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    Festival lures with folks' lore

    The Pinellas Folk Festival brings to life the crafts, animals, storytelling and, of course, music that were the life of early Floridians.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002


    LARGO -- Way back when, parents didn't just go out and buy clothes for their offspring at a store, Ellen Babb likes to explain to children.

    There were several steps involved, and none of it was easy.

    First of all, a sheep had to be rounded up. Then it had to be held down and shorn. Then its wool had to be woven into cloth. Then the cloth was stitched into a shirt or a shawl.

    "It was a very lengthy process," said Babb, curator of education at Heritage Village.

    A garmentmaking exhibit called "sheep to shawl" is one of the most popular demonstrations at the Pinellas Folk Festival held every year at Heritage Village. The display "gives kids a sense of the past," Babb said.

    This is where old Florida is recreated. Stories are told about the way the Cracker pioneers lived and worked.

    And folk music is sung all day long.

    You can immerse yourself in the ways of pioneer life at the Pinellas Folk Festival Saturday and see a recreation 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.

    There is 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 more than a dozen bluegrass, gospel, folk and country acts.

    Lee Paulet, 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, husband of St. Petersburg Times staff writer Betsy-Bolger 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 home-grown, including The Bluegrass Review, Charley Groth, Now and Then, Vgo Terry and Banjoes Unlimited, Neoka, Bobbie Hicks, Jim Kauffman and Simple Gifts.

    They know "old timey music," Paulet said.

    So does K.C. Jones, a guitarist and singer. He and his wife, Ann Richards, who plays a washboard the couple bought 10 years ago at an Ace Hardware store, makes up The Earthlings duo.

    "For me, folk music means world music," Jones said. "It's authentic. It can be more simply portrayed" than other types of music.

    The Earthlings will perform songs like Pop Goes the Weasel and Listen to the Mockingbird in the Old Log House.

    Paulet said he wanted Pinellas County talent to prove a point.

    "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," he said. "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 1900, so leave your amp at home.

    At a glance

    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. The event features old-time music, rug-hooking, quilting, spinning and chair caning demonstrations, antique cars, "sheep to shawl" activities, a petting zoo, puppets, storytelling and Florida foods. Admission is free, but a $1 donation is suggested. There will be free off-site parking at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art/Florida Botanical Gardens lot, or you can take a free shuttle bus from a lot at the Indian Rocks Youth Center at Walsingham Road and Ulmerton Road. Call (727) 582-2123.

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