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 2011, 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 thrilled to announce the following featured artists and guest performers for the 62nd Annual Florida Folk Festival:
JJ Grey & Mofro - Saturday evening
Over the course of six albums and a decade of touring, JJ Grey's grimy blend of front porch soul and down-home storytelling has taken him around the world and back again. Beating the streets on nearly every continent, he and his band Mofro have sewn a continuous thread of laying-it-on-the-line shows that move folks to dance and at times, to tears. His music has been described as ‘Impassioned singing, riff-based Southern rock, cold-blooded swamp funk and sly Memphis soul’ by The New York Times.
From his early days playing cover music behind chicken wire at a Westside (Jacksonville) juke joint to playing sold-out shows and some of the largest music festivals in the world, it’s been a long road. But JJ has no illusions about where he’s headed or where he’s been. When prompted with questions about his past accomplishments or future plans, JJ lays down a little backwoods wisdom:
“I’m just a salmon swimming upstream. Going back home I reckon. I don’t know why and I quit caring why a long time ago. I guess there is no ‘why’ that my mind could understand anyway. All I do know is that I’ve enjoyed and I’m still enjoying every second of just being here and doing whatever it is I’m doing.”
JJ Grey is deeply connected to the swamps and forests of northern Florida. He grew up with the nickname Buckshot on his family’s 20- acre farm in Whitehouse, a rural community west of Jacksonville. He spent his childhood hunting with his grandfather and running wild in the woods that surround his family’s land. He acquired a love for music in the local juke joints and on his neighbors’ front porches.
Many of Grey’s songs reflect his love for the North Florida wilderness in which he grew up. Having watched his native home become decimated by egregious development, the plight of his natural heritage has often figured heavily into his lyrics. He now works with groups such as The Snook & Gamefish Foundation, and the St. Johns Riverkeepers, but still doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist.
JJ's band Mofro has also been a decade in the making. Over that time, great players have come and gone, but according to JJ, the present incarnation -- with Art Edmaiston on saxophone, Dennis Marion on Trumpet, Anthony Farrell on organ and piano, Todd Smallie on Bass, Anthony Cole on drums and Andrew Trube on guitar – is “the crème de la crème"
JJ Grey made his recording debut in 2001 with Blackwater, following up in 2004 with Lochloosa. In 2007 Grey released his Alligator debut, Country Ghetto, followed by 2008’s Orange Blossoms. With the release of 2010’s Georgia Warhorse, Grey stepped further into the mainstream view with the AAA radio breakout single ‘The Sweetest Thing’. Over the course of his career, Grey has shared stages with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, B.B. King, The Allman Brothers Band, The Black Crowes, Los Lobos, Jeff Beck, Ben Harper, Booker T. Jones, Mavis Staples and many others. JJ’s songs have appeared in film and network television including House, Flashpoint, Crash, Friday Night Lights, The Glades, The Deadliest Catch and the film The Hoot.
Frank Thomas - Sunday evening
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 - Friday evening
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 – Saturday evening
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.
Willie Green - Saturday evening
Legendary bluesman Willie Green will entertain Festival fans with his melodic howling harmonica, his twangy rhythmic guitar and soulful blues driven vocals. Born in Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1930s, Green worked for many years with a rural sharecropper family. In his early teens he would hitch a ride or hop a freight train into town and learn the blues from the old blues masters in the juke joints. Self taught on harmonica and guitar, Green delivers an enticing and authentic performance for his audience.
Green has opened shows for John Hammond, Jr. (who calls him "the real deal"), Tommy Castro, Charlie Musselwhite, Maria Muldaur, John Lee Hooker, James Cotten, Eddie Kirkland, Joey Gillmore, JJ Grey (MOFRO) and many others including an outdoor opener at Veterans Coliseum for Eric Clapton. Green resides in Ocala where he can be heard regularly at the Yearling Restaurant in historic Cross Creek.
Albert Castiglia - Friday evening
When festival goers hear the funky sounds of Albert Castiglia’s soul-driven guitar they’re swept away by the rhythm and voice that he gives the old classics, freshly blended with his own work. Everyone jumps up and jives wherever they can to this modern mix of masters that he effortlessly breathes new life into.
Guitarist, singer and songwriter Albert Castiglia [pronounced ka-steel-ya] was born Aug. 12, 1969 in New York, the son of a Cuban mother and an Italian father. Castiglia's parents moved to Miami when he was five, and he began taking guitar lessons as a 12-year-old. As a teenager, he realized that the best form of expression was through music, specifically blues.
His parents were traditional hard workers who valued a steady job, and they impressed the working man’s mentality on Albert, who really just wanted to play the melodies that rested in his soul. Growing up in Southern Florida he got a taste of the local musical life that our region is so well known for, and it kept the passion for playing at the forefront of his dreams. However, he decided to keep the peace in the family and Castiglia completed his bachelor’s degree, becoming a social services investigator for the state of Florida for four years. He continued to fine-tune his guitar playing, songwriting and singing chops at nights and on weekends in the Miami area.
He made his professional debut in 1990 when he joined the Miami Blues Authority. He was named ‘Best Blues Guitarist' in Miami in 1997 by New Times magazine, a local alternative paper. His first big break came about when legendary harmonica player Junior Wells heard him sing and play and immediately hired him for his touring band. Castiglia accompanied Wells on several world tours. After Wells passed away in 1998, Castiglia, then living in Chicago, found work with Atlanta-based blues belter Sandra Hall, accompanying her on regional and national tours through the late 1990's. Aside from Hall and Wells, Castiglia has shared stages and jammed with Aron Burton, Pinetop Perkins, Melvin Taylor, Sugar Blue, Phil Guy, Ronnie Earl, Billy Boy Arnold, Ronnie Baker Brooks, John Primer, Lurrie Bell, Jerry Portnoy, Larry McCray, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater and Otis Clay, among others.
After years learning with the greats in the Chicago music scene, Castiglia returned to Florida to bring his brand of blues home and make a name for himself. He released his debut, Burn, in 2002, collaborating on the album with his friend Graham Wood Drout. He followed up with his 2006 release for New Jersey-based Blues Leaf Records, A Stone's Throw. He has since produced three more albums and blown critics away with his rich melding of North and South, blues and rock.
Albert shows promise as a major driving force behind a new reckoning of blues-rock, with his feisty guitar and well-written songs. You’re sure to enjoy every note that reaches your ears as he tells the story of the regular man in the best way possible- from the soul.
Michael Jordan - Saturday evening
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 – Sunday evening
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 - Sunday evening
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!
Laney Jones - Friday evening
Laney Jones’s songwriting is as quirky and charming as her upbringing in rural Florida. Raised on an exotic animal farm surrounded by an alligator-infested lake, she artfully spins tall tales of love, life, and adventures from down in the swamplands. From a young age Laney enjoyed performing, honing her effortlessly welcoming stage presence through years of dramatic and musical theater.
Her talents on the banjo have been augmented through studying with prominent clawhammer and old-time technicians Mark Johnson and Bruce Molsky. Laney also incorporates multi-instrumental prowess on ukulele and harmonica in her live shows and recordings. Through Berklee, she has been given tremendous opportunities to expand her musical horizons. In November, Laney was sent to represent Berklee at the prestigious Kennedy Center where she performed in a Country vocal master session lead by the legendary Alison Krauss.
Gypsy Star - Friday evening
A medley of musicians from the Tampa Bay area, Gypsy Star came together around the compositions of guitarist Billy Keen. While playing for multiple bands touring the globe, Keen became interested in the music of other countries and cultures. With these new influences he began writing, fusing them with his American music roots of folk, rock and jazz to create a new sound. Then he began the search for musicians who eventually became Gypsy Star.
Weaving a colorful musical tapestry with acoustic instruments such as classical flamenco guitar, violin, flute, woodwinds and an array of hand percussion and drums, their vocal and instrumental tunes take you from the shores of North America, South America and the Caribbean to Ireland, Spain, the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East.
Their live performance is a cultural feast for the eyes and ears as their uplifting musical poetry is set in motion by flamenco and folkloric dance!
Belle and The Band - Saturday evening
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
Billy Dean - Saturday afternoon
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.
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