Tag Archives: Margaret Longhill

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.

scan0005
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.

scan0003
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.

scan0004
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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

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.

Will McLean Music Festival Honors Margaret Longhill

See the special video presentations of the tribute to Margaret Longhill below the text which were produced by Gail Carson and Paul Garfinkel

Margaret Longhill 2
Margaret Longhill (all photos by Gail Carson)

The 27th annual Will McLean Music Festival at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Brooksville honored Margaret Longhill on March 12th. Longhill has been the gentle, guiding hand and inspiration for hundreds of musicians who have found their voices for Florida.

Since she first met Will McLean (1919-1990), the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, she has continued to keep the flame burning of Will’s desire to “Save Florida Through Music.”

“Music is a magical way to teach the value of our blessed, flowered land,” says Longhill.

774973_10209266139476404_566977009591258835_o
Margaret making her entrance to the special Saturday night tribute on March 12th

Whether it’s her support for the young performers or the annual ‘Best New Florida Song Contest,’ Longhill, the Will McLean Foundation President Emeritus, possesses the ability to nourish and encourage songwriters across the state simply with her incredulous smile and engaging enthusiasm.  As a result, the library of songs about this “Land of Flowers” continues to grow.

“I’d like to be known as a lover of Florida and promoter of music, especially about Florida.  And I was a convert because I’m from Tennessee and I love Tennessee too, but you know, when you live in Florida you just adopt Florida,” says Longhill.

 

 

 

Donna and Margaret Longhill
Margaret Longhill being interviewed by Donna Green-Townsend

The presentation on Saturday night, March 12th, included a live interview with Longhill on stage by Donna Green-Townsend interspersed with performances by three former “Best New Florida Song Contest” winners.

 

 

 

 

12828424_10209266155476804_2220312219301774798_o
Ken and Leigh Skeens performing, “The Empty Chair”

Ken Skeen and Leigh Skeens performed the song that won the very first contest called, “The Empty Chair.”  Ken not only won first place during the very first song contest in 1992, but also won second place and tied for third. He then worked for a number of years as the song contest coordinator.

 

 

 

10329875_10209266157796862_7070884214081586474_o
(from left to right) Mike Jurgensen, Pete Price and Pete Hennings performing “Music Drifts Along This River”

Mike Jurgensen, accompanied by Pete Price and Pete Hennings on guitar and bass performed Mike’s winning song, “Music Drifts Along This River.”  Mike has won the song contest three times and is now working as a judge for the annual competition.

 

 

 

 

12829207_10209266162556981_1362463715517003452_o
Amy Carol Webb and Ron Litschauer perform, “Oh Margaret” during the special tribute to Margaret Longhill

Margaret recited Will McLean’s poem, “My Soul Is a Hawk,” accompanied by Wayne Martin on fiddle and Dennis Devine on guitar.  Amy Carol Webb, a past song contest winner, then performed a special song she wrote for Margaret’s birthday a few years ago called, “Oh Margaret.”  She was accompanied by Ron Litschauer on mandolin.

 

 

 

 

 

Magnolia Stage Lee Jessie and David March 12 2013
Lee and Jessie Townsend along with bass player David McBrady performing at the Margaret Longhill Tribute Presentation. (photo by Gail Carson)

The tribute also included a Will McLean song, Macclenny Farewell, performed by two young performers, Jessie and Lee Townsend, who represent Longhill’s passion for supporting the musical talent of youth at the festival.  Jessie and Lee were accompanied by David McBrady on bass.

 

 

 

 

A very special thank you to all the folks behind the scenes who made the presentation possible including Ron and Bari Litschauer, Lynn Wodjenski and countless others who helped to set up the living room scene and lights and who made the presentation run smoothly.

Here are the videos of the special tribute to Margaret Longhill produced by Gail Carson and Paul Garfinkel.  The first video was produced by Gail:

 

 Paul Garfinkel’s six segments on the Tribute to Margaret Longhill from Saturday, March 12, 2016 show a wider perspective on the special evening:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six:

 

Gail Carson also produced another video for Margaret to thank her for all she has done to promote and to preserve Florida Folk Music. The video demonstrates, through a number of voices, the unforgettable impact Margaret Longhill has had on so many songwriters and performers, especially young performers.

 

 

Will McLean Festival web cover

 

Will McLean Festival to Feature Some of the Best Songwriters In Florida

Will McLean logo 2016Mindy Simmons, Passerine, Grant Peeples, Frank Julian, Jordan Cherkinsky, Amy Carol Webb, Brian Smalley and Still Friends are the Friday and Saturday night headliners who will grace the Main Stage of the Will McLean Music Festival which runs March 11th, 12th, & 13th 2016 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville. The festival, in its 27th year, will feature more than 70 Florida acoustic musicians, with young performers to artists who have been with the festival since its inception.

 

Mindy Simmons
Mindy Simmons

Mindy Simmons from Sarasota has been called the “Sarasota Songbird.”  She is a consummate performer who brings a polished, professional show to festival stages, concert halls and other performance venues. Her quick wit and warm approach charms audiences and puts them in a relaxed frame of mind to sit back and be entertained. “Mindy Music” includes original songs as well as classic blues, jazz, and folk. Mindy also performs with Lisa Bohn, a duo of musical talent that provides awesomely blended two-part harmony and fun-filled camaraderie.

 

Passerine
Passerine

The band Passerine from Sarasota features a distinctive sound combining 3 and 4-part vocal harmonies, the crisp rhythms of an acoustic guitar, the haunting voice of the dobro (resonator slide guitar), and the resonant lows of an acoustic bass. With this unusual arrangement of voices and instruments, Passerine offers a fresh take on traditional folk and bluegrass music as well as a repertoire of original songs that range from sweet ballads to the edgier side of contemporary Americana.

 

 

Grant Peeples
Grant Peeples

Grant Peeples is from Sopchoppy, FL.  His style of music has been described as “Leftneck” folk.  A voice that No Depression said “sounds like a ’57 Chevy with glass mufflers” and lyrics that 3rd Coast Music Magazine calls “unusually literate…unusually honest” and a self-proclaimed style of “leftneck”.  Peeples, a self-described  “vegetarian that  watches NASCAR and a tree-hugger with a gun below the seat,” is known for his axe-sharp socio-political tunes, raucous humor and heart-gigging ballads.  In 2014 he was the recipient of the Focus Foundation Award for Creative Excellence, which cited the “humor, compassion and wisdom of his songs,” as well as their “unflinching social insight and cultural acuity.”

 

Frank Julian and Jordan Cherkinsky
Jordan Cherkinsky and Frank Julian

Julian/Cherkinsky is a new collaboration between Jordan Cherkinsky and Frank Julian. Jordan Cherkinsky who lives in Coral Springs hails from the Detroit area, but his musical influence is taken from Gram Parsons, Clarence White, Townes Van Zandt, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Tony Rice, Gillian Welch, and others. He has been playing guitar and mandolin for almost 52 years, performing with a variety of Florida folk artists at venues across the state. Frank Julian, who lives in New Port Richey, is originally from upstate New York.  Julian has also appeared at Folk Festivals and various venues throughout the state of Florida. Frank’s award winning lyrical talents, his wonderful vocals, and rhythm guitar playing coupled with Jordan’s melodic maneuverings and elaborate finger-stylings create a unique musical energy that is quickly garnering acclaim in the Americana scene. Frank and Jordan have written a surprisingly eclectic mix of songs that are gaining attention across the spectrum of the genre. Two of their songs just finished in eighth and tenth places in the Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest.

 

Brian Smalley
Brian Smalley

Brian Smalley‘s songs borrow from folksy flat-pick guitar and new-grass.  He also demonstrates a touch of new-age acoustic music. He sings with a soulful, earthy, yet energetic voice and his live performances tend to be just that: Lively!

 

 

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb

Amy Carol Webb from Miami Springs has been defined as a “beloved song weaver.” She is passionate, powerful, and poignant. She’s the girl next door and no ordinary woman. Born and reared in Oklahoma, Amy traces her heritage back to Native Americans through her Great-Grandmother who settled Oklahoma when it was still a territory. Amy’s music reflects the same pioneering spirit, tenacity, integrity, and never-quit grit. Her joy is infectious, her courage inspiring, her songs gifts of literate, humorous, and often profound poems of one woman’s remarkable journey from precious child, to woman, to mother, to “Songweaver.”

 

Still Friends
Still Friends

Still Friends” features former members of the celebrated group Steve Blackwell and Friends from Southwest Florida.  The group performs original acoustic music with a unique and memorable delivery.  Combining strong songwriting with elements of folk, rock, bluegrass, jazz, and soul music.   Still Friends is a favorite of audiences throughout Florida.  Band members include Reed Coffey on lead guitar, banjo, bass and vocals; Japhy Blackwell on saxophone and vocals; Carrie Blackwell Hussey on vocals and percussion and Tiffiny Coffey on vocals and guitar.  Their influences include the Wood Brothers, Scott Jacobs, Frank Desguin, Wampus, Lawton Chiles, Stetson Kennedy, Bone Mizell, Totch Brown, Townes Van Zandt, Buddy Miller, Indigo Girls, Steve Earle and Donna the Buffalo.

 

Margaret Longhill 2
Margaret Longhill

This year the Will McLean Festival is honoring Margaret Longhill, from Dunnellon, FL, who has been the gentle, guiding hand and inspiration for hundreds of musicians who have found their voices for Florida. Since she first met Will McLean (1919-1990), the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, she has continued to keep the flame burning of Will’s desire to “Save Florida Through Music.”

“Music is a magical way to teach the value of our blessed, flowered land,” says Longhill. Whether it’s her support for the young performers or the annual ‘Best New Florida Song Contest,’ Longhill possesses the ability to nourish and encourage songwriters across the state simply with her incredulous smile and engaging enthusiasm. As a result, the library of songs about this “Land of Flowers” continues to grow.

“I’d like to be known as a lover of Florida and promoter of music, especially about Florida. And I was a convert because I’m from Tennessee and I love Tennessee too, but you know, when you live in Florida you just adopt Florida,” says Longhill.

The presentation will include a live interview with Longhill on stage interspersed with performances by three former “Best New Florida Song Contest” winners as well as a song by two young performers who represent Longhill’s passion for supporting the musical talent of youth at the festival. The presentation gets underway at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, March 12th on the Magnolia Stage followed by performances from musicians Brian Smalley at 8:45 p.m., Amy Carol Webb at 9:30 p.m., and Still Friends at 10:00 p.m. The complete schedule of performers for the three-day festival is available at www.willmclean.com.

Will McLean Finale PhotoThe weekend event kicks off Friday, March 11th at noon with musical performances at four covered stage areas plus a variety of workshops. Winners of the Best New Florida Song Contest will be featured on the Magnolia Stage on Saturday, March 12th at noon. This year’s winner is Lauren Heintz from Winter Park, FL with a song called, “Florida Born and Bred.” The 2nd place finishers are Paul Garfinkel from Jacksonville and Pete Price from Ozello, FL with, “Florida Rain.” The 3rd place finisher is Ray Sealey from Quebec, Canada with his song, “The Turpentine.”

This year there will be a battle of the bands by the young performers on Sunday. The young musicians will also showcase their talents throughout the weekend on the Shooting Star Stage and Azalea Stages.

mandolin workshop
Red and Chris Henry leading a mandolin workshop

Festivalgoers can also participate in a variety of workshops throughout the weekend set in the shade of the towering oaks. Workshop sessions include fingerstyle, flatpick and slide guitar, banjo, fiddle, flute, harmonica, autoharp, dulcimer, mandolin, yodeling, harmony singing, percussion, a gospel sing, and songwriting. It is an excellent chance to pick up pointers regardless of your level of expertise.

 

 

Gramma Toni's Coffee Shack

 

 

 

 

 

The Will McLean Music Festival features outstanding original arts and crafts and a variety of delicious food.

Maw & Paw's Kettle CornAttendees may camp alongside performers for the weekend, or come for the day. Pets are welcome (on leashes). Bring your chairs for a one of kind experience of fun and entertainment. There will also be activities for children.

Sertoma Youth Ranch is located at 85 Myers Road, Brooksville, FL 34602. Weekend admission is $40 at the gate. Children under 12 are free. Daily admissions are $20 (Friday), $25 (Saturday) and $15 (Sunday). For information about camping and all aspects of the Will McLean Music Festival, visit www.willmclean.com. Also, “Like” the festival on Facebook to receive the latest Festival updates!

Will McLean Festival web cover

 

 

Will McLean performing

Will McLean: The Father of Florida Folk

Click here to hear full length archival interviews with Will McLean  (recorded by Donna Green-Townsend in 1985 & 1987)

CD cover for a live recording by WUFT of Florida's Black Hat Troubadour, Will McLean, just 5 years before his death in 1990.
CD cover for a live recording by WUFT of Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour, Will McLean, just 5 years before his death in 1990.

Will McLean is considered the “Father of Florida Folk.”  The “Black Hat Troubadour” travelled all across his beloved state writing hundreds of poems, songs and stories.  After his death in 1990 he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  Each year Florida singer songwriters gather at the Will McLean Folk Festival to honor him.  McLean wanted to save Florida through his music.  Each year the Will McLean Foundation holds a “Best New Florida Song Contest” to keep McLean’s mission alive.

Don Grooms sings 3 of his best songs late 70s or early 80s.mp4.Still005To watch archival video of Will McLean CLICK HERE:

 

 

 

 

Will McLean waiting to perform
Will McLean waiting to perform

Donna Green-Townsend interviewed McLean 5 years before his death in 1985 and again in 1987.  She also talked with some of the musicians who were inspired to write about Florida because of Will McLean.  (Scroll down to see the full feature transcript.  You can also hear Will’s most popular songs below)  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

 

 

In 1988 Will McLean joined storyteller Cousin Thelma Boltin and his music buddy Gamble Rogers in Cross Creek, FL for the 50th Anniversary of “The Yearling” celebration at the farm of the late Pulitizer Prize-winning author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  See a few snippets from a rare video recorded at that event below:

 

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

In January of 1990, following a Memorial Service at Gainesville’s Historic Thomas Center, friends gathered at Gore’s Landing to disperse Will McLean’s ashes into the Ocklawaha River.  Before he died, McLean told Margaret Longhill that he had hoped to light a small campfire one last time at Gore’s Landing, his favorite campsite.  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.  In this brief never before published or broadcast recording, you will hear a small portion of that special ceremony at the river:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Doug Gauss Gamble Rogers and Sanda Jemison 1 24 1990Here is the audio of the eulogy given by the late Gamble Rogers (inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1998) at the memorial service for Will McLean in January of 1990

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Transcription of the feature above:

Will McLean performing
Will McLean performing (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Will McLean, “It’s very important that Florida keep her past and I’m but one of the few writers and I have not even scratched the surface of the richness and the deepness of the lore and legends of Florida.” (Florida Sand)  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Songwriter Pete Seeger, a good friend of Will McLean
Singer Songwriter Pete Seeger, a good friend of Will McLean

Musician Pete Seeger once wrote,  “Will McLean’s songs will be sung as long as there is a Florida.”  McLean lived a simple life, always steering away from fame and fortune just when it seemed he had achieved it.  Most of the time he travelled the state in dilapidated vehicles, only taking with him a bag of taters and onions, a fishing hook and a bottle of cheap wine, pawning many of his guitars.  In a never-before aired interview, McLean shared his story in 1985, just five years before his death.

Will McLean, “I’m a millionaire a million times over.  I’m not talking about money rich.  I’m rich in the beauty of Florida and nature.”

That earthy spirit lives on today in many of the Florida songwriters attending the annual Will McLean Music Festival named in his honor. Singer Songwriter from Windsor, Dale Crider, “I think he made a lot of people in Florida aware that they could write and sing and dance and perform Florida.”

Will McLean years ago holding something
Will McLean by his travel van (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour was known for his genteel manner, but his voice thundered on the marble stage of the Florida Folklife Festival in White Springs as he captured stories in song about green turtles laying eggs on the shores of St. Augustine (Conch Island)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

and Sandhill Cranes in Payne’s Prairie, and some not so pretty stories about a wild hog in Gulf Hammock  (Wild Hog) 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

and a panther chase resulting in a deadly encounter with a snake in Tate’s Hell. (Tate’s Hell)  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Don Grooms & Will McLean
Don Grooms & Will McLean sitting on stage. (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Singer-Songwriter Don Grooms was one of Will McLean’s closest musical buddies, “Will liked songs about individual human beings and if you pay attention to his repertoire of songs there was Cush Holston, Scotty the drummer, the guy in Tate’s Hell, Osceola.”  (Osceola)  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Will McLean inspired many songwriters to explore the heritage of the state and themselves.  Grooms, a Native American, remembers how McLean encouraged him to write the story of the bloody skirmish between the Spanish explorers and Native Americans in Payne’s Prairie.

Don Grooms,  “I came up with a five minute song called “Vitachuco” and I played it for Will and he said play that for me again and after I finished he said, ‘Grooms you have finally justified your existence.”  (Vitachuco)   

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Dale & Linda Crider years ago
Early performance photo of Dale and Linda Crider after he started writing Florida songs inspired by Will McLean. (Photo courtesy of Dale Crider)

One of the first singer/songwriters to carry on Will McLean’s love for Florida through song is musician and wildlife biologist Dale Crider.  Crider has entertained national and international audiences with his wildlife and wilderness songs, and he credits his beginning to Will McLean:  (Hold Back The Waters)  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Dale Crider,  “Hold Back the Waters was the song that started my whole career in writing about the environment.  Will was singing that on stage at the Florida Folklife Festival and I said, ya, ya, if it can be that good you know to sing about a place or a region or an object in Florida, I can do that.”

Both Dale Crider and Don Grooms helped to disperse Will McLean’s ashes into the Ocklawaha River on January 18th, 1990.  Dale emotionally recalls how his friend’s last wishes coincided so well with his on-going desire to return to the land where the wind is born.

Dale Crider,  “And I envisioned that that night there were herons and egrets that caught minnows that had Will’s ashes in them and flew him up to the tree tops and roosted him that night and actually his soul could have been transferred to something like a hawk.” (My Soul Is A Hawk)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


 

Painting of Will McLean by Mary Ann Dinella
Painting of Will McLean by Mary Ann DiNella

The Will McLean Music Festival honoring the Father of Florida Folk is held each March at the Sertoma Youth Ranch located seven miles west of Dade City in Central Florida.  For more information go to the website www.willmclean.com.

 

 

 

 

Will loved to watch the Florida Sandhill Cranes “dance and prance” on Payne’s Prairie near Gainesville, FL.  One of his more beloved songs described the experience.  Here’s a video recorded of sandhill cranes produced by Donna Green-Townsend with Will singing his “Courtship Dance of the Florida Sandhill Crane” to music played by musician and luthier David Beede and Kate Kennedy (music recorded at one of Will’s last live recorded concerts at the historic Thomas Center in Gainesville in Nov. of 1985).

 

Will McLean and Cousin Thelma Boltin Share Christmas Memories  (aired on WUFT in December of 1987)

Lottie and Will McLean at young ages
Early photo of Will McLean and his sister Lottie (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Transcription of the Feature:  (Oh Christmas Tree)  Computerized teddy bears and video cassette recorders are a long way from the gifts of fruit and simple toys of Christmases past.  Folklorist Cousin Thelma Boltin and singer song writer  Will McLean share some of their most memorable Christmases.

Cousin Thelma Boltin:  “In early times everybody went out and cut their own Christmas trees.  It was unthinkable to buy a tree and there was no such thing as an artificial tree.  That would have been disgraceful to have an artificial tree.  And it was always a great day when we decided we’d go get the tree and we didn’t get it too long before Christmas.  But in the early days we’d go out with the horse and wagon and then in modern times we’d go out in the model T or in the Coca Cola Truck because my daddy was the Coca Cola man.  And we loved to get a Cedar, that was our favorite kind. But if we couldn’t find a Cedar, as they got scarce, um, we’d get a shortleaf pine.  It smells so wonderful in the house.  It’s a little more difficult to decorate than the Cedar and a Cypress was pretty but boy it was sticky and hard to handle and do anything with.  And once or twice I can remember, and this was before our Cedar was protected, and thank goodness it is protected, it’s against the law to cut Cedar down anywhere, I mean cut Holly, and we would get a Holly tree. And of course that was sticky, but it was beautiful because especially if it were full of berries.” (OH CHRISTMAS TREE).

Cousin Thelma Boltin
Cousin Thelma Boltin (photo courtesy of Will McLean Foundation)

Cousin Thelma Boltin:  “We never did decorate our tree until Christmas Eve and we used the parlor on state occasions and this was a state occasion so the fire would be built in the fireplace and the candles put on the mantlepiece and then we’d decorate our tree.  In early days, I don’t believe, we never did put candles on our tree.  Momma considered that too dangerous and we hailed with delight the day when we could get strings of electric lights to put on the tree.  And of course, it was easy to get pretty ornaments from Woolworths and from what was the other ten cent store, we had two in town, McCrowry’s  and get beautiful ornaments.  We never did string popcorn to go on our tree but we put ropes of tinsel on it.  And oh we just thought our tree was the prettiest one in the neighborhood of course.  A child asked me today if we ever slept in the living room you know with the tree and we said ‘oh no, Santy Claus couldn’t come if we stayed with the Christmas tree.  But of course we were up long before day to see what Santy had left us.” (Jolly ‘Ole St. Nick)

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

Will McLean:  “Well, my first recollection is of a contraption bought that you could ride on.  I got a little ‘ole bitty, tiny kind of like a kitty car thing.  It was all painted up good uh, kind of a tricycle and I don’t know why I thought about that.  It was the first thing that came to my mind.  And of course over the fireplace we’d hang uh an old knit, Thelma you remember those old socks that uh they used to cost about a nickel a pair, old red and blue socks.  Kind of cotton socks.  We’d nail them up over the mantel and this was Christmas Eve.” (Silent Night)

Will & puppy
Will McLean, Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Will McLean:  “Lady Boltin asked me once about if I could recall shootin’ firecrackers on Christmas.  And uh, I couldn’t remember ever at that early stage, early Christmases, shootin’ any kind of a firecracker or explosives.  But to get back to the stockin’ and Christmas mornin’, uh most the times I would have a little ‘ole 25 cent American Ace harmonica in the stockin’ wrapped in tissue paper and I’d have a piece of ‘ole peppermint stick candy and usually an apple, and an orange and a banana and I hope this won’t create any problems, three little nuts that uh, they were Brazil nuts.  You remember what we used to call them?(laugh) But anyway, that was Christmas and of course on Christmas Day the big ‘ole table in the dining room.  There’d be about 25 or 30 people there.  And kids runnin’ around everywhere.  All the families and mothers and their children there.  Uh, lord you could just smell the wonderful, wonderful and that, those were my Christmases up until I was about nine years of age.  And it’s good to go back there and think about it in time and place, be with my granddaddy and the people that I loved and who loved me.” (Chesnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)

Cousin Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers and Will McLean 1988 50th Anniv of The Yearling in Cross Creek (photo by Iris Greenfield)

Cousin Thelma Boltin:  “One of the things that we always got, we wore them out one year to the next were skates. We loved Skates and always asked Santy to bring us skates (laugh).  And always on Christmas Eve for supper we had oyster stew.  That was the Christmas Eve supper ‘cuz it was easy to fix and everybody liked it.  We could do it in a hurry and get in the living room to fix the tree (chuckle).  And that went on for many, many years.  And then I went off to college and I shocked the neighbors by not going to FSU or Florida State College for women in those days.  They weren’t allowed.  Ladies didn’t go to the University until the late 40s you know.  So I went to Emmerson College in Boston and that was truly Yankee land in everyway and so I had my first White Christmas up there.  (White Christmas) I was such a long way away that I stayed up there for the Christmas holidays and I had made friends with a fellow freshman.  Her name was Juliet Phillips and she took pity on me and invited me out to her home in Jamaica Plain and oh it was a thrill.  Everybody in Jamaica Plain it seemed to me put lighted candles in their windows from the attic to the basement and to get out on the street and see all those candles just after dark was a thrilling thing.  And we decided that we would go into Boston.  This was on Christmas Eve and up on Beacon Hill there was a tradition of having carol singers and bellringers and no cars were allowed up there.  Everybody walked.  And uh, many homes up there had open house and they’d be serving oh hot cider and goodies, doughnuts and the carol singers would be first on this corner and then on that corner.  And then we’d come upon the bellringers.  Then right at midnight over on the piazza a beautiful old Trinity church uh trumpeters stepped out and played ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’.” (Oh Come All Ye Faithful)

Many of Will McLean’s stories, poems, music recordings and photos are being housed in a special library at the College of Central Florida. Gallery of Photos below are courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Click here to go back to the Will McLean Festival Website