article:

https://flaglerlive.com/105435/john-hankinson-jr/

 

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Memories of her life and times in Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings & Cracker Culture
A video written and produced by University of Florida Student Monica Berra.  Script Editing assistance and narration by Donna Green-Townsend

 

Two versions of a video produced by Dorsey Lee Townsend III for a class project while in Santa Fe College:

 (Longer version with additional interview added)

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A video distributed by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection called, “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park”

 

History of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings featuring MKR reenactor Betty Jean Steinshouer produced by Visit Gainesville.

 

Interviews regarding the scheduled play, “Invasion of Privacy” which took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall of Santa Fe College in June of 2015. The interviewees were on the Ilene Silverman Show.

 

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The old Alachua County Courthouse in Gainesville, FL

The 1946 “Invasion of Privacy Trial” of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings vs. Zelma Cason has captivated lawyers and literary experts alike.  On June 18th thru June 20th, 2015 the public got a flavor of the famous trial  when the award-winning play by Larry Parr, “Invasion of Privacy,” took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College.

It was after Marjorie Rawlings won the Pulitizer Prize for “The Yearling” that she continued her success with her book, “Cross Creek,” a book which captured what her life was like as well as her neighbors in the small fishing community.  But one friend of Rawlings, Zelma Cason, didn’t take “too kindly” to the way Rawlings described her in her book and decided to sue the famous author.  Click here to read more about this famous legal case.

Park Ranger Lee Townsend being interviewed on November 13th, 2009 at the MKR home about Marjorie’s life at the “Creek.”

 

A video interview with author J. T. Glisson about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Cross Creek for Putnam Schools TV.

 

Shelley-Fraser-MickleA True “Mother’s Day” Story About Romance in Cross Creek by Shelley Fraser Mickle

I have a friend who lives at Cross Creek. She moved there over a decade ago from up North, and she would have left probably any number of times except that she fell in love with a man from the Creek. And that made all the difference. Apparently men at the Creek take the romancing of a woman very seriously.

For instance, a first date might be only a midnight fishing trip under a full moon on Orange Lake. It might be a frog gigging, or a beer shared out on a wooden bench near the Creek until it is dark and quiet, so that then you can listen to the alligators bellow in Lochloosa.

 Click here to read more…

 

Cross Creek Summer

MKR on her porchThe first  weekend in August of 1997 kicked off the first annual Cross Creek Summer, Arts and Culture in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Florida.  Organizers hoped the week-long event would introduce people to the Florida Rawlings loved and attract those ecotourists looking for the real Florida. To hear the report produced by Donna Green-Townsend  Click here

 

 

50th Anniversary of “The Yearling” Celebration on the MKR farm in Cross Creek in April of 1988
Includes rare video of the late Idella Parker, Cousin Thelma Boltin, Will McLean and Gamble Rogers.

 

Video with interesting pictures of Marjorie, though not all the facts are precise.

 

1979 video talking about the architecture of the MKR home in Cross Creek

My Friendship With “The Black Hat Troubadour” Will McLean

 

Will Mclean who was the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1996
Will McLean, the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame in 1996

By the time I met Will McLean he had already penned most of the hundreds of songs and poems he has become famous for.  He’d already performed at Carnegie Hall and made friends with the late Pete Seeger.  His glory days performing on the “Old Marble Stage” at the Florida Folk Festival were long since past.  The truth is, the day I met him I didn’t even really know him by name.  But I think therein lies the reason we became fast friends.  Will McLean was one of the most humble men I’d ever met.

It was in mid-November in 1985.  I was working in the WUFT-FM newsroom in Weimer Hall at the University of Florida when a tall man dressed all in black (that’s how I remember it) walked into my office and kindly, almost demurely, asked if he could post some fliers on the bulletin boards in the hallway to promote his concert that was to take place that following Sunday night November 17th in the Thomas Center in downtown Gainesville.  Just having someone come in and ask to post something was rare.  Thinking back on it, I’m surprised I didn’t just say yes or no.  I remember being intrigued by this man because of the soft-spoken way in which he asked me.  Maybe it was the way he was dressed and his stature that caused me to begin asking him questions, questions that today I’m a bit embarrassed that I asked, but so glad I did.

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Photo on Will McLean’s “Florida Sand” album

I remember questioning him about what kind of songs he’d written.  Instead of being surprised and offended that I didn’t know who he was he began to softly tell me some of the song titles and what they were about.  That’s where my friendship with Will McLean really began.  When he got to the song, “Hold Back the Waters,” my heart actually fluttered.  I had no idea how popular that song really was or the true history behind the song of the 1928 hurricane in Florida over Lake Okeechobee.  Geez, people in Florida had been singing this song like an anthem for more than 20 years.  But in 1985 I had only been living in Florida for a little more than two years and was just getting to know Florida history and area musicians.  But, I knew that song.  I fell in love with “Hold Back The Waters” when I was helping produce a national music series while out in the state of Kansas called, “The Walnut Valley Festival.”  The public radio station I was working for as news director, KHCC-FM, had produced 26 one-hour programs for national distribution.

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Album cover to record by Red and Murphy & Company I purchased at the Walnut Valley Festival in the early 1980s

My job was to interview all the musicians and produce features for the series.  It was my first real introduction to a genre of music you just don’t come across on the radio every day.  One of the groups performing in 1982 was Red and Murphy Henry, a bluegrass family band from Florida (now Virginia).  I can distinctly remember Murphy Henry introducing the song, Hold Back The Waters, saying it was about a hurricane.  Of all the songs I heard at the Walnut Valley Festival those two years in the early 1980s, this was the one song I sat down and wrote out the lyrics to and learned to sing. Listening back to the original tape I can hear Murphy Henry mentioning Will McLean’s name, but at the time I learned it I wasn’t as interested in the artist who wrote it as much as in the story of this devastating storm that pushed Lake Okeechobee’s waters over its banks and drowned between 3,000 to 4,000 people.

truck carrying victims of 1928 hurricaneThe 1928 storm was before television and the weather channel and before hurricanes even had names.  It intrigued me that the Seminoles living in Florida may have warned the storm was coming but people didn’t pay attention.  This storm is the reason there is now a dike all around Lake Okeechobee in South Florida.  There are many accounts from people recalling the storm describing how they were tied to trees by their families so they wouldn’t be swept away.  There are stories about the mass graves following the storm….some marked and some unmarked.  Yes, this was an intriguing song about history and my first introduction to what hurricanes could really do.

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Photo on Will McLean’s “Florida Sand” album

I loved “Hold Back The Waters.”  As soon as Will McLean mentioned it I remember blurting out, “I know that song.”  When I told him where I first heard it his eyes just lit up.  I wasn’t prepared for him to then ask, “Why don’t you come to my concert and sing it with me.”  He had just met me.  He didn’t know if I could sing or not.  I’m sure I thanked him kindly for asking, but he surely didn’t need me to come and sing.  It was his concert after all.  He insisted.

 

 

 

Will McLean waiting to performBefore he left the station I introduced him to our operations manager and our chief engineer and it was decided that WUFT would send its remote recording truck to the concert.  I remember sitting in a little room at the Thomas Center that night in November of 1985 practicing the song with Will.  I was so afraid I’d forget the words or forget how to play it on my guitar.  My fears were relieved when I saw Murphy Henry walk into the Thomas Center, the person I first heard sing the song out in Kansas.  It turned out that I didn’t have to worry about playing the guitar, I only had to sing the song with Will and Murphy.  My fears about forgetting the words disappeared.  Here is the introduction to the song that night in 1985

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and here’s the recording of Will McLean, Murphy Henry and me singing “Hold Back The Waters.”

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In 1985 I was engaged to be married to Lee Townsend from Cross Creek.  He was with me at the Thomas Center.  As it turns out, Lee knew Will for a different reason.  When he was working as a mechanic in Gainesville he often worked on Will’s old vehicles, doing his best to keep them running, many long after they should have been abandoned.  That night Will dedicated a poem to us. It was a poem so appropriate for a couple who lived in the woods in Cross Creek.

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Florida's Black Hat Troubadour I will only say that following that November concert, for whatever reason, that professional recording got stashed away on a shelf and misplaced for nearly 12 years….a whole different story in itself.  Eventually, it resurfaced at just the right time because the new program director at WUFT-FM, Bill Beckett, had an appreciation for what this recording meant to history.  Working together with the Executive Director of the Will McLean Foundation, Margaret Longhill, we turned the recording into the CD, “Will McLean and Friends, Live at the Thomas Center.”  I met Margaret Longhill the same week I met Will in 1985.  She truly understood how rare this professional recording of Will McLean was.  We’ve been friends now for nearly 32 years.

Will McLean standing beside the van he used to travel around the state writing songs about his Florida sand
Will McLean standing beside the van he used to travel around the state writing songs about his Florida sand

Because of the way Will McLean lived, he had very few possessions.  After his wife Alice died of cancer Will spent most of his last years travelling around in an old beat up van and hanging out at campgrounds where he could fish or just plug in his extension cord at the homes of various friends.  He pawned many of his guitars to obtain money to buy wine and  he gave away cassette tapes of his recordings to just about everyone he met.  I think he enjoyed revisiting the places around Florida where his grandpa had taken him as a boy.  Those trips were the inspiration for many of his songs and poems.

Not all of the stories about Will McLean are pretty, but he was a unique individual….a treasure.  About a month after the Thomas Center concert Will came to Cross Creek to help me celebrate my 28th birthday.  I remember having a nice little music jam on my screened porch over Cross Creek.  What I also remember is that Will chose to just sit back and listen to everyone else sing and play, not wanting to be in the spotlight.  As much as I wanted him to play for us, I can now look back and appreciate how he didn’t want to be center stage the way some musicians do.  I liked that quality in him.

The same thing happened on March 15, 1986 at my wedding reception in Cross Creek.  Someone told me Will McLean had just arrived and was looking for me.  He had a wedding present for my husband Lee and me.  It was a cassette full of recordings he had made around the campfires at the Florida Folk Festival and other places.  Not wanting to be the focus of my wedding reception he kindly gave us his “best wishes” and disappeared. After getting to know Will better over the coming months I invited him into the WUFT studios to do a long interview in 1987.  You can hear my first interview with Will in 1985 when I was just getting to know him and the second interview where I knew Will a little better by clicking here.  Let’s just say I’m really glad I have those recordings.  There are stories in those interviews that needed to be preserved forever.

Painting of Will McLean by Marianne Dinella
Painting of Will McLean by Marianne Dinella

Will died in 1990 from cancer.  Friends gathered for his memorial in the Thomas Center, the same venue where I sang with him less than five years before.  Both floors of the Thomas Center were packed.  Many of his friends performed Will’s songs and told stories of how they knew him including the late Gamble Rogers, Don Grooms, Bobby Hicks, Dale Crider, Seminole Chief James Billie, Jeanie Fitchen, Mary Ann Dinella, Doug Gauss and Wayne Martin.  The list is long.  There were tears and much laughter as well.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard.  He touched so many of us in so many ways.  This is the first time I’ve ever really written my thoughts about it.  Thank goodness someone actually video-taped the service.  It is a real treasure to see.

 

Will McLean holding a puppy on a chilly day Afterwards many of us went to Gore’s Landing by the Ocklawaha River to disperse Will’s ashes.  Some of those in attendance were Margaret Longhill, Don Grooms, Dale Crider and family, Donna Green-Townsend and family, Wayne Martin and Bobby Hicks to name a few.  Gore’s Landing was one of Will’s favorite places to camp.  I saw him there while my family was also camping not long before he got so sick.

 

 

Sign dedicated to Will McLean at Gore's Landing
Sign dedicated to Will McLean at Gore’s Landing

Margaret Longhill chose the Ocklawaha River because before he died, McLean had told her that he had hoped to light a small campfire one last time at Gore’s Landing, his favorite campsite.  In this brief recording, you will hear a small portion of that special ceremony at the river:

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the late Will McLean considered to be the "Father of Florida folk"
The late Will McLean considered to be the “Father of Florida folk”

In 1996 because of his artistic contributions Will became the first folk artist inducted into the prestigious Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  Friday, March 10th – Sunday, March 12th marks the 28th anniversary of the Will McLean Folk Festival.  

One of the highlights of the festival is the hour when the winners of the Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest perform their winning songs.  Will always wanted to “Save Florida Through Music.”  It’s amazing how many songs there are now about his beloved “Florida Sand.”

 If you’ve never been to the Will McLean Folk Festival you really should check it out.  It’s truly a “songwriters festival.”  It’s held at the Sertoma Youth Ranch just 7 miles west of Dade City at the bottom of an orange grove.  It’s small in comparison to many music festivals, but that’s why it’s so special.  The performers and the people who attend are all in the same campground, playing music throughout the night.  

Jessie and Lee Townsend
Jessie and Lee Townsend

My children have grown up there.  In 2016 my son Lee and daughter Jessie Townsend performed on both Saturday and Sunday at the festival and honored many songwriters who have passed on in a special “Florida Set.”  Meanwhile, my daughter Ellie helped with publicity on the Will McLean Facebook page and my son-in-law Andrew Floyd coordinates all the vendors at the festival.  

As the late singer-songwriter Pete Seeger said, “Will McLean’s songs will be sung as long as there is a Florida.”  Rest in Peace Will McLean, my friend.

Jessie and Lee Townsend Tribute CD now available

Listen and Watch song samples from the new “Tribute” CD below:

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Jessie and Lee’s CD is the newest professional recording for this sister/brother duet.

 

(To pre-order a CD, please send $15.00 to:  Jessie Townsend,
13501 SE 171st Lane  Hawthorne, FL 32640)
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Jessie, Red and Chris Henry and David McBrady in the studio

Jessie and Lee Townsend  recently went back into the studio to record six more songs to add to their CD Sampler.  The CD will now have 12 songs and be titled, “Tribute” as it will have songs from several of Florida’s best songwriters past and present including Will McLean, Steve Blackwell, Jim Ballew, Dale Crider, Don Grooms and Ann Thomas to name a few.

 

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Lee Townsend in the studio

Below you will find music videos of five of the songs included on the project followed by audio samples from all of the songs on the CD including “Crying Bird,” written by the late Will McLean about the potential demise of the Florida Limpkin; “Lonesome Wind Blues,” written by the late Wayne Raney and made popular by the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe; “When I Die” written by the late Jim Ballew; “Oh Kissimmee River” written by environmental troubadour Dale Crider from Windsor, FL and “Wild Birds” written by the late Don Grooms.

Jessie and Lee were joined in the studio for this CD by  Chris Henry (guitar, mandolin and vocal harmony), Red Henry (fiddle, mandolin and vocal harmony),  David McBrady (bass and vocal harmony), Jason Thomas (mandolin). Gabe Valla (rhythm guitar), Christian Ward (fiddle), Elisabeth Williamson (vocal harmony) and Lon Williamson (bass).

 

Crying Bird

Lonesome Wind Blues

When I Die
 
 Wild Birds

Oh Kissimmee River

Song samples:
Jessie and Lee Townsend
Jessie and Lee Townsend (all photos by Donna Green-Townsend)

Kentucky Borderline (written by Rhonda Vincent and Terry Herd)  Performing on this fast-paced bluegrass tune that was the 2004 IBMA Song of the Year are Lee on banjo, Jessie singing the lead vocal, Jason Thomas on mandolin, Gabe Valla on rhythm guitar, Christian Ward on fiddle, David McBrady on bass and Elisabeth Williamson singing vocal harmony.

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Bury Me Beneath The Willow This traditional bluegrass song features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on guitar and David McBrady on bass and vocal harmony.

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Nails In My Coffin (written by Gerald Irby) This song orginally written in 1946 features Lee on banjo and rhythm guitar, Jessie singing lead vocal, Elisabeth Williamson on vocal harmony, Christian Ward on fiddle and David McBrady on bass and vocal harmony.

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If I Needed You (written by Townes Van Zandt) features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on guitar, Christian Ward on fiddle, David McBrady on bass and Elisabeth Williamson and David McBrady on vocal harmony.

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Lee and Jessie Townsend with David McBrady
Lee and Jessie Townsend with David McBrady performing Macclenny Farewell at the Will McLean Festival in March, 2016

Macclenny Farewell (written by Will McLean) This love song written by the late Father of Florida Folk features Jessie on the lead vocal, Lee on guitar and David McBrady on bass.

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dsc_0050The Line (written by Steve Blackwell) The line was written by the late Steve Blackwell from Punta Gorda who penned this beautiful song about someone reflecting on all of the family members who have gone on before.  This rendition of the song features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on guitar and Lon Williamson on bass.

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Oh Kissimmee River (written by Dale Crider) Oh Kissimmee River written by environmental troubadour from Windsor, FL, Dale Crider, brings attention to the disastrous environmental effects of trying to straighten the Kissimmee River. This version features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on banjo, Chris Henry on guitar, Red Henry on mandolin and David McBrady on bass.

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Withlacoochee River

When I Die (written by Jim Ballew) When I Die is one of the most beautiful songs ever written by the late Jim Ballew. It features Jessie on vocals, Lee on guitar, Chris Henry on mandolin, Red Henry on fiddle and David McBrady on bass.

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A Florida Limpkin

Cryin’ Bird (written by Will McLean) Cryin’ Bird by Will McLean brings attention to the potential extinction of Florida’s Limpkin because of the lack of food resources the Limpkin eats in the Wakulla River. Jessie sings vocal, Lee plays guitar, Chris Henry plays mandolin, Red Henry is on the fiddle and David McBrady is on bass.  Elisabeth Williamson adds vocal harmony.

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Lonesome Wind Blues (written by Wayne Raney) Lonesome Wind Blues is a very traditional bluegrass song. It was originally recorded in 1947 by Wayne Raney and later made famous by the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe. In this version Jessie sings the vocals with harmony added by Chris and Red Henry.  Lee plays banjo, Chris Henry plays guitar, Red Henry is on the mandolin and David McBrady is on the bass.

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Wild Birds (written by Don Grooms) Wild Birds is a love song written by the late Don Grooms. Jessie sings the vocals, Lee is on guitar, Chris Henry is on mandolin, Red Henry is on fiddle and David McBrady is on bass.

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Lost Tourist’s Letter Home (written by Ann Thomas) In this tongue-in-cheek song the late Ann Thomas pokes fun at what a lost tourist would write home about if he or she got off a tour bus in the middle of Florida. Jessie sings vocals, Lee plays banjo, Chris Henry is on guitar, Red Henry is on mandolin and David McBrady is on bass

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Jessie and Lee Townsend  DSC_0057

Jessie and Lee have been performing  for several years.  Venues have included the Florida Folk Festival, the Will McLean Festival, the Alachua and Micanopy Festivals, bluegrass events in Waldo, the Christmas Candelight program at Disney World and a variety of other church services and community events.

 To pre-order a CD, please send $15.00 to:

Jessie Townsend
13501 SE 171st Lane
Hawthorne, FL 32640

To book Jessie and Lee for musical performances call 352-575-3042, or send an email to townsendjessie@gmail.com.

Lee and Jessie Townsend
Lee and Jessie Townsend

 

Winner and finisher of the 2017 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest Named

Mean Mary 2
“Mean Mary” (Mary James) Winner of the 2017 Will McLean Best New FL Song Contest

The winner of the 2017 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest  (out of 62 entries) is Mary James, better known as “Mean Mary,” in the music world.  Though she resides now in Tennessee, her roots are in Florida and Alabama (Her family lived in the North Florida area when Mary was born, but the nearest hospital was in Geneva, Alabama!).

James, who also plays banjo, fiddle, guitar and eight other instruments, is no newcomer to the folk music scene.  She began playing the guitar at age four, could read music and wrote her first song at age five, and recorded her first album when she was six.  Her extensive performance schedule soon made school attendance difficult, so at the end of the second grade she went into home study and began appearing daily on the Country Boy Eddie Show, a regional TV program out of Birmingham, AL.  At that same time she also appeared regularly in Nashville, Tennessee at the Elvis Presley Museum, on the Nashville Network, and on Printer’s Alley.

Mean MaryWhen Mary and her frequent music partner,  brother Frank James, grew weary of the commercial, country-music scene, they started a tour of historic folk and Civil War era music. It wasn’t long before they were one of the most sought after historical folk groups in the country. Their careers eventually took them to the bright lights of Hollywood, California where they were involved in various areas of the film industry

James is now based in Nashville, Tennessee from which location she tours extensively across the US and internationally. She has her own Nashville TV show, Never Ending Street—a documentary/reality type show depicting a touring musician’s trials and joys. She is an endorsing artist for Deering Banjos—Deering has named her their Goodtime Ambassador. She writes and produces music for herself and other artists, and has recorded 14 albums, her latest being, “Sweet.”

Her winning song in the 2017 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest “Choctawhatchee Waltz” was directly influenced by her family’s gypsy lifestyle. While growing up, her family lived close by the Choctawhatchee River in North Florida. The river’s name was taken from the Choctaw Nation and the Choctaw word hacha (river), literally the “River of the Choctaws.”

“It was so wild and undeveloped—like undiscovered territory. As a kid I could imagine I’d stepped far back in time or into a magical place. Those memories bring back a rush of longing for those wild and simple times. It was something I had to capture with my music,” said James.

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Mean Mary” also scored a second-place finish in the 2017 contest with a song she co-wrote with her mother, Jean James, (a 40-year Florida resident currently living in Tennessee) entitled, “We Never Hear The Song.”  The song tells how people are surrounded by the music of “Mother Nature,” but maybe never realize what they are hearing.

Their song was inspired by Jean’s time hunting snakes and other reptiles, some of which were milked to make antivenom, some went to zoos, and some were shipped overseas for farm rodent control. Part of the reptile money supplied her daughter Mary with musical instruments. At times Mary would accompany her mom on those excursions.

“I saw beavers and otters and giant turtle slides,” Mary explained. “In the river waters I could watch the sturgeon, a fish whose ancestry dates to prehistoric times. It was a real chance to see and hear nature—unbroken and untouched.”

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Mary and Jean James have also co-authored five books, two of which have won first place awards: “Sparrow Alone on the Housetop” (P & E Reader’s Choice award) and a Florida novel, “Wherefore Art Thou, Jane?” (Readers Favorite International Book Award winner for best mystery novel.)

3rd Place Finisher in the 2017 Will McLean Best New FL Song Contest, Jeff Parker
3rd Place Finisher in the 2017 Will McLean Best New FL Song Contest, Jeff Parker

The third-place finisher in the Will McLean Best New Florida Song is Jeff Parker from Jacksonville.

Parker, who recently moved to Yakima, Washington, has played finger-style and flat-pick guitar and mandolin professionally for more than 30 years. Starting in the mid 70’s, he played with the bluegrass band, “Surewood” around the Seattle area. He later moved to Alaska and worked as a solo performer and professional mariner in the fishing industry out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. With years of working on the road, Jeff has honed his craft influenced by a large variety of musical styles. In 2003, he published a CD entitled “It’s About Time” consisting of original music (and one Michael Peter Smith cover) and is currently writing a second CD of original works.

In addition to Parker’s original songs, a partial list of cover songs is available on his ReverbNation blog. He often plays in Florida with Anne McKennon, a flutist, in the duo Road Less Traveled. Parker says he is a proud member and supporter of the North Florida Folk Network and the Friends of Florida Folk.

Parker’s 3rd place song in the Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest, “Sugarcane Mill,” describes visual images of the olden days of sugar-cane grinding in Florida.

“My inspiration for the “Sugarcane Mill” song was a request by (folk artist) Suz Grandy to write a song about it for the 40th annual celebration of the Barberville Pioneer Settlement (in North Central Florida) along with many other songwriters and performers,” said Parker.

Parker gathered background on sugarcane mills for the song from the settlement historian and other sources.

“There were some names that stuck out such as Otis Lee who donated much of the equipment for the Settlement and an interesting fellow Wendle LaHoot telling stories from his childhood about harvesting the cane and cooking the juice down and “polecat” candy, which was the crust build-up around the rim of the cook pot from skimming.  On harvest day, dinner would be a cane syrup biscuit and half a sweet potato.”

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“Sugarcane Mill” will be included in a compilation CD of songs celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the non-profit, historical  Barberville Pioneer Settlement in Volusia County.

“Mean Mary” and Jeff Parker will be featured during a special awards presentation at the 2017 Will McLean Festival at noon on Saturday, March 11th.  The festival runs from Friday, March 10th through Sunday afternoon, March 12th at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, 7 miles West of Dade City, FL.  The festival, named after the Father of Florida Folk, the late Will McLean, features music on five stages including a youth performance stage, a variety of workshops, as well as food vendors and  arts and crafts.

 

Click here to go back to the Will McLean Festival website
or
Click here to go to the list of winners by year

 

Archive of the Winners and 2nd and 3rd place finishers of the Will McLean Song Contest Since 1992

Will McLean performing
The late Will McLean

The late Father of Florida Folk, Will McLean, wanted to save Florida through music.  For more than 25 years, a festival named in his honor, has sponsored a song contest to help facilitate McLean’s passion.  Each year a winner and two top finishers are selected by a panel of judges and are given the opportunity to perform their winning song at the annual Will McLean Folk Festival .  Click on a link below to hear the winning songs and 2nd and 3rd place finishers from the long-running festival.

 

 

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2017 Song Contest Winner “Mean Mary,” 2nd “Mean Mary,” 3rd Jeff Parker

2016 Song Contest Winner Lauren Heintz, 2nd Paul Garfinkel and Pete Price, 3rd Ray Sealey

2015 Song Contest Winner Hank Mattson, Dana Robinson, 2nd John Butler and  3rd Lauren Heintz

2014 Song Contest Winner Jane Fallon, 2nd Larry Mangum and 3rd Ray Sealey

2013 Song Contest Winner Elisabeth Williamson, 2nd Susan Brown and 3rd Rog Lee

2012 No Song Contest

2011 Song Contest Winner Ron Johnson, 2nd Al Scortino, 2nd Frank Julian and 3rd Michael Denney

2010 Song Contest Winner Dawn DeWitt, 2nd Walt Leuzinger, and 3rd Michael Denney

2009 Song Contest Winner Garrison Doles, 2nd Chris Kahl and 3rd Carly Bak

2008 Song Contest Winner Rog Lee, 2nd Malcolm McKinney and 3rd Doug Spears

2007 Song Contest Winner Elisabeth Williamson, 2nd Al Scortino and 3rd Scott Morris

2006 Song Contest Winner Mike Jurgensen, 2nd David and Mary Anna Evans and 3rd Larry Mangum

2005 Song Contest Winner Bruce Tetley, 2nd Cathy DeWitt, and 3rd Lucia Jenkins

2004 Song Contest Winner Mike Jurgensen, 2nd Charley Simmons and 3rd David Milam

2003 Song Contest Winners John Hammond, Bettina Makley, (tie) 1st Jeffrey Smith, 2nd Bryan Rivers and 3rd Mike Jurgensen

2002 Song Contest Winner Amy Carol Webb and 2nd Steve Sternberg, 3rd Amy Carol Webb

2001 Song Contest Winner Robbin Bach, 2nd Marie Nofsinger and 3rd Lucinda Kidd Hackney

2000 Song Contest Winner Okefenokee Joe, 2nd Al Scortino and 3rd Gregg Jones

1999 Song Contest Winner Paul Garfinkel, 2nd Lenny Craven, Grant Livingston and 3rd Richard Knellinger

1998 Song Contest Winner Mike Jurgensen, 2nd Lance Lazonby and 3rd Al Scortino

1997 Song Contest Winner Doug Spears, 2nd Paul Garfinkel and 3rd Paul Garfinkel

1996 Song Contest Winner Dennis Dunn, 2nd Okefenokee Joe and 3rd Paul Garfinkel

1995 Song Contest Winner Stan Geberer, 2nd Brad Boone and 3rd Mem Semmes

1994 Song Contest Winner J. Robert Houghtaling, 2nd Lee Paulet and 3rd Al Scortino

1993 Song Contest Winner Boomslang, 2nd Ron Litschauer and a 3-way tie for third

1992 Will McLean Song Contest Winner Ken Skeens, 2nd Ken Skeens, 3rd Ken Skeens

Click here to go back to the Will McLean Festival website