A Weekend of Entertainment, Participation and Exhibits

Along the banks of the historic Suwannee River in White Springs, Florida, folk artists have gathered to celebrate Florida’s land, people, and diverse cultural heritage. Since its humble beginning in 1953, the Florida Folk Festival has not only grown to become Florida’s most prestigious affair, but also named “Florida’s Best Cultural Event.” In 2014, the festival was recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society with the honor of being a “Top 20 Event” in the southeastern United States.

The Florida Folk Festival is in the process of booking featured performers for the 2015 show.  In the meantime we're thrilled to announce the following featured artists and  guest performers that have been confirmed for the 63rd Annual Florida Folk Festival:

 

Bing Futch 

  With roots in both African and Seminole Indian cultures, Bing Futch's window to America is a unique landscape of music, words and imagery. He began playing Appalachian mountain dulcimer at Knott's Berry Farm theme park in 1986, working at a Ghost Town shop for Bud & Donna Ford. That same year, Futch founded techno-punk band Crazed Bunnyz, a trio that grew popular in the international underground college radio scene and has remained a fan favorite long after disbanding in 1988. Since then, he has enjoyed a diverse and prolific solo career, composing dozens of scores for film, theater, themed attractions and television.  In 1994, he wrote and recorded music for The Castle of Miracles in Kississimmee, Florida.  In 1999, Futch formed American band Mohave, featuring the mountain dulcimer as the main instrument. The group has performed at the House of Blues in Walt Disney World, Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios Florida and has opened for Molly Hatchet, among other acts. He is the grandson of the late boxing hall-of-famer Eddie Futch. As a solo performer, Bing’s high-energy, crowd pleasing shows and unique approach to the mountain dulcimer combined have made him a much-sought national act from California to Connecticut. Named 2006 "Songwriter of the Year" by the Songwriters Showcases of America (with a 2007 "Song of the Year" award for "Crazy Feels Like"), Bing has become a regularly featured artist at festivals, house concerts, Irish and British pubs and other venues across the country. He's opened for Grammy-award nominated artists Sam & Ruby, bluesman Scott Ainslie, singer/songwriter Larry Mangum, shared the stage with Zydeco king Chubby Carrier, Tom Constanten (The Grateful Dead), national fingerstyle guitar champion Michael Chapdelaine, produced numerous recordings and has published several songbooks. Alongside his performing career, Bing has become a popular instructor of the mountain dulcimer and Native American flute and his video podcast, "Dulcimerica," has been seen and downloaded by over half a million unique viewers

Billy Dean

Festival favorite, Billy Dean, a native of Quincy, Florida, was raised appreciating the value of music and has a diverse array of musical influences. After attending college on a basketball scholarship, Billy moved to Nashville in 1983 and by 1990 had recorded his first Top 5 Hit "Only Here For A Little While." Since then, Billy has transcended genres with his unique repertoire earning numerous awards, including: The Academy of Country Music's Song of the Year for "Somewhere In My Broken Heart", ACM New Male Vocalist of The Year, BMI Pop Awards, BMI Song Awards, BMI Million Air Plays Award, Country Music Television Rising Star Award, NSAI Song of The Year, and a Grammy for a "Country Tribute: Amazing Grace."

Billy's appeal reaches beyond the music world. He has appeared on numerous television shows as well as made-for TV movies, including: Blue Valley Songbird, A Face to Kill For, Lois & Clark, One Life to Live, Diagnosis Murder, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, The Montel Show, and many others.

After twelve albums and eleven Top 10 singles spanning over a period of eighteen years, Billy has founded the publishing company BDMG (Billy Dean Music Group). Billy continues to make contributions to the Country Music world by building brands with music and empowering children, by being a spokesperson for Averitt Cares For Kids, and Sunkist's Take A Stand Program.

His latest album "Let Them Be Little" was inspired by those closest to him, his two children Hannah and Eli. Billy's illustrious career was recently recognized with a proclamation from the State of Tennessee House of Representatives.

Frank Thomas 

Born and raised in rustic Clay County, Florida songwriter Frank Thomas has native Florida lineage dating back to the late 18th century. Few other songwriters can claim such a strong Florida heritage and sharing his love of Florida is the inspirational thread woven throughout his music and storytelling. He has been given many titles including the Dean of Florida Folk (for the many song-writing assignments he has given over the years), The Grand Old Man of Florida Folk, and is considered one of the most prolific songwriters in Florida.  

 In the 60s, Thomas toured nationally with several well-known bluegrass groups, most notably the legendary Arkansas Travelers.  Thomas and beloved wife Ann settled into the "Cracker Palace," a Florida style home down Rattlesnake Hammock Road on the ridge just outside of Lake Wales. From there, Frank and Ann Thomas became the most well known duo in Florida music. Ann's big daddy thumping bass, deep rooted harmony singing and humorous jabs at her husband helped make them one of Florida's most popular acts. Frank and Ann Thomas traveled Florida, performing their unique music at schools, festivals, music and folk clubs, on television, and on concert stages. During the 80s, they produced and hosted the first Florida folk music radio show, weekly, on Tampa's WMNF.  Their video "Florida History in Song," won the Florida Historical Societies coveted Golden Quill Award. Other awards received include the prestigious Florida Folk Heritage Award, The Inaugural Jillian Prescott History Award and The Stetson Kennedy Foundation Fellow -Man & Mother Earth Award. Frank was recently honored and inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame -- Florida's most prestigious recognition!

 Since Ann's death in 2004, Frank has continued his art as the patriarch of Florida folk music and is still a prolific songwriter: his catalogue numbers more than 500 songs -- all about Florida! A portion of them can be found on his nine albums, including Cracker Nights, Florida Stories, Bingo, Spanish Gold, and Just another Day in the Life of a Florida Cracker. For many years, Frank has hosted the River Gazebo stage at the Florida Folk Festival, where he personally welcomes and presents the state's best singer/ songwriters, reviews their work, gives out songwriting assignments and lots of praise.

 While his accomplishments are certainly legendary, humble Frank Thomas will describe himself in one of his favorite cracker phrases: "I ain't nothin' extry."

 Ben Prestage 

 Festival audiences better hold onto their seats and prepare to enjoy a mesmerizing and stunning performance when the award winning, multi-talented one-man-band maestro, Ben Prestage, takes the stage. 

 Born the grandson of a Mississippi sharecropper, Ben Prestage has been soaked in Blues tradition and Mississippi culture since birth. Growing up in the swamps of south central Florida, Prestage began to mix Mississippi Country Blues with his own brand of Florida Swamp Blues. This muddy- water- meets- black- water stew has led him to perform from California to the Carolinas to the Florida Keys, in large festivals, every kind of bar, and sometimes on downtown sidewalks.  

 Prestage spent some time as a street performer on historic Beale Street, while living in Memphis, TN. He used to share a spot in front of the New Daisy Theatre with modern blues legends Robert Belfour (Fat Possum Records) and Richard Johnston (2001 International Blues Competition winner). He has won numerous awards including "The Most Unique Performer" and he is the only two-time recipient of the Lyon/Pitchford Award for "Best Diddley-Bow Player." Ben is also a 2012 nominee for both the Independent Music Awards and the Blues Music Awards.

  Being a street musician in the "Blues capital of the South" threw Prestage's music in a new direction.  His innovative approach to instrumentation, songwriting, and singing, all painted on a traditional historic background produces a vivid picture of the next generation of Blues and Americana music.

  To his show, he added a cigar box guitar (made by Memphian and one-man-band John Lowe), which has stereo guitar, and bass strings that can be played independently or at the same time. Then Ben added a series of four-foot pedals that can be manipulated by the heels and toes of both feet to play a drum kit. The final result is Ben playing guitar, bass, and drums while singing his own brand of Blues that leaves bottles empty and dance floors full where ever his music takes him.  

 Mark Johnson and Emory Lester

 When two super players collide with impressive passion great duos are born, specifically Mark Johnson and Emory Lester. The result is cool bluegrass with overtones of traditional folk, progressive acoustic, new-grass and old-timey all mixed into one.

 Mark Johnson hangs his hat in Florida but learned his trade from Jay Unger while living in New York. It was in the early 1970s, that Mark learned from this consummate fiddler the basic technique of claw hammer banjo. He also learned the three-finger style of bluegrass picking as his familiarity with the instrument unfolded.  Mark moved to Crystal River in Florida in 1981 where he met the Rice brothers, Larry, Tony, Ronnie and Wyatt. Through that relationship, his manner for style and creativity was forever changed. Calling his new creation Clawgrass, Marks blends the folk and old time traditions with his energetic melodies to create something entirely his own.

  Emory Lester is one of today’s foremost experts on the acoustic mandolin. The power and attack of his mandolin playing are unmatched, and his sound is infectious.

 A life-long Virginia native, but currently residing in Ontario Canada, Emory has been teaching master series workshops at events such as the Steve Kaufman Acoustic Kamp, the Mandolin Symposium, the Swannanoah Gathering, the Goderich Celtic College, and many other prestigious schools and workshops far and wide. His multi-instrumental abilities and sharp playing has earned him the reputation of a master, one he well deserves.

  Mark and Emory have toured all across the U.S., released four albums, and have been featured on several performances with Steve Martin, most notably on the ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ television show in September of 2012, where Mark received the third annual Steve Martin Award for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. They were nominated for Instrumental Recording of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2007, featured in Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Now, and on Nashville Public radio.

  Michael Jordan

  These days it’s hard to do something new with just an acoustic guitar, but that’s what Michael Jordan is all about. Placing the instrument flat wise across his lap, he combines alternate tunings with tapping techniques and percussion on the body of the guitar creating sounds that defy the formal approach of playing the acoustic. His use of haunting harmonics and his unique voice coupled with reflective heady lyrics build a wall of sound like no other, at times giving the aura of a full band.     His songs span from blissfully beautiful to maniacal rants to catchy hooks; and whether lap style or formal positioned, all are cerebral and leave one pondering the old adage to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

  Jordan has always been attracted to the water; Saint Augustine Fl., his current headquarters for the past three years, is very reminiscent of his childhood home. Michael received his first guitar on his twelfth birthday in Ophelia, Virginia, where he was raised on the Chesapeake Bay, fishing and reading and tromping through the woods. These early years were very influential to the organic nature that was to become a crucial element in his music. When asked of his influences Michael says: “Early on I loved Kirk Hammett then Stevie Ray Vaughn,” (whom he keeps a picture of in his guitar to this day), “then Jimi, however I believe influences are everywhere, in the drip of the faucet or wail of the train in the distance. These natural soundscapes are what surrounded me and moved me when I was young and continue to be my largest source of inspiration.”

 So grab a seat festival goers and prepare to be awed by technique so unique you’ll be left pondering the true creativity Jordan wishes to share with the world.

  Jeanie Fitchen

 Florida Folk Heritage Award Winner Jeanie Fitchen has been a mainstay at the Florida Folk Festival since she was a very young girl. Longtime festival-goers will always remember the high sweet voice and long brown hair of the slender young child from Merritt Island in the 1960s.

  Fitchen’s large catalogue of Florida music includes strong interpretations of songs written by the very icons of the Florida folk genre – artists like Will McLean, Don Grooms, Jim Ballew and Chief Jim Billie. In addition to her popular musical shows, Fitchen enjoys public school appearances, where she presents programs about Florida Folk music, culture and history. Her songs tell wide-eyed children about manatees, alligators, apple snails and mosquitoes while other songs tell stories about Ponce De Leon, pirates, Seminole Indians and Acre Foot Johnson, Florida’s earliest mailman.

  When asked why people should care about folk music, Fitchen says, “I think it allows people to reflect, and sometimes it compels people to make changes in their life or world around them.  There will never be another form of music like this.” And there will never be another Jeanie Fitchen, a truly unique performer devoted to Florida Folk music steeped in the tradition of past folk icons and Florida’s diverse cultural history.

 Sam Pacetti

 St. Augustine’s Sam Pacetti astonishes devoted fans and newcomers alike with his dazzling command of the steel string guitar. Pacetti learned flamenco style guitar at the knee of his Cuban grandfather, pursued classical guitar studies in his early teens, and became the protégé of Florida’s song and storytelling Travis-style guitar master Gamble Rogers.

  Pacetti's first CD, Solitary Travel, was released nearly ten years ago, when he was 22. It got airplay on National Public Radio and Pacetti was voted “Best New Artist” at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. In 2006, Pacetti recorded, Union with long-time friend and guitar virtuoso Gabriel Valla. This recording reflects a journey, through loss and rapture and love too fragile to survive, all passionately embraced. Somewhere along the line, Pacetti became an extraordinary interpreter of other writers' material. Needless to say, Union is beautiful, and musical partner Valla presents guitar parts that are more in support of the songs than as a showpiece of their prodigious instrumental skills.

 Pacetti's playing stands out for its spiritual depth and emotional intensity. Festival audiences are sure to be mesmerized and entranced by the fluid melodic styles given with ease and grace from a true master of the guitar. Be prepared for a splendid awe inspiring musical journey!

 

Belle and The Band

  Born in the red clay hills of Tallahassee, Belle and The Band offers a sweet, new acoustic sound, mixed with Bluegrass, Folk, Blues, and Jazz.  The current installment of Belle and The Band presents Kathryn Belle Long on guitar and lead vocals. Also featured in The Band are some of Tallahassee’s most recognized acoustic musicians: local acoustic bass icon Mike Snelling, flatpicking guitar master Kevin Robertson, and Florida mandolin maestro Mickey Abraham.  With such an experienced and talented line-up, this group will please both vocally and instrumentally. Their hip acoustic vibe is insightful, calming, and easy to digest.            

  SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE

 Jim Stafford Saturday and Sunday afternoons

Winter Haven native; Jim Stafford is a comedian, singer, songwriter, and entertainer extraordinaire. He wrote and recorded his first chart making song, “The Swamp Witch”, produced by his boyhood friend Kent LaVoie a.k.a Lobo in 1974. He followed with a gold single, “Spiders and Snakes”, which stayed on the American pop charts for 26 weeks. The hits just kept coming and included “My Girl Bill”, “Wildwood Weed”, and the wonderfully satirical “Cow Patti”, written for the Clint Eastwood movie, Any Which Way You Can, in which Jim appeared.

 For over 20 years the Jim Stafford show is always named a favorite by audiences and critics alike. The singer, songwriter, comic genius, and entertainer extraordinaire is self-taught on guitar, fiddle, piano, banjo, organ, harmonica and the human brain--he might bring any of them into play at any moment. 417 Magazine, the Springfield News Leader and the Branson Entertainment Awards have voted Jim Best Entertainer, Best Personality and Best Comedy Show. Mayflower Tours has named Jim’s Show as one of their top ten suppliers in North America. Jim wrote many of the songs for which he is famous and has brought his inimitable style to several movie soundtracks. He received a gold record for his work in the Disney movie The Fox and The Hound and writes for many other popular artists.

Jim launched his television career with The Jim Stafford Show on ABC in 1975. His numerous television appearances included music specials, variety shows, and talk shows. He co-hosted the popular prime-time show Those Amazing Animals with Burgess Meredith and Pricilla Presley. Jim also hosted 56 episodes of Nashville on the Road and made 26 appearances on the Tonight Show. In 1987 & 1988, Jim was a regular performer and head write/producer for the Emmy-nominated Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Jim’s first love has always been live performance. During his show Jim combines hysterical comedy with masterful performances on the classical guitar as well as with heart-warming stories of the human spirit. Critically acclaimed as the “Victor Borge of the Guitar”, Jim creates hilarious antics from everyday life taking laughter to a new art form.  He’ll share his secrets for creating stage presence.