When politics invades folk music, some of us just tune out

Published March 6, 2005

"If you get confused," wrote Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter in Franklin's Tower, "just listen to the music play."

That's how I feel when politics intrudes on my favorite hobby, Florida folk music.

Because a lot of folk music is political, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that the folks who make music and organize its presentation sometimes get into internal flaps. People are political animals. Get three people in a room, and two of them will form a faction.

The disease premeates everything from offices and neighborhoods to sports and day-to-day life.

I sometimes find myself making social plans taking into account that, despite the fact that some of the causes are in the past, black friends won't go to Denny's, feminists won't go to Hooters, gays won't go to Cracker Barrel, some vegetarians won't go where meat is served, Muslims and Jews don't eat pork, and one of my crazy cousins is mad at KFC and won't say why.

After 37 years of writing about politics, I decided to avoid it as much as possible in my retirement, and I do not want to get into the current argument over the process deciding who does and doesn't get to play at this year's Florida Folk Festival on Memorial Day weekend, other than to say two things.

One, the new process uses, after a controversial auditioning process, a lottery. Lotteries are great for poor people who want to buy a piece of a dream for a buck, and a pretty good way to decide who's going to eat next when stranded in a lifeboat, but I don't know how well they work in matters of art.

Two, a policy limiting a person's ability to appear with more than one group seems silly. I know one expert musician who is an integral member of at least five groups that I know of, all of whom are now at risk.

And, finally, if you want to see and hear the acts that you might have expected at the state festival at White Springs, you will be able to catch many of them at the Will McLean Music Festival on March 12-13 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City.

Named for a late patriarch of the Florida folk music movement, the festival has grown over the past 15 years or so, but maintains its small, homey atmosphere and provides hours of wholesome entertainment at a reasonable price.

And, before somebody in the political arena begins howling, let me make my affiliation with the festival clear. I have appeared there since 1991 or so as one of several masters of ceremonies. Emcees at the festival are paid, but my check is routinely endorsed over to one charitable enterprise or another, usually the Adam Morris Outward Bound Foundation, in memory of a young man who was part of the folk family.

There's nothing in it for me but the fun of attending. I'm not saying to avoid one festival or the other, or that one is better than the other. I am saying that, for me, the Will McLean festival offers more of what I seek, in an environment that I find meets my needs.

If you absolutely must have politics, you can even find it there, as plans for a protest song workshop are opposed by a couple of the entertainers.

One way or another, for a $20 advance weekend ticket you will get two full days of music, access to some great food, arts and crafts booths, and music from the likes of Southwind, Amy Carol Webb, Clyde Walker, Bobby Hicks, Dennis Devine, Val C. Wisecracker, the New Sand Mountain Wildcats, Mary Ann DiNella, Boomslang and Jeannie Fitchen.

Camping is available, including RV hookups, but the place fills up in a hurry. For information about advance tickets, camping and other matters, you can call 352 465-7208, or check out the Web site, www.willmclean.com If you don't see me there, call a cop because someone somewhere is holding me at gunpoint.