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Celebrating Florida past

Immerse yourself in pioneer life at the Pinellas Folk Festival, which this year pays tribute to the originators of Cracker music with 14 bluegrass, gospel, folk and country acts.

By EILEEN SCHULTE
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2002


LARGO -- With no cars, indoor bathrooms or air conditioning, late 19th century homestead life was tough for Pinellas County's pioneers. But it wasn't all bad. Consider what they did have: homemade strawberry jam, horses, sheep and fiddles. They got together on the porch and jammed unplugged with their dulcimers. They danced.

And they knew how to cane a chair. How many people can claim that skill nowadays?

You can immerse yourself in the ways of pioneer life at the Pinellas Folk Festival on Saturday and see a re-creation of an old Florida-style party on the grounds of Heritage Village's 21-acre "living museum," containing some of Pinellas County's most historically important buildings, including the Old Schoolhouse and the Lowe Barn.

And, of course, there are the homes where the pioneers actually lived and thrived on authentic folk music.

The ninth annual Pinellas Folk Festival will pay homage to the originators of Cracker music with 14 bluegrass, gospel, folk and country acts.

Lee Paulet, husband of St. Petersburg Times staff writer Betsy Bolger-Paulet and music coordinator for the festival, said people who play folk music "are almost like a subculture," and they love to play old music for new fans.

"This festival is to celebrate our home state, its lands, its history, its legends, and it does that brilliantly," said Paulet.

He said several "icons of the Florida folk venue" will be playing, such as Frank and Anne Thomas of Lake Wales.

But most of the talent is more or less homegrown, including the Bluegrass Review, Charley Groth, Now and Then, Vgo Terry and Banjoes Unlimited, Neoka, Bobbie Hicks, Jim Kauffman, Simple Gifts and the Earthlings.

They know "old-timey music," Paulet said.

"I try to focus on local talent. People don't have to go beyond the county line to hear top-notch music. Vgo Terry can play a tune on the banjo, give you the song's history and play it in French," said Paulet. "The man can play something like 130 instruments and has perfect pitch."

He said the music and other country activities are designed "to uplift and celebrate our cultural diversity.

"We try to keep it like a traditional festival," said Paulet. "We have rug hookers, fiddle players, dulcimers and a traditional jam circle. At the last one, something like 100 people joined the jam circle."

So bring your guitar if you have one. But this will be Florida circa 1880, so leave your amp at home.

PREVIEW

The Pinellas County Historical Society's ninth annual Pinellas Folk Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Heritage Village, 11909 125th St. N, Largo. Admission is free, but a $1 donation is suggested. Free off-site parking at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art/Florida Botanical Gardens lot, or take a free shuttle bus from the Indian Rocks Youth Center at Walsingham Road and Ulmerton Road. Call (727) 582-2123.

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