Congratulations to Kathryn Belle Long, the winner of the 2018 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest.
Long’s winning song (out of 79 entries) is, Tallahassee, a song about her hometown.
Long says she has wonderful memories about the red clay hills where she spent her childhood, the same town where her parents and grandparents lived their lives, all in the same house.
Though many people may only associate Tallahassee with state government and FSU football, Long says she wants people to see the beauty of the past and present through her song.
“The red clay is special. The bone (referred to in her song) represents the Native Americans and my early ancestors who lived there….It’s almost like the history and all the people that went before, their stories come together to give Tallahassee this whole feeling that I get when I walk along the roads and I know it’s so old.”
Long says she loves Tallahassee’s hills and magnolia trees, canopied roads and nearby crystal clear springs. She also loves how in the springtime the area is so colorful with camellias, azaleas and dogwood in bloom.
Both of her parents were teachers. Her mother sang and played piano and she says her father, “was one of the best entertainers around, making up stories and funny rhymes on a nightly basis.” With inspiration from her older brothers Long took up the guitar in high school. After graduation she and her brother Scott moved to NYC to attend college and pursue a career in musical theatre. It was in a tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side she became interested in songwriting. It was also the start of her theatrical journey. That career included leading roles in world-famous shows at Disney World.
She moved back to Tallahassee in 2009 to be closer to family.
“I feel a very strong tie to this land (Tallahassee) and it took me coming back and realizing how special it is to have roots in such a beautiful place.”
Long is currently a full time performing arts teacher at Swift Creek Middle School in Tallahassee. She also plays and writes songs with an all-female acoustic trio called, “The Adventures of Annabelle Lyn.”
She’s the lead singer of an acoustic band called, “Belle and the band” which has two full-length albums. Teaming up with Long are musicians Kevin Robertson (guitar), Mickey Abraham (mandolin) and Mike Snelling (upright bass). In 2016 the band won a Suncoast Emmy Award for Musical Composition for “Local Routes,” a song Long wrote for WFSU-TV, Tallahassee’s local PBS station. “Local Routes” placed fourth in this year’s Will McLean Song Contest.
Belle and the Band will be onstage at the upcoming Will McLean Festival March 9 – 11, 2018 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Brooksville. To see a video of the band performing, “Tallahassee” at public radio station WFSU, click here.
The second place finisher is John Butler from South Florida with a song called, Miami Bound, a personal tale of a young man, homeless and without parents at the end of the Civil War, heading south to the promised land.
Butler says his inspiration for Miami Bound came from a conversation he had in an orange grove with a grower whose family had come to North Central Florida from Georgia after the Civil War, having lost their house and crops to Sherman’s army, “As he was describing his family’s history, his grandfather came along and listened, then added, ‘Now some of the boys got restless ’round here and tuck off to Mia-muh.’ To me, there was a kind of poetry in the way he said the name of the place, and I put that memory into a little corner of my brain for later,” says Butler.
As he researched Florida history, it quickly occurred to him there was no city, village or other municipality named Miami until near the turn of the century. But, he found an old map of what was to be Dade County, going back to the late 1860s, and there appeared a stretch of land labeled Miami Trace. “So I tried to imagine this boy, hardened and ultimately disconnected by war, looking to this unseen Shangri-La to the south, a place he’d heard about from older fellows, as his chance to reclaim himself and start a new life,” says Butler.
Most of Butler’s song writing is inspired by what he describes as serendipity, “…a random phrase uttered by a stranger, a simple gesture evincing a strong emotion, seeing a symbol that conveys a vivid meaning, and sometimes juxtaposing in my head elements of the rational and the absurd into a whole that makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes the song just blasts out of me, and sometimes the initial impulse has to marinate for years before I begin to develop it into a song.” Butler adds he loves story songs, ” They’re like a three-act play compressed into just a few minutes. But I also love songs that are more evocative than informative, that create an atmosphere for contemplation.”
Butler is well known in South Florida from playing in a number of bands through the years. For more than two decades he composed music for industrial marketing films. Butler is no newcomer to the Will McLean Festival. In the 2015 Will McLean Song Contest he placed second with a song called, “Oh Miami.”
His songwriting achievements also include winning first place in the 2011 North Florida Folk Festival Americana song writing contest, a first place in the 2014 “Hope by Song” song writing competition in southwest Florida, and a win (as one of three co-equal winners) in the 2015 South Florida Folk Festival song writer competition. One of Butler’s songs was included in the soundtrack of the 2013 feature film, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3-D.”
Butler is also a member of The Honey Creepers, a southwest-Florida-based trio. He has 3 CDs. Two of them, “Surprise” and “Vampars” are available on CD Baby. He also has a CD entitled “Airborne Figures” and a Honey Creepers Band CD, “So Swanky.”
The third place finisher in the 2018 Will McLean Song Contest is former Floridian, Jeff Trippe from Yarmouth, ME. His song, Song of Cedar Key, describes his vivid recollections of a time when he was an undergrad at the University of Florida and he and a close friend would go fishing off of Cedar Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Trippe, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, loves blues, bluegrass, rock and instrumental music of all genres. While in college at UF he studied creative writing under Harry Crews and Smith Kirkpatrick, two men he credits for his own development as a writer.
He has fond memories of playing in downtown Gainesville at a small venue called, “Reality Kitchen,” the place where he first met the late Will McLean who invited him up on stage. Later, in 1989 to 1990 Trippe worked as a daily reporter for the St. Augustine Record newspaper.
“And that’s where I got to know Gamble Rogers, a musician who had been a hero of mine since I’d been in high school,” says Trippe. ” I would see him on St. George Street on his bicycle, and the first time he called me by name, said “Hey there, Jeff, how ya’ doin’?” – well, that was a very proud moment for me. Sadly, by October of 1991, both Will and Gamble had died. I wrote up Will McLean’s obituary as a front page story for the Record on January 19, 1990.”
Trippe currently plays professionally in a country blues trio, a bluegrass band and as a solo performer. He also teaches literature and writing in the public school system in Maine where he has lived since 2006.
He has been a three-time finalist in the New England Songwriting Contest and placed third in the 2016 Maine Songwriters Association Contest. Trippe has recorded four albums as a solo artist and a couple of others with a popular Maine folk band called the Mutineers. Three of his solo albums are made up of original songs, and one, A Fiddler’s Sojourn is a collection of old-time fiddle tunes. There’s more about his music and writing online.
“I think it’s very exciting to see the top three songs in this year’s contest are about three very different regions of the state,” says Song Contest Coordinator, Donna Green-Townsend. “The winning song is a waltz about the beauty and history of Tallahassee. The second place song is about a Civil War soldier heading to Miami after the war and the third place song is about a man reflecting back on fun times during his college days spent fishing out in the Gulf off Cedar Key. That’s just what the Father of Florida Folk, the late Will McLean, wanted to see happen. He wanted to “save Florida through music.”
All three singer-songwriters plan to perform their winning songs at the 2018 Will McLean Festival which runs March 9 – 11 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Brooksville. The festival, now in its 29th year, is an annual music event which honors the late Father of Florida Folk, Will McLean. For more information about the festival, go online to www.WillMcLean.com