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In spring, a folkie's fancy turns to a festival

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 12, 2002

Idon't care what the astronomers and meteorologists say -- spring has sprung.

I feel it in my muscles and joints the way some people with arthritis feel the onset of cold or wet weather, although for different reasons.

The only illness involved in my case is my incurable addiction to folk music and to the company of the people who make it.

And the soreness comes from trudging, an uncountable number of times, up and down a wooded hillside along paths and over bridges at the Sertoma Youth Ranch campground near Dade City as I travel from stage to stage with occasional stops at my van and the cooler full of beverages it holds and restrooms and food booths.

It is not at all impossible to cover 5 or 6 miles in a day of attendance at the annual Will McLean Music Festival, and if you aren't in shape, you feel it after two days of roaming the campground.

For me, the moment of truth came at about midnight Saturday as I began to crawl into what the van conversion people call a "bed" in the back of my minivan. I should actually cherish the thing. Sleeping in it is one of the few things in life for which I am too tall.

And, I discovered the first time I camped in the van, the folks who designed it thought you would leave the doors open all night so that the dome light could attract some really interesting bugs. I came to that assumption because there is no inside door handle, although you can pop one of the rear windows and, if you have long arms (not likely with the short stature of anyone who would fit on the bed), you can pop the outside handle.

All of this is particularly inviting if you are in a hurry to get to the (relatively) nearby bathroom, can find somebody who will take mercy on the aged and let you jump in line and can find both your pants and your shoes in the dark.

I had made it through Friday night -- well -- from 3 a.m. until 6 a.m. Friday (Campfire song circles can interfere with the ticking of all but the most insistent of internal clocks.) And as bedtime Saturday approached, I had a sudden aging folkie's epiphany.

It came to me in sort of a flash of blinding light.

I hate camping.

I can enjoy a beautiful outdoors Florida day, correctly accented and spiced with the aroma of wood smoke and the sound of a well-plucked mandolin. I can enjoy the camaraderie of sitting around a fire with old friends and hearing old songs repeated and new ones tried out for the first time.

But people were made to sleep in buildings. Anthropologists will tell you that our index fingers are designed specifically for thermostat manipulation, that our skin is too delicate for anything rougher than Percale and that box springs and the availability of unoccupied toilets are as necessary to the successful homeostasis of the aging American male as water is to fish or soft money is to politicians.

The big appeal of camping for me is that I can drink as much beer as I wish during the night and not have to worry about driving, but a hasty mental review as I posed with one knee on the bumper revealed that during the day there had been only one instant, several hours earlier, when I had decided I wanted a beer badly enough to walk a half-mile for it.

So I did the woodsy, folkie, macho thing and climbed, instead, into the front seat of my van and drove the 3 miles to my house, and was back the next morning before breakfast, fooling everyone except festival organizer Margaret Longhill into believing I had camped. Margaret knows I never look that happy in the morning after having slept in my van.

But if I had been forced to sleep rough, it would have been worth it to see Bobby Hicks' welcomed return to the festival (he was snowed in in another state last year) and to see Amy Carol Webb and Mindy Simmons wring standing ovations out of a discerning and observant Saturday night audience and Valerie C. Wisecracker eliciting Sunday chuckles from a tired crowd with a ditty implying that Osama bin Laden's evil nature might stem from certain anatomical shortcomings.

Webb's big grabber was about the strength of women. Hicks' was about condominiums, and Simmons sang about peace.

Florida folk isn't always about trees and manatees.

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