The Father of Florida Folk, the late Will McLean, loved to entertain and share songs, poems and stories of the lore and legends of Florida. Unfortunately, most of those performances were not captured on video or audio tape. When those performances were recorded, it was special indeed.
Here are five such videos.
The first is the January 24, 1990 memorial service for Will at the Thomas Center in Gainesville. On that day in 1990 hundreds of people filled the Thomas Center in Gainesville, FL to capacity. They were all there to pay tribute to the Father of Florida Folk, Will McLean, who had just passed away from cancer a few days before. This archival video features many of his friends sharing not only their own precious stories about Will and how he touched their lives, but also sharing their versions of Will’s original songs. Some of those friends in attendance included Gamble Rogers, Don Grooms, Dale Crider, Jeanie Fitchen, Doug Gaus, Frank and Ann Thomas, Wayne Martin, Dennis Devine, Mary Ann DiNella, Barbara Sheen Todd, Margaret Longhill, Donna Green-Townsend and Bobby Hicks to name a few. There were not only tears, but laughter as many of the speakers shared personal memories demonstrating Will McLean’s sense of humor. Following the ceremony many friends travelled to McLean’s favorite camping spot, Gore’s Landing in Marion County to disperse his ashes into the Ocklawaha River. Will McLean’s desire to “save Florida through music” continues today through a music festival held in his honor. The festival is usually held the 2nd weekend of March at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, 7 miles west of Dade City and near Brooksville. For more information about the Will McLean Festival and Foundation go online to willmclean.com
The next four videos were made possible when his music buddy, the late Don Grooms, brought Will to a studio in Gainesville. The first video is Will singing his most famous song, “Hold Back The Waters,” about the 1928 hurricane that drowned between three and four thousand people around Lake Okeechobee. (You will see Will when he starts singing at about :24 seconds in)
It’s been said Will McLeanwrote his song, “Florida Sand,” after returning home from WWII where he had been taken as a POW in the Philippines. When he landed in Florida he kissed the ground and said he would only write about his beloved Florida Sand. In this video his friend Lais provided dance interpretation of the song.
Will McLean spent many of his early years with his grandfather who took him to a variety of places in Florida. Those travels influenced Will’s songwriting, poems and stories. Many of those writings bring attention to Will’s concern about Florida’s environment. That concern is very evident in his song, “Lament.” Lais also interprets this song through dance.
Today hundreds of singer songwriters have been inspired to write songs about Florida because of Will McLean’s passion for the state. Will’s dear music buddy, the late Don Grooms, wrote one of his most famous songs, “Vitachuko,” because of Will’s inspiration. It’s about the bloody skirmish between Native American Chief Vitachuko and Spanish Explorer Hernando de Soto. Grooms said when he played it for McLean Will said, “Grooms you have finally justified your existence.” In this recording Will accompanies Grooms by playing harmonica. The late Tim DeMass is playing bass. (You will see a closeup of Will on the harmonica at about two minutes into the video and at the end of the song.)
To go back to the page “Will McLean: The Father of Florida Folk” CLICK HERE:
To go to the official Will McLean website CLICK HERE
Four One-Hour Music Programs produced from mainstage performances at the 45th Annual Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, FL
(including selections from the archives of other festivals and performances)
Produced by Bill Beckett and hosted by Donna Green-Townsend with production assistance from Jim Bickerstaff, Ken Crawford, Pete Gallagher and Ray Valla
Featuring music from Marie Nofsinger, Valarie Caracappa (Wisecracker), Upsala, Pete Gallagher and the Green Grass Revival, Wingnuts, Vassar Clements, John McCuen, Clyde Walker and Sam Pacetti
Featuring music from Jeanie Fitchen, Chuck Hardwicke, Ken and Leigh Skeens, Grant Livingston, Frank and Ann Thomas, Dale Crider, Ron and Bari Litschauer, Happy and Patti, Simple Gifts and Mindy Simmons
Featuring music and stories from Jim Ballew, Paul Champion, Cush Holston, Will McLean, Cousin Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers and Don Grooms.
Featuring music from Long John Higginbotham, Rock Bottom, James Billie and John Anderson
A video written and produced by University of Florida Student Monica Berra. Script Editing assistance and narration by Donna Green-Townsend
Two versions of a video produced by Dorsey Lee Townsend III for a class project while in Santa Fe College:
(Longer version with additional interview added)
A video distributed by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection called, “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park”
History of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings featuring MKR reenactor Betty Jean Steinshouer produced by Visit Gainesville.
Interviews regarding the scheduled play, “Invasion of Privacy” which took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall of Santa Fe College in June of 2015. The interviewees were on the Ilene Silverman Show.
The 1946 “Invasion of Privacy Trial” of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings vs. Zelma Cason has captivated lawyers and literary experts alike. On June 18th thru June 20th, 2015 the public got a flavor of the famous trial when the award-winning play by Larry Parr, “Invasion of Privacy,” took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College.
It was after Marjorie Rawlings won the Pulitizer Prize for “The Yearling” that she continued her success with her book, “Cross Creek,” a book which captured what her life was like as well as her neighbors in the small fishing community. But one friend of Rawlings, Zelma Cason, didn’t take “too kindly” to the way Rawlings described her in her book and decided to sue the famous author. Click here to read more about this famous legal case.
Park Ranger Lee Townsend being interviewed on November 13th, 2009 at the MKR home about Marjorie’s life at the “Creek.”
A video interview with author J. T. Glisson about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Cross Creek for Putnam Schools TV.
A True “Mother’s Day” Story About Romance in Cross Creek by Shelley Fraser Mickle
I have a friend who lives at Cross Creek. She moved there over a decade ago from up North, and she would have left probably any number of times except that she fell in love with a man from the Creek. And that made all the difference. Apparently men at the Creek take the romancing of a woman very seriously.
For instance, a first date might be only a midnight fishing trip under a full moon on Orange Lake. It might be a frog gigging, or a beer shared out on a wooden bench near the Creek until it is dark and quiet, so that then you can listen to the alligators bellow in Lochloosa.
The first weekend in August of 1997 kicked off the first annual Cross Creek Summer, Arts and Culture in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Florida. Organizers hoped the week-long event would introduce people to the Florida Rawlings loved and attract those ecotourists looking for the real Florida. To hear the report produced by Donna Green-Townsend Click here
50th Anniversary of “The Yearling” Celebration on the MKR farm in Cross Creek in April of 1988
Includes rare video of the late Idella Parker, Cousin Thelma Boltin, Will McLean and Gamble Rogers.
Video with interesting pictures of Marjorie, though not all the facts are precise.
1979 video talking about the architecture of the MKR home in Cross Creek
By the time I met Will McLeanhe 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.
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.
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.
The 1928 stormwas 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.
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.
Before 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
and here’s the recording of Will McLean, Murphy Henry and me singing “Hold Back The Waters.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Festivalyou 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.
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 Seegersaid, “Will McLean’s songs will be sung as long as there is a Florida.” Rest in Peace Will McLean, my friend.
Listen and Watch song samples from the new “Tribute” CD below:
(To pre-order a CD, please send $15.00 to: Jessie Townsend, 13501 SE 171st Lane Hawthorne, FL 32640)
Jessie and Lee Townsend recently went back into the studio to record six more songs to add to their CD Sampler. The CD will now have 12 songs and be titled, “Tribute” as it will have songs from several of Florida’s best songwriters past and present including Will McLean, Steve Blackwell, Jim Ballew, Dale Crider, Don Grooms and Ann Thomas to name a few.
Below you will find music videos of five of the songs included on the project followed by audio samples from all of the songs on the CD including “Crying Bird,” written by the late Will McLean about the potential demise of the Florida Limpkin; “Lonesome Wind Blues,” written by the late Wayne Raney and made popular by the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe; “When I Die” written by the late Jim Ballew; “Oh Kissimmee River” written by environmental troubadour Dale Crider from Windsor, FL and “Wild Birds” written by the late Don Grooms.
Jessie and Lee were joined in the studio for this CD by Chris Henry (guitar, mandolin and vocal harmony), Red Henry (fiddle, mandolin and vocal harmony), David McBrady (bass and vocal harmony), Jason Thomas (mandolin). Gabe Valla (rhythm guitar), Christian Ward (fiddle), Elisabeth Williamson (vocal harmony) and Lon Williamson (bass).
Lonesome Wind Blues
When I Die
Oh Kissimmee River
Kentucky Borderline(written by Rhonda Vincent and Terry Herd) Performing on this fast-paced bluegrass tune that was the 2004 IBMA Song of the Year are Lee on banjo, Jessie singing the lead vocal, Jason Thomas on mandolin, Gabe Valla on rhythm guitar, Christian Ward on fiddle, David McBrady on bass and Elisabeth Williamson singing vocal harmony.
Bury Me Beneath The Willow This traditional bluegrass song features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on guitar and David McBrady on bass and vocal harmony.
Nails In My Coffin(written by Gerald Irby) This song orginally written in 1946 features Lee on banjo and rhythm guitar, Jessie singing lead vocal, Elisabeth Williamson on vocal harmony, Christian Ward on fiddle and David McBrady on bass and vocal harmony.
If I Needed You(written by Townes Van Zandt) features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on guitar, Christian Ward on fiddle, David McBrady on bass and Elisabeth Williamson and David McBrady on vocal harmony.
Macclenny Farewell(written by Will McLean) This love song written by the late Father of Florida Folk features Jessie on the lead vocal, Lee on guitar and David McBrady on bass.
The Line(written by Steve Blackwell) The line was written by the late Steve Blackwell from Punta Gorda who penned this beautiful song about someone reflecting on all of the family members who have gone on before. This rendition of the song features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on guitar and Lon Williamson on bass.
Oh Kissimmee River (written by Dale Crider) Oh Kissimmee River written by environmental troubadour from Windsor, FL, Dale Crider, brings attention to the disastrous environmental effects of trying to straighten the Kissimmee River. This version features Jessie singing the lead vocal, Lee on banjo, Chris Henry on guitar, Red Henry on mandolin and David McBrady on bass.
When I Die (written by Jim Ballew) When I Die is one of the most beautiful songs ever written by the late Jim Ballew. It features Jessie on vocals, Lee on guitar, Chris Henry on mandolin, Red Henry on fiddle and David McBrady on bass.
Cryin’ Bird (written by Will McLean) Cryin’ Bird by Will McLean brings attention to the potential extinction of Florida’s Limpkin because of the lack of food resources the Limpkin eats in the Wakulla River. Jessie sings vocal, Lee plays guitar, Chris Henry plays mandolin, Red Henry is on the fiddle and David McBrady is on bass. Elisabeth Williamson adds vocal harmony.
Lonesome Wind Blues (written by Wayne Raney) Lonesome Wind Blues is a very traditional bluegrass song. It was originally recorded in 1947 by Wayne Raney and later made famous by the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe. In this version Jessie sings the vocals with harmony added by Chris and Red Henry. Lee plays banjo, Chris Henry plays guitar, Red Henry is on the mandolin and David McBrady is on the bass.
Wild Birds (written by Don Grooms) Wild Birds is a love song written by the late Don Grooms. Jessie sings the vocals, Lee is on guitar, Chris Henry is on mandolin, Red Henry is on fiddle and David McBrady is on bass.
Lost Tourist’s Letter Home (written by Ann Thomas) In this tongue-in-cheek song the late Ann Thomas pokes fun at what a lost tourist would write home about if he or she got off a tour bus in the middle of Florida. Jessie sings vocals, Lee plays banjo, Chris Henry is on guitar, Red Henry is on mandolin and David McBrady is on bass
Jessie and Lee have been performing for several years. Venues have included the Florida Folk Festival, the Will McLean Festival, the Alachua and Micanopy Festivals, bluegrass events in Waldo, the Christmas Candelight program at Disney World and a variety of other church services and community events.
To pre-order a CD, please send $15.00 to:
Jessie Townsend 13501 SE 171st Lane
Hawthorne, FL 32640
Update November, 2016: Florida’s East coast experienced serious beach erosion from Hurricane Matthew and many businesses and homes suffered severe damage from the huge tidal wave associated with the hurricane. In particular, Florida Highway A1A in Flagler County was washed out and many homes along North A1A from Vilano Beach northward have been declared uninhabitable because the sand dunes were washed away underneath the homes. Many streets in St. Augustine are filled with debris piles waiting to be removed. Several businesses along the waterfront in downtown St. Augustine have not yet reopened as they are still under rennovation from the water that pushed through during high tide during the storm. Below are pictures of just some of the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew just north of St. Augustine on North A1A as well as on South A1A. See also pictures of the hired road crew working feverishly to fix the highway on Flagler Beach that gave way during the hurricane. Not only is the highway up and running, but dump trucks and shovels are putting down large rocks alongside the highway to help hold the sand and roadway in place.
Additional footage and information about the overal impact of Hurricane Matthew can be viewed on this Weather channel link.
—————————————————————————————————————– Original story: Friday, October 7th, 2016
At 5 p.m. the National Hurricane Center reports extremely dangerous Hurricane Matthew is causing devastation on Florida’s northeast coast. Matthew is located at 30.2 N, 80.7 W. Winds are 110 (175 km). Jacksonville reports indicated wind gusts up to 82 mph at times. The storm is 948 mb (28.0). Hurricane Matthew is expected to turn toward the N/NE and then NE on Saturday. Matthew should begin to weaken in the the next 48 hours. Meanwhile Matthew is continuing to bring high winds inland and serious storm surge to beaches on Florida’s northeast coastline.
The National Hurricane Center reports Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward to 185 miles (295 km). The minimum central pressure recently reported by reconnaissance aircraft was 947mb (27.97 in). Matthew is expected to remain a hurricane until it begins to move away from the U.S.
Floridians and visitors can go to FloridaEvacuates.comor download the Florida-Evacuates app to enter their location and see shelters available in their area.
Following the most recent update from the National Hurricane Center on
Hurricane Matthew, Governor Scott has activated an additional 1,000 National Guard members. 3,500 members have now been activated. This is over half of the available troops that may be activated. Governor Scott has continued to activate more members to help with important life-saving operations, including evacuations and preparing for search and rescue missions. Governor Scott is requesting President Obama to send additional federal resources to Florida, including generators and pumps, that the state can preposition to help impacted areas.
The Florida Department of Health will be updating hospital evacuation information at FLHealth.gov
Governor Scott directed DOT to suspend all tolls in the affected areas of the state, which includes the entire Florida Turnpike, Alligator Alley, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.
Many beach communities are being evacuated because of expected storm surge. Governor Scott says people need to have a plan, know where evacuation centers will be located and have food and supplies to last at least 3 days including water, medicine and batteries. Scott says gather together important documents such as insurance papers. Make plans for how to deal with your pet in an emergency evacuation. A complete list of disaster planning suggestions are located on the Florida Division of Emergency Management Website.
Even though Hurricane Hermine hit on Labor Day Weekend this year, it’s been 12 years since Florida experienced a major tropical system. That’s when Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida. Just a year before Wilma, 2004 became one for the history books as Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan wreaked their havoc on the Sunshine State.
It was 11 years ago on August 29th when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast near Buras, Louisiana and took its toll on New Orleans and the Mississippi coastline, becoming one of the most costly storms in U.S. history. According to NOAA, the damage estimates from Katrina reached $108 billion dollars. The official death toll from Katrina is 1,200 making it the 3rd deadliest storm in history behind the 1900 hurricane which hit Galveston, TX leaving 8,000 dead. The 2nd deadliest storm was the Lake Okeechobee storm in Florida in 1928 killing approximately 3,000 people.
For Floridians who lived in South Florida during Hurricane Andrew, the thought of any tropical system possibly heading toward the Sunshine State brings back painful memories.
It was on August 24th, 1992 when the catastrophic storm struck Homestead and South Florida with winds of 150 miles an hour with gusts up to 175 miles an hour. Andrew is listed as the 4th worst hurricane to hit the United States with a damage total of more than 25-billion dollars. Nearly four dozen people were killed.
In 2011 Homestead resident (and former mayor) Steve Bateman, talked with Donna Green-Townsend about living through Hurricane Andrew and how Homestead has worked toward economic recovery. At the time of the interview, Hurricane Irene was churning in the Atlantic.(from Donna’s audio archives).
Florida has experienced many devastating hurricanes through the years. Some of the worst storms didn’t even have names. The 1928 Category 4 storm that pushed Lake Okeechobee over its banks offically killed 3,000 people, but is believed by many to have drowned 4,000 souls. Many were migrant workers who ended up in mass graves following the storm….some marked and some unmarked. 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.
The late singer songwriter Will McLeanwrote his most famous song about that tragedy. “Hold Back The Waters” has become somewhat of a Florida anthem in folk circles. McLean was the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. See a video of the late singer-songwriter singing his famous song below:
The 1928 storm was before television and the weather channel so there was no real advance knowledge about the hurricane. It’s been written 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. As the category 4 hurricane moved inland, the strong winds piled the water up at the south end of the lake. Ultimately the weaker earthen levee gave way flooding an area 6 miles wide and 75 miles long.
Closer to North Central Florida residents who are watching the current track for Tropical Storm Hermine can’t help but remember the chaos wreaked on the area from Tropical Storm Frances and Jeanne in 2004. Many residents and businesses lost power for days causing grocery stores to lose fresh and frozen food products. ATMs were down. Traffic lights were out. Trees fell across many streets and homes and houses were flooded in low lying areas.
From her audio archives here’s a snippet of what the community was experiencing just after Frances moved through North Central Florida in September of 2004.
An early report on flooding in Northwest Gainesville after the rain from Tropical Storm Frances in 2004.
A few weeks before Tropical Storms Frances and Jeanne came through North Central Florida, Hurricane Charleywreaked havoc on Southwest, FL, especially Charlotte County. Many firefighters, law enforcement officers and medical personnel travelled to the area to give relief and assistance. Here’s another audio archive story from 2004.
Mindy 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 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.
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 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.”
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‘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 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” 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
The Will McLean Music Festival features outstanding original arts and crafts and a variety of delicious food.
Attendees 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!
Click here to hear full length archival interviews with Will McLean (recorded by Donna Green-Townsend in 1985 & 1987)
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.
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)
In 1988 Will McLean joined storyteller Cousin Thelma Boltin and his music buddy Gamble Rogersin Cross Creek, FL for the 50th Anniversary of “The Yearling” celebration at the farm of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. See a few snippets from a rare video recorded at that event below:
On January 24th, 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 recording, you will hear a small portion of that special ceremony at the river:
Transcription of the feature above:
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)
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 Festivalnamed 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.”
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)
and Sandhill Cranes in Payne’s Prairie, and some not so pretty stories about a wild hog in Gulf Hammock (Wild Hog)
and a panther chase resulting in a deadly encounter with a snake in Tate’s Hell. (Tate’s Hell)
Singer-Songwriter Don Groomswas 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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: “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)
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 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: “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
The Father of Florida Folk, Will McLean, penned hundreds of songs about Florida. McLean, who was the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame loved to watch sandhill cranes. In Florida there are migratory sandhill cranes and cranes that stay in the state all year long. Below is a video produced by Donna Green-Townsend of migratory cranes incorporating one of Will McLean’s most popular songs, “Courtship Dance of the Florida Sandhill Crane.” Accompanying Will McLean are Kayt Kennedy on bowed psaltry and David Beede on hammered dulcimer. The music was recorded at McLean’s concert in 1985 at the Thomas Center in Gainesville, FL, just five years before his death.
The first place award for the Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest goes to poet Hank Mattson from Lake Placid, FL and musician Dana Robinson from Cabot, VT for the song, “When This Old Hat Was New.” Mattson says the poem depicts the dogged determination of Jacob Summerlin, a famous Florida Cracker of the 1800’s, to preserve a culture that for over 400 years has been raising cattle.
Mattson is a working cowboy and poet specializing in Florida’s Cracker Cow Hunter History. He has performed at poetry gatherings and pioneer events across the state and beyond. In 2011 he won the Laura Rider Award for excellence in folk poetry. Mattson is a member of the Florida Cattleman’s Association, the Pro-Rodeo Hall Of Fame Society and the Friends Of Florida Folk and says it’s his mission to chronicle and preserve the life and times of the myriad of Florida Folks who for more than 400 years have been “working’ cattle.”
The two musicians who perform on “When This Old Hat Was New,” Dana and Susan Robinson, describe themselves as “two guitar-playing, banjo-frailing, fiddle-sawing, and harmony-singing interpreters of the American experience.” They perform a unique blend of contemporary songwriting and traditional Appalachian music.
A few months ago poet Mattson met the Robinson couple at the Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, FL. The result was magical. Within a month Dana and Sue created a melody for Mattson’s poem. Below you’ll hear a live performance version of “When This Old Hat Was New.”
Here’s Hank Mattson saying a few words at the Will McLean Festival on March 14th, 2015 about winning the contest.
The second place finisher of the 2015 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest is John R. Butler from Estero, FL with his song, “O Miami.” Butler describes his song as “a musical series of snapshots of the great city, taken through the decades.”
Here’s John Butler and his band performing his song on March 14th, 2015 at the Will McLean Festival
Butler has played in a number of bands and as a solo performer throughout high school, college and beyond. His songwriting achievements include a first place finish in the 2011 North Florida Folk Festival Americana songwriting contest, a first place award in the 2014 “Hope by Song” songwriting competition in southwest Florida, and a win (as one of three co-equal winners) in the 2015 South Florida Folk Festival. One of Butler’s songs was included in the soundtrack of the 2013 feature film, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3-D.” Butler says these days he spends most of his performing time as a member of The Honey Creepers, a southwest-Florida based trio.
The third place finisher of the song contest is Lauren Heintz from Winter Park, FL. Heintz describes her song, “Bluer Skies,” as “a lifelong search for a home, and the exultation that results when it is discovered Florida is that place.”
On Saturday, March 14th, 2015, Lauren performed her song on the Magnolia Stage at the 2015 Will McLean Festival
Lauren is the recipient of many songwriting awards including the 2014 South Florida Folk Festival Singer/Songwriter (live) competition and recipient of the Vic Heyman songwriting award, the 2013 Walnut Valley Festival Song Contest, and has won fourth place in the 2013 and 2014 Will McLean Song Contest. She also received honorable mention in the 2014 Woody Guthrie Song Contest.
Lauren’s original music has been compared to Gordan Lightfoot, Jim Croce and John Denver. In 2012 she released the album, “Feels Like A Miracle” and has another project in the works with Gatorbone Studios.
There were 42 entries in the competition for 2015. The winning songs from the top three contestants were all featured at the 2015 Will McLean Folk Festival the weekend of March 13th-15th at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, 7 miles West of Dade City. Will McLean is considered to be the Father of Florida Folk. McLean who wanted to save Florida through music was the first folk artist inducted into Florida’s Artists Hall of Fame.