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OFF/BEAT
By Jan Glidewell - St. Pete Times

Folk Festival has its starts and stops
 

It was almost the perfect way to start a White Springs folk festival.
The first notes I heard from the first stage where the haunting lyrics of Mark Smith, and I didn't have time to get up before Valerie C. Wisecracker followed him to the stage.
Yeah, yeah, I know I wrote about the folk festival last week, but this is the last column on the subject this year, I halfway promise, so humor me. I have a point to make here.
Smith is a poet who combines a superb voice with imagery that keeps other writers awake nights trying to think of how it could have been better. When he isn't working as an educational and training specialist for the Florida Park Service at Payne's Prairie, he is apparently spending a lot of time looking at the pristine beauty of that place and figuring out how to turn it into words and notes that will aspire the same sense of awe in listeners as the real thing.
And he does.

Wisecracker is the flip side of the equation. She will get dead in your face and sing what she thinks, and she doesn't care if you are the Lykes Brothers, Disney, a powerful politician or just the type of man who disregards the inner beauty of women some would call plain.
She, like me, is a third generation Miamian and is to be forgiven for being a little out there every once in a while. Look where we grew up.
I didn't get to hear her Plain Women Blues last week because it's  a song for adults and folkies are careful about family things. It's okay. I'll try again next year.
But her Dirty Little Rat That Et Orlando is a ditty you'll probably never hear played as part of the Electric Light Parade in the Magic Kingdom. If you do, trust me, the fireworks will start early that night.

I took it as an omen
back-to-back favorites right off the bat that it could only get better and visited the Gazebo Stage next to the Suwannee River to hear Frank and Ann Thomas, the Lake Wales couple whose songs are as basic to Florida folk as those of Don Grooms or the late Will McLean.
And that's where things, only for a minute, got ugly.
Frank, a gentle man whose pugnacious appearance hides a gigantic heart and a compulsive need to expose social or environmental injustice, made a five-minute disclaimer speech before performing his Cracker's Worst Nightmare, a humorous look at how some Northerners react to their new home state.
Thomas noted that some of the state's finest writers and historians come from outside Florida and that "99.9 percent" of the people who move here are as fine as you could hope for. His lyrics include jokes about Southerners and a lot of self-effacement that comes before having a little fun with people who see squirrels in their trees and complain about wildlife intruding on human habitat. (If you don't get the irony or that, stop reading now.)
Just like some North Carolinians make fun of the thousands of us that flock there every summer by calling us Floridiots and just like Oregonians who complain about what they call "Californication," Thomas was indulging in a little light-hearted xenophobic fun and an audience member got ugly.
He said Florida folk songs "bashed" newcomers, said uncomplimentary things about the state, its people and its schools and, just in general, acted like a guy who got up on the wrong side of his motor home.
Frank, who once worked in a Detroit auto factory, was speechless. Ann, not known for speechlessness, and who tells friends how she, as a child, was kidnapped by carpetbaggers and forced to live in New England for 11 years, dealt with the heckler.
I'm sorry I didn't get to see it.
Trust me. A war of words is not something you want to get into with Ann Thomas. I'm told literarily lacerated heckler, who had just personified the very stereotype he was decrying, was led from the scene by friends who apologized.
Later Frank would introduce Don Grooms, the patriarch of Florida folk music, and Thomas did it by singing his Tribute to Don Grooms, which points out, among other things, that Grooms is from out of state.
Grooms, a Cherokee Indian, is a North Carolinian by birth, but Thomas paid him back-to-back honors. After his song. Thomas gave up some of his own main stage time (the equivalent of donating an organ) to Smith, who sang another song about Grooms describing him as "the only spot in Dixie where the mountains meet the sand."
Like I said.
Poetry.
 


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