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7-8-16

New roots music club formed by local enthusiast


Local musicians and music lovers attended the SongFarmers gathering at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.                                                           

  -SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson


By Gabrielle Stevenson


Lake City native Skip Johns has a passion for playing and sharing music with others. An accomplished local musician, he has played with various bands throughout his life including one called Travellers that opened for the well-known group, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Johns has even performed on the famous Grand Ole Opry Stage and has led a very musical life. His current passion is roots music, often referred to as “Americana”, which includes folk music, bluegrass, spiritual and Gospel music, country music, blues, early transitions such as rockabilly and other forms of music trademarked with American culture. Johns’ wife of almost forty-three years, Linda, grew up listening to roots music and is an enthusiast with a heart for the front porch style jam sessions that give this music such a unique history. Together, they decided to start a group with the purpose of keeping acoustic roots music alive and sharing it with other like-minded local musicians and music supporters in the North Florida area.


Skip and Linda Johns happened across a national organization called the WoodSongs Front Porch Association (WFPA) that is dedicated to promoting roots music throughout the country. Members of the WFPA are called SongFarmers, or people that believe roots music is more than just songs, but an important part of life for families and communities that needs to be supported and kept alive. After joining WFPA, they discovered they had the option of starting their own club under the organization’s umbrella, so they contacted Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs to find out if they could use their facilities to host these musical gatherings.


The Johns couple met with park staff and explained, “If you’ll just give us a roof over our heads, we’ll do the rest,” said Linda Johns. The park agreed to host this new monthly gathering, officially called SongFarmers of the Suwannee River Valley of Florida. On Saturday, July 2, the group met for the second time at the state park and had more than double the turnout. These completely free gatherings are meant to feel open and inviting to the public. Anyone of any age and skill level is welcome to bring an acoustic instrument of their choice and join in the jam sessions with other local musicians.


One of the main goals of SongFarmers is to educate and pass on the traditions. Skip Johns explained, “This is about people that normally wouldn’t get a chance to play in front of others or play with a group to develop and learn from the other people. That’s a very gratifying thing for me,” Johns continued, “It seems we’re passing the roots music on to a new generation and trying to teach a them the value of keeping that heritage. That’s the mission of SongFarmers.”


SongFarmers is completely free. There is no charge to come listen or play with the group. At Saturday’s gathering, Johns and many other musicians played various tunes of different genres. These are not rehearsed strict performances. Instead, they decide what song to play next as they come to mind, taking the time to fellowship with each other and the crowd of listeners in between songs. A member of the jam circle or someone listening calls out a song to play and the group joins in as they get a feel for the music. Johns said original songs are always welcome at the gatherings too.


The next SongFarmers gathering will be held August 13 at Nelly Bly’s Kitchen at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. To find out more information about the club, follow their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/songfarmers ofthesuwanneerivervalley or call Skip Johns at (386) 344-2906.


Musician Skip Johns playing his banjo at the SongFarmers gathering.
-SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson



Musicians get in the groove at the SongFarmers second gathering at Stephen Foster.
- SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson



Above: Getting in the groove with fellow SongFarmers.
- SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson