Tag Archives: Will McLean Festival

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

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“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
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Click here to go to the list of winners by year

 

The Jessie and Lee Townsend Band’s Will McLean Festival Highlights

Will McLean logo 2016

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Jessie and Lee Townsend along with Andy Garfield and David McBrady performing on the Azalea Stage at the 2016 Will McLean Festival near Brooksville, FL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2016 Will McLean Music Festival was a tremendous success for the Jessie and Lee Townsend Band.  If you didn’t have an opportunity to go, you can watch a few of their performances on the Magnolia, Azalea and Cypress Stages below.  Thanks to Red Henry, Andy Garfield and David McBrady for lending their musical talents to the weekend.  Jessie and Lee couldn’t have done it without you.

The overall goal of their music sets was to honor many of the Florida songwriters who have passed on, but who have left a wonderful legacy with their music including Will McLean, Don Grooms, Jim Ballew, and Ann Thomas. They also wanted to include music from two of their favorite musicians, environmental troubadour Dale Crider and the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

 

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Dale Crider and Lee Townsend

In the 1970s  Dale Crider from Windsor was working as a wildlife biologist for the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission.  Through his job he saw firsthand the negative effects on the environment of the government’s decision to straighten the Kissimmee River in Florida and wrote a song about it.  Here is the Jessie and Lee Townsend Band’s rendition of Dale’s song, “Oh Kissimmee River.”

 

Will McLean waiting to perform
Will McLean waiting to perform

The late Will McLean (1919-1990) wrote hundreds of songs, stories and poems.  Many were about Florida’s critters and unique characters as well as Florida history.  He also wrote a love song called, “Macclenny Farewell.”  Here is Jessie and Lee’s version of that song accompanied by Andy Garfield on guitar and David McBrady on bass on the Azalea Stage at the festival.

 

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Jessie and Lee Townsend performing Crying Bird on the Magnolia Stage at the 2016 Will McLean Festival

Will McLean loved to write about Florida’s unique creatures….from sea turtles crawling up on the beach on Conch Island to sandhill cranes and panthers.  He also wrote a beautiful song about the Florida Limpkin called, “Cryin’ Bird.”  Here is Jessie and Lee’s interpretation of that song performed on the Magnolia Stage during the Hour of Power at the festival.

 

Jim Ballew
The late Jim Ballew performing at the Florida Folk Festival (photo courtesy of the FL State Archives)

The late Jim Ballew often played with the late Gamble Rogers, Paul Champion and Will McLean at festivals around the state.  He was not only a great musician, but a fine songwriter.  One of his most beautiful songs was called, “When I Die.”  Jessie and Lee Townsend recently learned this beautiful song and were accompanied by Red Henry on fiddle, Andy Garfield on guitar and David McBrady on bass on the Cypress Stage at the Will McLean Festival.

 

Frank and Ann Thomas
Frank and Ann Thomas performing at the Florida Folk Festival (photo courtesy of the State of FL archives)

Frank and Ann Thomas entertained Florida audiences for decades. Many of their songs capture Florida history.  The late Ann Thomas also had a comical side as in her song, “Lost Tourist’s Letter Home.”  Here is the Jessie and Lee Townsend Band’s rendition of her song performed on the Azalea Stage.

 

Don Grooms in an early performance photo
Don Grooms in an early performance photo

The late Don Grooms wrote some very funny songs….but he also had some very serious and poignant songs such as Vitachuko and Tsali about important native American leaders.  In “Wild Birds” he wrote about a difficult relationship where one of the persons just couldn’t stay in one place for long.  Here is the Jessie and Lee Townsend Band’s version of the song performed on the Cypress Stage.

 

 

Another highlight for Jessie and Lee at the 2016 Will McLean Music Festival was the opportunity to participate in a special tribute to longtime Will McLean Foundation Director, Margaret Longhill on Saturday night.  Jessie and Lee represented the young people who have been inspired by Longhill to perform Florida songs.  During the presentation they performed Will McLean’s love song, “Macclenny Farewell.”  They were joined on stage by bass player David McBrady.  The song is about 27 minutes into the presentation below:

 

 

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Jessie and Lee Townsend along with Andy Garfield, Red Henry and David McBrady jamming at the Will McLean Festival

Jessie and Lee love bluegrass music, especially Bill Monroe tunes.  Here are three versions of Bill Monroe’s Lonesome Wind Blues.  The first is from their set on the Cypress Stage with some great picking by Red Henry, Andy Garfield and David McBrady at the Cypress Stage.

 

Bill Monroe
The late Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe

The Jessie and Lee Townsend band also performed Bill Monroe’s song, “Lonesome Wind Blues” on the Azalea Stage.

 

And here’s the version of the song while jamming in the parking lot:

 

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(From left to right) Andy Garfield, Lee Townsend, Jessie Townsend and Red Henry

Lee Townsend and Andy Garfield have been performing together since they played in a high school bluegrass band at P.K. Yonge High School in Gainesville. Since then they’ve performed at a wide variety of events and festivals in North Central Florida.  Here they are performing, ” Up 18 North,” written by the Kruger Brothers, on the Azalea Stage at the 2016 Will McLean Festival.

 

Jessie and Lee Townsend’s CD, “Tribute” Now Available

DSC_0081Jessie and Lee have recorded their first professional CD at Gatorbone Studios in Keystone Heights.  Click here to listen to song samples and to find out how to order one.

 

 

 

Meet singer Jessie Townsend

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Jessie and Lee Townsend

My daughter Jessie and my son Lee have been performing as a brother/sister musical duo for several years now singing and playing at a variety of venues including the Will McLean Music Festival and the Florida Folk Festival, special events at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site and a variety of church programs and private events.

Jessie has always loved to sing.  While in high school in Gainesville she participated in several music productions with the P.K. Yonge Performing Arts Program and competed in state and regional vocal competitions.  She performed at Disney World in Orlando during two Christmas candelight performances.

 

Jessie and Lee Townsend’s new “Tribute” CD Now Available

DSC_0081Jessie and Lee have recorded their first professional CD at Gatorbone Studios in Keystone Heights.  Click here to listen to song samples and to find out how to order one.

 

 

dsc_0044To see video highlights of Jessie and Lee’s stage performances at the 2016 Florida Folk Festival click here:  

2016-03-13_17-41-35_962To see highlights of Jessie and Lee’s stage performances at the 2016 Will McLean Music Festival click here:

 

 

 

 

On April 26, 2015 Jessie and Lee Townsend performed “What Wondrous Love Is This” at the Homecoming Services of the New Cross Creek Baptist Church on April 26, 2015

 

During the Homecoming service Jessie and Lee also performed “Amazing Love”

 

On March 15th, 2015 Jessie performed Will McLean’s “Macclenny Farewell” during the Hour of Power on the Main Stage.

Jessie and her brother Lee Townsend also made great harmony on the Azalea Stage at the 2015 Will McLean Festival performing Towne Van Zandt’s, “If I Needed You” with help on the bass and harmony by David McBrady.

The trio even got in some bluegrass with “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin.”

 

2015 was Jessie’s second year performing at the Will McLean Festival. She made her debut here on March 8th, 2014 singing a song by the late Steve Blackwell called, “The Line.”

Jessie singing I Need You at the 40th dedication services at the New Cross Creek Baptist Church on August 31st, 2014

Jessie singing King of My Heart at the 40th dedication services at the New Cross Creek Baptist Church on August 31st, 2014

Jessie singing Be Thou My Vision at the Homecoming services of the Providence United Methodist Church on October 26, 2014

Donna, Jessie and Lee Townsend singing Never Grow Old at the Homecoming services for the Providence United Methodist Church in Windsor, FL on October 26, 2014

Jessie and Lee performing “Bury Me Beneath the Willow”  along with Andy Garfield in November, 2014

Jessie and Lee performing “A Living Prayer” at the Homecoming Services for the Providence United Methodist Church in Windsor, FL on October 26, 2014

Jessie and Lee performing “Ten Thousand Reasons” at the New Cross Creek Baptist Church on October 14, 2012

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2014 Will McLean Song Contest Winner and Finishers

Here are the winner, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers of the 2014 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest: (39 entries)

Will McLean performing
The late Will McLean

Here’s a look back at the top 3 winners of the 2014 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest along with video clips of them performing their winning song on the main stage at the 2014 festival.

 

 

 

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1st place winner Jane Fallon

The 2014 first place winner was Jane Fallon from Brookline, NH.  Her song entitled “Before the Fire (Rosewood)”  captures the emotional story and resulting fear from the 1923 Rosewood tragedy in North Central Florida.   Jane has been a finalist in several songwriting competitions such as SolarFest , the Ossipee Music Festival and the prestigious Rose Garden Coffeehouse Competition. Her songs have placed 2nd and 3rd  respectively in the Neuse River MusicFest competition and the West Coast Songwriters Competition.

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Larry Mangum
2nd place Larry Mangum

The 2014 second place finisher Larry Mangum is from Jacksonville.  His song entitled “Florida” describes the beauty of the Sunshine State and why he’s proud to call it home. Mangum has given nearly 3000 performances over 4 decades as a folk, rock, country and Americana artist. He’s released 8 albums of original music and 2 live albums since 1980.  In 2006 he won third place in the Will Mclean Song contest with his tribute to Gamble Rogers, “The Last Troubadour.”  He is also host and co-founder of “The Songwriters’ Circle” in Jacksonville, a monthly program featuring many of the best regional and national touring acts.

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Third place Ray Sealey

The 2014 third place finisher was Ray Sealey from Harrington, QC.  His song “Kissimmee Prairie Dream” gives the flavor of Central Florida’s early years in the Kissimmee area. Ray was born in England and received a degree in English Literature after emigrating to Canada.  He was involved in folk music in his early years but then turned to classical guitar. He eventually taught music at the Universities of Western Ontario and Ottawa. He also worked in radio at the CBC and later in arts management being involved in music festivals, summer music centers and orchestras.  Now, later in life, he has returned to those early folk roots and spends summer in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal and winter in Florida.

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

 

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Festival montage photo by Gail Carson
Jan Glidewell
The late Jan Glidewell

2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the Will McLean Folk Festival which ran from Friday, March 7th thru Sunday, March 9th. The 2014 festival honored Jan Glidewell, a longtime columnist for the Tampa Bay Times who died in 2013 from cancer. Glidewell was an avid supporter of the festival. The 26th year for the 3-day festival gets underway at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City on March 13th, 2015. The winner and 2nd and 3rd place finishers of this year’s song contest will be featured on Saturday, March 14th.

The Will McLean festival features four stages, including a young performers stage, a variety of music workshops, arts and crafts, food and more.  McLean, known as the “Black Hat Troubadour,”  is the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. In 2014 one of the newest folk musicians inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, Frank Thomas,  also performed at the Will McLean Music Festival. In the clip below recorded on the Cypress Stage at last year’s festival you’ll see Frank singing one of his most popular songs, “Cracker Cowman.”

Frank Thomas was accompanied by members of the band Roadside Revue featuring Dawn DeWitt on bass, Bari Litschauer on banjo, Ron Litschauer on guitar and Stan Geberer on harmonica.

Back to the list of winners by year