Tag Archives: Mark Smith

Apalachicola Documentary

Official website of the Murrow Award-Winning Documentary, “Apalachicola Doin’ Time” and various updates

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Rally for Apalachicola Bay in August before a Senate field hearing on the health of the bay. (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

June 1, 2017 UPDATE:  Florida asks U.S. Supreme Court to Save Apalachicola River, Oyster Industry:

TALLAHASSEE — Florida is telling the U.S. Supreme Court that it represents the state’s last legal remedy for saving the Apalachicola River and the oysters and people who depend on it.  Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 sued Georgia in the Supreme Court, seeking to cap Georgia’s water use upstream on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. But a court official recommended in February that the case be dismissed because Florida had not included the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates federal reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River. In a brief filed Wednesday, Florida argues that the court had never found that a state was harmed by upstream water use but then determined it was powerless to do anything about it. If the court dismisses the case, Georgia would be free to continue or increase its water use, Florida said. ….Click here for the full story.

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October 2013 UPDATE:   Florida Governor Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have moved forward with their plans to file a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court over the decades old Tri-State Water War.  The lawsuit is primarily aimed at Georgia over that state’s withdrawals of water from the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola-Flint River system—a river system Alabama, Florida and Georgia all share.  At the heart of the ongoing debate is the health of Apalachicola Bay and Florida’s seafood industry.

Click here to view highlights of the Senate field hearing held in Apalachicola on the issue in August of 2013. To learn more about how the Apalachicola community is affected by the “water war” listen and view segments below: Apalachicola Doin' Time

2000 Edward R. Murrow Award Winning Documentary

Pic I took at Apalachicola off Paddlewheel used for CD cover later
Fishing boats along the Apalachicola River bayfront (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)
Donna voicing the "Apalachicola Doin' Time" documentary at WUFT with co-hosts Daniel Beasley and Josh Azriel in 1999
Donna voicing the “Apalachicola Doin’ Time” documentary at WUFT with co-hosts Daniel Beasley and Josh Azriel in 1999
Introduction- to Re-Release of the Documentary

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Part One- The Issues

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Part Two- Florida’s Oyster Capitol

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Part Three- Apalachicola’s Waterfront

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Part Four- Water Quality and the Tri-State Water War

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Part Five- Apalachicola’s History

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Part Six- Tourism on the Rise

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Part Seven- Water Quantity and the Tri-State Water War

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Part Eight- Close and Credits

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Part Nine- Epilogue

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The Producers of Apalachicola Doin’ Time

Musicians Featured In Apalachicola Doin’ Time (featuring a sample of their music)

Dale Willfest 2001
Dale Crider

Dale Crider – Apalachicola Doin’ Time

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"Changes In The Wind" Jeanie Fitchen
Jeanie Fitchen

Jeanie Fitchen – Changes In The Wind

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"The River" Steve Gillette
Steve Gillette

Steve Gillette – The River

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"Music Drifts" and "Margaret" Mike Jurgensen
Mike Jurgenson

Mike Jurgensen – Music Drifts

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and Margaret

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Harvey Reid

Harvey Reid – Circles

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ken skeens
Ken Skeens

Ken Skeens – Old Florida River

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"Wisdom of the River" Mark Smith
Mark Smith

Mark Smith – Wisdom of the River

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Various locations around Apalachicola, Florida and some of the people interviewed for the documentary.

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Musical Murrow Celebration

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Just prior to the RTDNA Murrow Award ceremony in Minneapolis, MN, singer songwriter Mark Smith had a celebration at his home which included several of the songwriters who had music utilized in the documentary. In this video Dale Crider sings the song that inspired the documentary.

Holding a portrait given to him by Donna Green-Townsend and George Floyd painted by Mary Ann DiNella
Crider holding a portrait given to him by Donna Green-Townsend and George Floyd painted by Mary Ann DiNella

For more than three decades Dale Crider worked as a wildlife biologist for the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission.  During that time he also followed his other passion, songwriting.  Crider wrote many songs about environmental conditions in Florida.  “Apalachicola Doin’ Time” was one such song.  It was by chance nearly 30 years after Crider penned the song that Apalachicola resident, George Floyd, happened upon one of Crider’s music tapes and heard his song.  On that day the concept for the need to tell the story of the Tri-State Water War was born.  Crider is considered to be Florida’s Environmental Troubadour.  He has inspired musicians across Florida to write songs about the environment.

Listen to an hour-long special on Across the Prairie on WUFT regarding the Re-release and update of the Apalachicola Doin’ Time Documentary Dale and documentary co-producer Donna Green-Townsend were special guests on the longtime Sunday afternoon program on WUFT, Across the Prairie with host Cathy DeWitt.  Click on the audio button below.

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Cover of Apalachicola Doin’ Time CD

Copies of the two-CD set of “Apalachicola Doin’ Time,” including the music companion CD, are available through the non-profit Will McLean Foundation. Will McLean is considered the “Father of Florida Folk.”  He’s the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  It was his mission to save Florida through music.

 

 

 

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In 2001 several of the musicians whose songs were used in the documentary were featured at not only the Will McLean Festival (March, 2001) but also the state’s official festival, The Florida Folk Festival (May, 2001). Click on the audio button below to hear the live presentation at the Will McLean Festival.  The late Jan Glidewell, longtime columnist with the Tampa Bay Times, introduced Donna Green-Townsend who hosted the special musical event.

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The late Homer Marks from Apalachicola

One of the key characters of the documentary, Homer Marks, lived to be 102.  (Homer died in 2005).  Click here to go to a special page dedicated to Homer Marks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dale Crider, Josh Azriel, Donna Green-Townsend and George Floyd and friend
Dale Crider, Josh Azriel, Donna Green-Townsend and George Floyd and friend

Funding for the “Apalachicola Doin’ Time” documentary was provided by a grant from George Floyd in memory of Jim Floyd and George Kirvin, two of the earliest heralds of the rivers and bays and their value as an undisturbed natural resource.

 

 

 

 

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Apalachicola Documentary Awards

1st Place National RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Award, Best Documentary

1st Place Southeast Regional RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Award, Best Documentary

1st Place Florida Associated Press Broadcasters, Public Affairs category

Silver Reel from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, documentary category

Finalist, Atlanta Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Green Eye Shade awards (Southeast 11 state Region)

Finalist, Society of Professional Journalists Sunshine State Awards, Public Affairs category

1st Place, BEA Student Interactive Multimedia competition in the Online category

Silver Addy in the Collateral Material – CD Category for the Apalachicola Doin’ Time CD cover, insert and tray card.

 

Some of the stations that have carried Apalachicola Doin’ Time:

KBAQ Mesa, Arizona
KBOO Portland, Oregon
KERA Dallas, Texas
KJZZ Phoenix, Arizona
Utah Public Radio/KUSU FM Logan, Utah
WABE Atlanta, Georgia
WETS Johnson City, Tennessee
WFSU Tallahassee, Florida
WFSW Panama City, Florida
WJUF-FM Inverness, Florida
WKGC Panama City, Florida
WQCS  Asheville, North Carolina
WSLU Canton, New York
WUFT-FM Gainesville, Florida
California Public Radio
Georgia Public Radio

ADT quote 2ADT 3   Documentary Summary by- Co-Producer, Donna Green-Townsend Two hundred yards below the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, the waters of the Chattahoochee River begin a 500 mile journey south.  The river flows each day through Atlanta, past Western Georgia cities like Columbus and along the state boundary between Georgia and Alabama — past more than a dozen dams and locks on the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  At the Florida-Georgia border the Chattahoochee meets up with Georgia’s Flint River and  takes on a new name –The Apalachicola. Sixteen billion gallons of water flow down the Apalachicola into the Bay every day making it Florida’s largest waterway and it’s at the heart of a tri-state water war.

This documentary is an audio journey to the community at the end of the drainpipe so to speak — Apalachicola: a Florida seafood community that worries about being at the mercy of its northern water using neighbors. We journey to the city’s famous waterfront, hear about the history of this unique river town and find out how the community’s affected by the rapid development of ecotourism and growth.  We also talk with the key negotiators involved in the current water war involving Alabama, Florida and Georgia as the clock ticks down on a deadline to resolve differences over shared river resources.

There’s a lot at stake for all three southern states: rapid growth in Atlanta creates a strong need to secure drinking water for the future. Farmers want to maintain the ability to irrigate their crops, Alabama residents want to maintain peak hydropower and navigational use, and in Florida, at the end of the Apalachicola River, the seafood industry worries about the future of its oysters, scallops, crabs and shrimp.

unfortunately

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Update: U.S. Senators Nelson and Rubio Hold Senate Field Hearing in Apalachicola while Governor Rick Scott says Florida will file a lawsuit seeking to limit the amount of Apalachicola headwaters Georgia can use. (aired August 13, 2013)

 

Apalachicola’s oyster industry see historic collapse in 2012 from drought and salinity  (originally aired April 26, 2013)

The severe drought in 2012 caused an historic collapse of Florida’s oyster industry.  During the past year a variety of state agencies have been working for the Florida Sea Grant Program to try and understand all the causes for the fishery disaster.  The cooperative effort is working toward designing a plan to help restore and manage the industry in the future.  WUFT’s Donna Green-Townsend talked with the Director of the Florida Sea Grant College Program, Karl Havens, who is heading up the University of Florida’s Oyster Recovery Team, about the findings outlined in the group’s special report this week.

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Links to Environmental Data

United States Geological Service — Water Resources of Georgia: The overall website for the USGS water resources program in Georgia. Links to a variety of pollution data, answers to common questions and USGS publications.

Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper: The website of the non-profit organization that keeps tabs on everything that deals with the Chattahoochee, including a section on tri-state water issues. Background information on the river, legal issues, and information about joining the group.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources: An extensive section on Georgia’s plan to deal with water issues among the three states

Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs: The specific details of Alabama’s water plans for the ACF river basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River basin.

Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce: The online home to the Apalachicola area. Find out about the historic nature of “Florida’s Forgotten Coast.”

Tupelo Honey: The largest and densest stands of Tupelo trees grow in the swamps of the lower Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers. Nowhere are Tupelos so dense that honey can be made from and certified pure Tupelo.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection: The site provides the latest information on proposed environmental legislation, appointments, and programs.

Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve: The Apalachicola Reserve includes two barrier islands and a portion of a third. The Reserve also includes the lower 52 miles of the Apalachicola River and its associated floodplain, small portions of adjoining uplands, and the Apalachicola Bay system. The overall high water quality of the Apalachicola estuary, with the combined effects of other factors, provide the ideal living conditions for estuarine biota and have resulted in the creation of a highly productive estuarine system. The myriad of habitats found within the Reserve support a wide range of plant and animal species, many of which are threatened or endangered.

Apalachicola River and Bay Ecosystem Plan: A 183-page plan to balance human needs with wildlife needs. Developed by Florida State University for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corp of Engineers.

Corps of Engineers: The various recreation sites on the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola river system, including various lakes, locks, dams, and campgrounds.

 

Read the original 1999 interviews with key players in the tri-state water war:

Sally Bethea — Executive Director of Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper

Matt Kales — Program Director at Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper

Bob Kerr — Director, Pollution Prevention Assistance Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Steve Leitman — Environmental Scientist, NW FL Water Management District

Woody Miley — Director, Apalachicola National Marine Estuary

Lindsey Thomas — Federal Commissioner of the ACT – ACF River Basin Commission

Now Available: The full transcript of the documentary.

Jessie and Lee Townsend’s Florida Folk Festival 2016 Highlights

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(from l to r) Lee Townsend, Jeanie Fitchen and Jessie Townsend (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

What a memorable Florida Folk Festival for Jessie and Lee Townsend.  Thanks to Jeanie Fitchen and Mark Smith for giving special stage time to them this year. There were some magic moments as this brother-sister duo performed “Dumbarton’s Drums” on the historic Old Marble Stage with Jeanie on her 50th year performing at the Florida Folk Festival. Of special note is the fact Jeanie received the first ever “Legacy Award” from the Florida Folk Festival organizers this year.

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(from l to r) Andy Garfield, Lee Townsend, Jessie Townsend and David McBrady (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

Another magic moment was having the opportunity to perform the late Jim Ballew’s beautiful song, “When I Die,” on the Ann Thomas River Gazebo Stage.   Though Jim Ballew is best known for his incredible guitar picking, it’s been said that the last time he played on the Gazebo Stage he played “When I Die” on a banjo in honor of his music buddy and great banjo player, the late Paul Champion.  It was especially memorable to Lee and the band to learn about that memory since Lee just happened to play banjo on the song that day.  As they performed you could hear the audience singing along.  It was a goosebump moment for sure. Jessie and Lee were joined by Andy Garfield on guitar and David McBrady on bass.

Jessie and Lee’s performance set at the River Gazebo Stage included a variety of songs that will soon be added to their latest CD project which they’re calling, “Tribute.” In all there will be 12 songs which pay tribute to some of Florida’s best songwriters past and present and more. Six songs have already been mastered and are available on their CD Sampler. In addition to “When I Die,” (the song above) the upcoming CD will feature a song originally written by environmental troubadour Dale Crider from Windsor, FL. Here are Jessie, Lee, Andy Garfield and David McBrady performing, “Oh Kissimmee River” which points out the environmental boondoggle of the government for trying to straighten Florida’s Kissimmee River.

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(from l to r) Lee Townsend, Jessie Townsend and Mark Smith (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

Gainesville Singer-Songwriter Mark Smith asked Jessie and Lee to join him on the River Gazebo Stage on the last day of the Florida Folk Festival to sing one of his songs, “Florida Lullabye.”

It’s a tradition to end the final set on the Gazebo Stage at the Florida Folk Festival with the performers and audience singing together on “Old Folks At Home.”

The Gatherings (26-Part Music Series Recorded at various Florida festivals and venues)

Musicians perform Apalachicola Doin' Time finale at the Florida Folk Festival in 2000The Gatherings – Folk and Blues From The Land of Flowers   26 part live-music series

(Producer- Bill Beckett and Host- Donna Green-Townsend)

 

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Program #1- Dale Crider & Roy Bookbinder 

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Program #2 Al ScortinoCarrie Blackwell Lon and Lis Williamson 

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Program #3 Sue Grooms & Ron and Bari 

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Program #4 Mark Smith – Grant Livingston Paul Garfinkel

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Program #5 James Hawkins & Frank and Ann Thomas 

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Program #6 Valerie Caracappa – Boomslang Bobby Hicks 

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Program #7 Under the Water Lilies – Rod MacDonald – Blue Velvet

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Program #8 Patchwork & Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys 

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Program #9 Steve Blackwell & Marie Nofsinger 

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Program #10 Don Grooms Tribute

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Program #11 The Spiritual Consolators & Pam Laws 

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Program #12 Art Crummer & Bill Wharton and the Ingredients 

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Program #13 The Spiritual Consolators & TC Carr and the Catch 

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Program #14 Upsala and Sno Rogers

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Program #15 Tammerlin 

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Program #16 Mindy Simmons 

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Program #17 Dinella and Gieger & Ken Skeens and Leigh Goldsmith

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Program #18 Jeanie Fitchen 

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Program #19 Clyde Walker 

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Program #20 Magda Hiller 

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Program #21 Sam Pacetti 

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Program #22 Harvey Reid 

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Program #23 Destination Still Unknown 

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Program #24 CD Sampler

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Program #25 Campfire Tapes 

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Program #26 Studio Tapes 

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The Musical Legacy of Don Grooms

Remembering Don Grooms         

Early performance photo
Early performance photo of Don Grooms

(originally aired on Florida Public Radio in January of 1998)

Don Grooms won the prestigious Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1996.  Grooms, who taught for more than three decades in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, was influenced by the late “Father of Florida Folk,” Will McLean.  Grooms passed away on January 10, 1998.  Donna Green-Townsend talked with some of the musicians who knew him best.

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Don Grooms sings 3 of his best songs late 70s or early 80s.mp4.Still022
(from left to right) Will McLean, Tim DeMass and Don Grooms

In the late 1980s Don Grooms brought his musical buddies Will McLean and Tim DeMass into the studio to record his song Vitachuko. Tim DeMass is on bass and the Father of Florida Folk, Will McLean, played harmonica.  Grooms said in an interview that when he first played the song for McLean Will said, “Grooms you have finally justified your existence.”

Don Grooms and Tim DeMass also recorded Don’s song Hills of Caroline and Tsali.

 

 

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Don Grooms’ “Walk Proud My Son” CD cover

Singer songwriter and musician Tom Shed played a pivotal role in helping Don Grooms produce his CD “Walk Proud.”  In this special, which aired in the late 90s, Shed talks about why this project was so special.  You’ll also hear many of Don Grooms’ best songs.

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Pinnes and Palms Part 4.mp4.Still002In September of 1988 Grooms hosted a a television program called, “Pines and Palms” on WUFT-TV.  Guests included Frank and Ann Thomas, Dale and Linda Crider, James Billie and Bobby Hicks.  The hour long program can be seen by clicking this link.

 

Musicians performing a finale during the Florida Folk Festival
Musicians performing at the FL Folk Festival

Ten years later, in May of 1998, five months after Grooms died,  Don’s friends in the folk music community gave him a tribute on the main stage at the Florida Folk Festival.  The tribute became part of “The Gatherings” series of programs aired on WUFT.  Here’s the link to that tribute.

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Below is the full transcript of the tribute program on Don Grooms featured above which was included in the 26-part series called, “The Gatherings”

This week on the Gatherings we feature a special tribute to Don Grooms, a man who’s influence on Florida Folk music and art earned him the 1996 Florida Folk Heritage Award.

Florida lost a folk music giant in 1998 with the death of folk singer/songwriter Don Grooms of Gainesville.  Grooms was a mainstay of the state’s oldest official folk festival.  Less than a year before his death the thousands gathered in White Springs heard and sang along with the artist whose Cherokee looks and humorous lyrics made him stand out from the rest.   He wrote songs about his native American heritage, love songs and he had a flair for social commentary—both serious and humorous.  One of the crowd favorites was Grooms’ song Winnebagos”  which poked fun at the tourists and snowbirds traveling the interstate to Florida.

Don Grooms April 1997
Singer Songwriter Don Grooms

In May of 1997, Florida’s Don Grooms performed at the Florida Folk Festival for the last time.  One of the songs he performed that Memorial Weekend was his song Winnebago, a social commentary on tourism. Although he was a crowd favorite in recent years, many folk music lovers may not know the story behind his success at White Springs.  In one of his last interviews before his death, Grooms shared how while working as a judge at an old time fiddler’s convention in Union Grove North Carolina, he was approached by a singer/songwriter who soon became his closest music buddy…..the late Will McLean.  It was McLean who introduced Grooms more than two decades ago at White Springs and brought him out of a self-imposed musical slump.  Grooms said,

“ I reached a point once before, twice before where you get a standing ovation and then after a while it becomes necessary and uh, so I walked away from it and Will insisted I go to the festival with him and then right in the middle of his set he said, “And there’s this guy I’d like you to hear,” so uh he did that about the next three festivals I was at and then I was hooked again.”

Grooms’ primary income came from his teaching position at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville, a position he held for thirty years.  But his true love was always folk music and he found ways to mesh the two loves when 27 years ago in what could be classified now as a bittersweet program, Don served as host and producer of a television special called Florida Sand on WUFT-TV in Gainesville.  The program featured Groom’s friends and folk music legends Gamble Rogers, Will McLean and Dale Crider:

Early photo of Dale Crider and Gamble Rogers sharing a stage
Early photo of Dale Crider and Gamble Rogers sharing a stage

Singer songwriter and friend Dale Crider says his fondest memory of Grooms will be the day they both helped to disperse the ashes of Will McLean into the Ocklawaha River in 1990.

“I appeared on the stage with Don a number of times, but the way I felt closest with him was in touching Will McLean’s ashes.  We both had our hands in Will McLean’s ashes down at Gore’s Landing at the same time and we sort of like pitched it into the water and fed the minnows.  And Don was always a smoker and Will was always a smoker and Don had gone and gotten some cigarettes and pitched the cigarettes after Will.  I wouldn’t have thought of that you know, but it was very important that Will have some smokes on his way downriver and some cheap wine.”

Although Crider says he wasn’t particularly fond of such Grooms’ songs as “A Wet Dog Stinks”….he says he will always remember Grooms’ humor.

“He had a lot of good musicians that played with him, but he was mostly an entertainer, he wanted to make people laugh and he wanted to write songs that would make them laugh too.”

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Ray Valla and his son Gabe Valla

Longtime pickin’ buddy and studio engineer for many of Don’s songs, Ray Valla of Gainesville particularly liked Don’s liver song, “I Draw The Line.”

“Basically the song is about all these wild meat from the forest that Indians basically eat, raccoon and possum and deer and all these animals that would be outrageous to think about eating now.  It’s sort of a funny song.  Anyway, he goes into a long description of all this meat that he’s eaten in the wild and uh the lyrics and the song someone serves him liver and the song says that’s where he draws the line.  He’s not going to eat that.  Pretty funny.  But Don had some great material.”

Grooms’  musical kinmanship included close relationships with not only Dale Crider and Ray Valla,  but other Florida folk greats including the late Gamble Rogers, Paul Champion and Jim Ballew.  But it was Will McLean who inspired Grooms, a native American himself, to write one of his more serious and favorite songs about the bloody skirmish between Desoto and the native Americans in Paynes Prairie in North Central Florida.  Grooms said,

“When Will first came into my life, I’d written songs before, but they were some of them pretty good, but I wrote, “They’ll Have To Carry me Back to ‘Ole Virginia”…and Will would say, that’s pretty good, but it doesn’t have a lot of meaning to it so uh, I had read all about Paynes Prairie and DeSoto’s bloody trip through Florida.  So I started researching in the P. K. Yonge library of Florida history book about the various things that had occurred there and I was sifting through it in my head until I came up with a five minute song called “Vitachuko.”  And I played it for Will and he said play that for me again and I finished and he said, “Grooms you have finally justified your existence.”  But I took 400 years of Paynes Prairie history and put it into a song and finally got it down to four minutes, but I still get requests for it every now and then.  When I recorded it Will played harmonica. And he loved it and always insisted I do it and his harmonica just hung in the air.”

Sue Grooms and band
Tom Shedden performing with Don Grooms’ wife Sue Grooms at the Will McLean Festival

“Vitachucko” is one of the songs on Groom’s “Walk Proud My Son,” his most famous CD.  The producer for that endeavor was Tom Sheddan, one of Don Groom’s pickin’ buddies and a former College of Journalism and Telecommunications student.  Sheddan says it was a labor of love.

“After hearing Don’s song “Vitachucko” and some of his older songs like “Dirty Dan the Bicycle Man,” I heard someone that was expressing a voice that I really felt inspired to do something about to help him take that voice and share it with a lot of other people.”

Sheddan gathered the musicians together two decades ago and produced the recording in one take.  He says he felt if he handled the business of making that CD, Grooms could concentrate on the art.

“We borrowed and Ampex 601 and brought it over to his house and started recording and setting up mics and bringing people in and assembling all the pieces.  And as we put all the pieces together I explained to him how I would do it and what I would do.  So we pressed a thousand copies.  I mastered it at Randy Clings at RCA studios in Nashville, Tennessee.  And we mixed it with Ray Valla on a four track reel to reel.  It had to be done Grand ‘Ole Opry style.  I tried isolating Don.  That term refers to everybody playing at the same time.  It’s like a one-take experience.  We had like nine people in the studio only a little bigger than the one we’re in now like a 12 by 12 studio with 9 people, trying not to step on each other and bleed into each other’s microphones and not let the energy die, trying to hold the album together.  But uh, we had a really good time making it.  It was really good energy.  The main thing is Don means everything he’s saying and you can actually hear it in his voice.”

Music friend Loyd Baldwin played fiddle with Grooms through the years.

“Many of Don’s songs dealt with the treatment of native Americans, what they went through for 400 years since Europeans have been here in the states.  Uh, Don is Cherokee on his mother’s side.  In fact he grew up on a reservation up near Cherokee, North Carolina.  In fact one song that he wrote called “Tsali” is in honor of a Cherokee chief.   I remember  vividly the way Don used to introduce this song.  We played a gig together at a little town called Paisley on the south end of the Ocala National Forest on July 4th, 1976 and I remember standing on the back of a flatbed truck and hear Don stand up, his voice just as clear as a bell, saying well Jesus may have died for you Americans but Tsali died for me.”

Chief James Billie & Raiford Starke
Seminole Chief James Billie performing with Raiford Starke

Another of Grooms’ closest musical buddies was the Chief of the Seminole Indian Tribe in Florida, James Billie.  Chief Billie said Grooms had a spiritual connection to people and he called his friend a lyrical genius.  Chief Billie credits Grooms for the musical switch he made in his own musical career.

“Don says, hey you sound like you could sing some folk songs and get away from the rock and roll and so from that I started writing and “Halpatachobee” was the one he really helped me.  I had written the entire song except for the words halpatachobee didn’t even pause, just that phrase I couldn’t believe it.  This man was a genius with words.”

Grooms described folk music this way.

“Our kind of music’s got meaning and stuff in it.  More than just my  baby left me so I’m going to let the air out of her tires uh, but at least ours have meaning and impart information.   You’ve got to entertain people as well as inform.”

Grooms received national attention when Sing Out Magazine featured the song he wrote and dedicated to his mother.  Walk Proud my Son has practically become an anthem at folk festivals.

“Well the one that almost everybody does, even Gamble.  Somebody said they had a recording of Gamble singing Walk Proud My Son.  And I know he did it on most of his shows.  I even got a call from a guy in Chicago.  Well they traced me down through Sing Out Magazine.  So he uh, said that one, everybody likes it. A friend of mine sent a copy of that to President Bush and later on to President Clinton and said if you people would learn something from this song you’d use up some of them old battleships and airplanes and recycle them.  He got a couple of nice letters back from them.”

At nearly every Florida Folk Festival around the state you can find someone singing “Walk Proud My Son” on some stage.  Another tradition inspired by Grooms takes place on the gazebo stage above the Suwannee River.  Grooms’ longtime music buddy Frank Thomas leads the audience through the Florida state song on the festival’s last day, something started by Grooms.

Singer Songwriter of Wisdom of the River Mark Smith
Singer Songwriter Mark Smith

Don Grooms’ life inspired not only Frank Thomas, but others like Gainesville singer/songwriter Mark Smith.  The songs truly touched Grooms.

“Frank Thomas wrote a song about me that I am the new patriarch of the folk people and then Mark Smith wrote one that I’m the only spot in Dixie where the mountains meet the sand.  And uh, a couple of years ago, maybe it was last year, they took part of their set and did their songs and I told them I ought to have the decency to go ahead and die or something.  (laugh)

Singer/songwriter Mark Smith said,
“I had not been around Will McLean or Gamble Rogers particularly.  Don was one of my folk heroes.  He was the person sort of the senior performer person when I came along.  And I thought this was a tribute I could give to him while he was living.  It was a privilege for me to be able to share that with him.”

Tim DeMaas from South Carolina remembers the good ‘ole pickin’ days with Don Grooms.

“If there’s one word to desbribe Don it’s passionate.”

DeMaas was not only a former student of Grooms, but he actually took up the bass fiddle so he could play music with him.  During a radio interview in a memorial tribute to his friend, DeMaas recalls how Grooms could have audiences in tears one minute and laughing the next.  He especially remembers how difficult it was at times because Grooms did not like to rehearse ahead of time.

“Don did not believe in practicing…it was one of his most enduring qualities.”

 

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In March of 1997, Donna Green-Townsend interviewed Don Grooms as part of a reflective feature on the late Will McLean who died in 1990.  McLean, who is considered the “Father of Florida Folk” and who was the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, was a good friend of Grooms.  McLean inspired Grooms to write one of his best songs, “Vitachuco” about the bloody skirmish between Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his men and the Native American Indians living on Payne’s Prairie.”  When Grooms recorded it, Will McLean played the harmonica in the song.

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