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As always, festival ends on a high note

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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2000

So I was standing there, sweat running down my face, starting to drink somewhere around the third gallon of water on a 90-degree-plus day on the anniversary of a personal tragedy and wondering whether maybe it wasn't going to happen.

I've spent most of the past eight Memorial Day weekends at the Florida Folk Festival, where, one way or another, something always has managed to grab me.

I was beginning to think Amy Carol Webb and Shana Smith -- or somebody like them -- were never going to show up.

One year it was hearing Bonnie Whitehurst sing a song that brought new issues, among them same-sex relationships, to the forum of folk music, which sometimes looks too often to the past and not hard enough at the present.

Another year it was watching Seminole Tribal Chairman Jim Billie's foot tap as he watched Bo Diddley perform on stage and realizing I was watching an icon of one culture regard and respect an icon of another culture.

Even the years I didn't go -- 1997, when my wife died, and 1998, when I underwent surgery to restore blood flow to my brain (I had lost so much that Newt Gingrich was starting to make sense) -- I was there in spirit and eagerly awaited recountings of what I had missed.

And, miracles or not, it's never a disaster. There are the old, reliable acts like Southwind and the New Sand Mountain Wildcats and Myriad and Mindy Simmons and Steve Blackwell, Mark Smith and Bob Patterson that have been bringing pleasure for years and who still are cool wells to which you can go for a long, musical drink on a hot day.

Or there are acts like the Clearwater Connection, which has been around for a while and which you somehow have missed and now wish you had found sooner.

But things began looking up when Lee Hunter, who, with his wife, Arvid Smith, performs as Tammerlin, a Jacksonville duo, asked me a question I had been waiting 30 years to answer.

I heard Arvid explaining why she had renamed a song with a difficult-to-pronounce title and Lee, while tuning, recalled that the longest registered song title was written by Hoagy Carmichael and had the word "Honolulu" in it.

I had seen that item in a trivia book 30 years earlier and memorized it in hopes (and perhaps prescient recognition) that I would someday have the chance to say: I'm a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama With My Honolulu Mama Singing Those Neat-o, Beat-o, Flat On My Seat-o, Wishin' I Was Back Home Again Blues. Hunter and the audience were suitably impressed, and I now can forget that totally useless piece of information, or at least will be able to after July 9 when I go see them again at the Sunday Sampler in Dunnellon.

But the back-to-back whammy came with Amy Carol Webb, a Miami songwriter whose work is being compared to Carole King and Janis Ian by Billboard magazine.

Folk maven Margaret Longhill had "ordered" me to be present for Webb's performance ... the kind of order I never disobey, because historically, and again this time, it pays off.

Webb alternatively had the audience energized with I Come From Women, tearing up with Daddy Don't Let Go and laughing uproariously with a ditty about augmentive surgery titled They're Mine. And the second punch of the knockout combination came with St. Petersburg singer-songwriter Shana Smith wringing gutsier blues than you would have thought possible from a body that tiny.

Smith, who also does a show for children in the persona of Shana Banana, is popular on the Tampa Bay area musical circuit and performed at the White House the Monday after Easter.

The good news is that Webb will be performing in our neck of the woods at 8 p.m. June 10 at the Studio Art playhouse in Crystal River.

This time, Longhill won't have to order me to be there.

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