Monday, February 27, 2012

Dixieland Music Park Spring Festival, Waldo, FL - Review

U.S. 301 is a spur road for U.S. 1 running nearly 1100 miles from Glasgow, DE to Sarasota, FL, often sharing its number with other, more local highways.  With the advent of the major Interstate, limited access roads leading to Florida, it has become little used through much of its length. In north-central Florida it shoots straight through a rather charmless part of the state from Callahan to Ocala with little to capture a driver's imagination but the frequent speed changes designed to lull them into inattention before providing local police the opportunity to bust them for speeding, one of the only reliable sources of income in this region.  South of Starke, enlivened by the one of the largest state prisons, lies Waldo, a town with, apparently, no there there.  Dixieland RV Park lies on the southbound side across the street from the Waldo Flea Market and a newish Dollar General.  The Park, once quite run down and moribund, has been rescued and refurbished by local entrepreneur Greg Giffis and his wife Michelle, and regional bluegrass promoters Ernie and Debbie Evans hasve begun offering a re-imagined series of bluegrass festivals and other musical shows in the well-protected music shed dominating the property. Last weekend's show, the most successful since Ernie began producing shows here, brought together an enthusiastic crowd with a varied enough lineup to provide interest and a framework for enthusiastic participation by jammers and other bluegrass fans seeking an enjoyable bluegrass weekend. Now with full-hookups on most sites, Dixieland Music Park has become, once more, a solid place to spend a weekend of music or stop along your way.

Dixieland Music Park


 We arrived early on Monday afternoon to find some festival goers had already preceded us. Rigs kept rolling in each day, with the largest number appearing on Thursday afternoon and into Friday. Ernie, a long-time figure as both a promoter and performer, has kept in mind the need for bluegrass people to both hear and make music and provided an significant open mic period on Thursday evening as well as plenty of time all weekend for people to socialize at their rigs and jam in the field or the music shed.  The weather deteriorated on Saturday, but the covered and protected shed made continued enjoyment possible. In really chilly weather, very possible in north Florida in winter, the has plenty of heat to keep it warm.

Thursday - Open Mic

Members of the Stevens Family & Ernie Evans


 Country Karaoke Singer - Ray

Waiting for the Music to Begin

Generations Bluegrass
Taking its name from the Rogers family's four generation involvement in Florida bluegrass circles, the Generations Bluegrass Band offers a wide variety of familiar classic bluegrass covers well-loved by fans of traditional music who came to enjoy their show.

LeRon Rogers

 April Rogers

Katie Rogers

Bobby Martin

Ryan Clark

The Stevens Family

The Stevens Family, from West Virginia, performed on each day of the festival, including filling in many spots during Thursday's open mic, as well as providing sound for the event.  Best known as a gospel band, they have been broadening their repertoire and beginning to include original material.  Anchored by father J.W. on banjo on the banjo and the skilled and energetic Sissy on the other end playing bass, the band offers a range of music. Momma sings southern gospel with spirit and conviction.  Sons Luke and Ben on guitar and mandolin bring energy as well as comedy.  We missed their Sunday gospel set, which we understand featured wonderful four part gospel quartets.  The Stevens Family provided both music and enthusiasm as well as solid sound throughout the four day event.

J.W. Stevens
Ben Stevens

Luke Stevens
Sissy Stevens

The Stevens Family - Heart of a Coal Mining Man - Video

Ernie Evans

The Roys

The Roys are a brother-sister duo supported by a group of young pickers who've attracted a good deal of attention on Sirius/XM radio and sufficient sponsorship to provide them with a splashy tour bus, the sort of conveyance most struggling new bands can only dream of.  Their country/bluegrass fusion sound is pleasant, and much of their work is written by sister Elaine. "Trailblazer," her tribute to Dolly Parton, has received a lot of play.  They presented a single long set on Friday afternoon, stopping for the night on their way from Nashville, where they're based, to a performance in Miami. They spent plenty of time with their fines at their merch table and made a postive impact, both personally and musically, on the audience. 

 Lee Roy

Elaine Roy

Clint White
Sterling Masat

Zac Hardin

 Harry Clark

The Roys - Lonesome Whistle - Video

The Gary Waldrep Band

Gary Waldrep is a veteran entertainer who has developed and maintained a strong fan base throughout the southeast and deserves a wider national audience. His show combines a strong combination of traditional bluegrass music and fervant gospel bluegrass. His audiences frequently request his signature song "Thomas." He's well supported by a band consisting of long-time singer/guitarist Mindy Rakestraw, who has a strong, vibrant voice. Donna and Kenny Townsell, Waldrep's aunt and uncle have been with his band for several years, and newcomer Mickey Boles on mandolin contributed well in his first gig with the band.  Waldrep is a fine banjo player in both Scruggs style and the more traditional clawhammer style. He's entertaining and pleasant from the stage. 

Gary Waldrep

Mindy Rakestraw
Kenny Townsell

Donna Townsell

Mickey Boles

Gary Waldrep - Thomas - Video

Hwy 41 South

This increasingly popular SW Florida band has played at three of the four festivals we've attended in Florida this year. Leader Mark Horn on mandolin has drawn together a group of solid performers who enjoy the scene and communicate their love for traditional bluegrass standards. The audiences have responded with warmth and acceptance. They work hard and give good value.

Mark Horn
J.R. Davis
Dave Beaumont

Robert Feathers

Donnie Harvey

Ernie Evans & the Florida State Bluegrass Band

In addition to being a promoter as well as a local and online worldwide radio host with his wife Debbie, Ernie Evans is an accomplished performer who's toured with national bands and fronted several of his own bands over the years. The Florida State Bluegrass Band is the strongest of his groups we've heard, offering plenty of straight bluegrass along with some jazz and swing numbers, too.  
Ernie Evans

Deb Evans
 Isaac Taylor

 Mike Downey

 Nate Lee


Harvin Carter & W.a. Pate

Clint & Kalyn Wilson

The Wilson Family Band
 The Wilson Family Band is growing up. Clint and Kalyn are married and living in Valdosta where Clint will soon finish college and Kalyn begin. Katie is driving and has a boyfriend. Robert and Melissa, having done the majority of their work as strong and loving parents know when to let go.  The band is better than ever. Their singing has improved with the increasing maturity of the kids' voices. Robert still has one of the great unrecognized bluegrass voices. Their playing is tight and consistent.  When Kalyn joins them on stage, she adds a new and welcome flavor to the mix.  

Robert Wilson

Melissa Wilson

Clint Wilson

Katie Elizabeth Wilson

Kalyn Wilson

Bruce Sheriden

The Little Roy & Lizzy Show

Little Roy Lewis celebrated his seventieth birthday this weekend, on the road as he has been for over sixty years doing what he does best - entertain.  Along with protege and musical partner Lizzy Long, the new show is broader and more relaxed in many ways than his work has ever been.  He's still a whirlwind of energy and musicianship. The show features songs new to his repertoire and well-chosen to showcase Lizzy's many talents. They're supported by a strong, reliable band.  Catch them when you can.

 Little Roy Lewis

 Lizzy Long

 Lisa Hoyle
Al Hoyle

Nathan Stewart

Happy Birthday Little Roy!
 Photo by W.a. Pate

Photo by W.a. Pate


The weekend closed on Sunday with gospel performances from the Stevens Family and Jackie Hill & Blue Shades of Grass as the rain came and fans packed up, heading home to try to catch the race at Daytona, which was washed out. All told, it was a good weekend with many musical and personal highlights for those attending.