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5-26-17

One of America’s oldest state folk festivals to celebrate 65 years this weekend

Photo: One man band Ben Prestage gets ready to perform his next song at the 2015 Florida Folk Festival at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs.                  - SVT Photo Archives


By Tami Stevenson


As performers, vendors and visitors travel from around the country to North Florida’s beautiful, historic White Springs for this Memorial Day weekend’s 65th Annual Florida Folk Festival along the banks of the Suwannee River, May 26-28, 2017, at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, Park Services Specialist Andrea Thomas and the rest of the team at the park have been working hard to prepare for one of the oldest state folk festivals in America.


According to a release, the event will feature more than 300 performances by Florida’s greatest folk and roots artists, including national recording artists, songwriters, and musicians of swing, folk, blues, gospel, country, Latin, jazz, bluegrass, Caribbean and zydeco music. The notable lineup which includes Livingston Taylor, Tom Chapin, Melanie, Les Dudek, Billy Dean, Jim Stafford, Papaloko & Loray Mistik, Ben Prestage, The Currys, The Krickets and many more. The Folklife Area will reflect the diverse cultures of Southwest Florida this year. According to Thomas, each year the Florida Folklife Program showcases the cultures and heritage that make different areas of Florida unique. Last year they showcased Miami-Dade, this year it is Southwest Florida. The Florida Department of State’s Folklife Program sent out fieldworkers Eric Griffis and Eleanor Wachs to conduct an eight month study of the region to chose the folk artists and tradition-bearers that best represent the area.


The festival has once again been named a “Top 20 Event” in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. Visitors will enjoy great music, browse the unique arts and crafts booths, smell, sample and taste delicious food, listen or join in on a jam session, attend workshops and have the opportunity to appreciate Florida’s land, people, and diverse cultural heritage.


According to Thomas, they are hoping to have alligator wrestler Paul Simmons, along with Marcus Hunger of the Gator Grappler Wildlife Shows to present a modern alligator wrestling show incorporating environmental education and the cultural history of the practice. As of press-time, Tuesday evening, Thomas said they still had some permitting issues and it was unclear whether they would be allowed to feature alligator wrestling or not.


The Folklife Area, among other cultural expressions, will also celebrate the living traditions of circus artists with presentations by professional clowns Karen Bell and Robin Eurich from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, which has wintered in Sarasota since 1927. As the 146-year-old circus closes it doors, many are reflecting on the impact of the circus arts in Southwest Florida and nationally, according to the release.


  The Florida Folk Festival is a rain or shine event. Although camping is not offered on festival grounds to the public during the event, camping and lodging are available at other state parks in the area. For more information on local campgrounds, cabins and motels, visit SuwanneeValley.org. Pets and personal golf carts are not allowed at the Florida Folk Festival.


The south gate is the main entrance and is walk-in only. According to Thomas, the best area to park is at the north gate. They have golf cart shuttles with shuttle stops that go back and forth for park visitors. Thomas said the only suggestion she has for visitors this year is if you have to question whether you can park somewhere, please just don’t do it.


Gates open at 8 a.m. and opening ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 26th.
Advance tickets for the Florida Folk Festival are $25.00 per day or $50.00 for the weekend for adults and $30.00 per day or $60.00 for the weekend at the gate. Children under six years of age are admitted free of charge. Ticket prices for children between the ages of six and 16 for the entire weekend is $5.00. Visit www.FloridaFolkFestival.com for more information.