Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs
WHITE SPRINGS — The Florida Folk Festival began with the music: It was 1953, and Pete Seeger and the Weavers had a big hit with Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” Folk music was exploding with acoustic guitar, coffee houses, banjos, beatniks and sing-alongs.
Now some 70 years later, the Florida Folk Festival is still held every Memorial Day weekend, and you’re sure to hear plenty of folk music. But the event has broadened to celebrate Florida’s land, people and diverse cultural heritage.
The Florida Folk Festival is held annually on Memorial Day weekend on the banks of the historic Suwannee River at Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park in White Springs, and it is ranked among the top 20 festivals in the southeast.
In addition to a full schedule of performances, you’ll find plenty to amuse and educate.
The festival focuses on traditional crafts — everything from split rail fences to henna tattoos.
And the food is not the same-as-everywhere festival food. Look for blue crab burritos, Jamaican patties, shrimp gumbo or Beulah Baptist Church’s chicken and dumplings dinner.
The mission of the Florida Folk Festival is to keep cultural traditions alive, so it emphasizes demonstrations and workshops. Visitors can learn how to square dance, make a pine needle basket or try out playing a mandolin.
There will be more than 300 performances by Florida’s greatest folk and roots artists, as well as folk, blues, gospel, country, Latin, jazz, bluegrass, Caribbean and zydeco music.
The schedule of performers is an eclectic mix of familiar names and new discoveries. Here are the 2022 headliners (to be updated when 2023 information is available.)
(Information will be updated for 2023 when available)
Bertie Higgins, the great-great-grandson of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet who penned “Faust,” is a storyteller musician.
John McEuen and the String Wizards present: Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Multi-instrumentalist John McEuen is one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Ben Prestage has created his own signature sound, Deep South swamp music, by melding juke joint blues, Delta blues and Piedmont blues with finger-style guitar and steel-guitar work.
The Peyton Brothers have been performing their bluegrass and folk music for over 40 years and made their first Florida Folk Festival appearance in 1977.
Florida’s Troubadours are accomplished singer-songwriters, guitarists and storytellers who share their love of Florida through original songs.
The Lee Boys are one of America’s finest sacred steel ensembles. This family group consists of three brothers along with their three nephews. Each member began making music at the ages of 7 and 8 in the House of God church they attended in Perrine, Florida.
The Firewater Tent Revival
Described as a “whiskey snortin’, happy-go-lucky, good-time band,” the Firewater Tent Revival is a psychedelic bluegrass band from Jacksonville that will make you want to dance.
Papaloko & Loray Mistik
Loray Mistik – or “Mystic Thunder” – emanates from the hills and villages of the ancient land of Haiti.
Veronika Jackson sings in a gospel way, with a rich voice that makes you stop to listen. She carries on African American musical traditions that go back to the spirituals, gospel, blues and soul.
Billy Dean, a native of Quincy, Florida, is known by his peers as the “James Taylor of country music.” By the age of 10, he was playing in his dad’s country band.
Jeanie Fitchen made her first appearance at the Florida Folk Festival in 1966. Since then, she has earned accolades and awards for her performances, songwriting and recordings. Her work focuses not only upon the culture, history and environment of Florida, but also the basic human dignity of all people.
Bing Futch uses Appalachian mountain dulcimer, Native American flute, ukulele and a board full of stomp-boxes to celebrate traditional and modern Americana music with passion, humor and energy.
Del Suggs is one of Florida’s most widely recognized national artists. A singer/songwriter and guitarist, Del coined the term “Saltwater Music” to describe his beachy, laid-back sound. He’s now heralded as a pioneer of the “Trop Rock.”
Planning your visit
At the gate, tickets are $30 per day for adults; $60 for the three-day weekend. Children 6 to 16 are only $5 for the weekend. You can purchase tickets online in advance for $25 per day for adults and $50 for the three-day weekend. Kids tickets are $5 in advance.
Nearby lodging for the Florida Folk Festival
Though the festival is held in one of Florida’s most remote regions, the area is blessed with accommodations that serve travelers on the nearby crossroads of I-10 and I-75.
There are literally dozens of roadside motels in nearby Lake City, just 18 miles away, and the area is peppered with campgrounds.
For a comprehensive list of local public and private campgrounds (27), cabins and motels (53) in Suwanee County, nearby Columbia County (Lake City) and Hamilton County (White Springs and Jasper), visit SuwanneeValley.org.
Book a room
While it’s unlikely you’ll find an available campsite at the host Stephen Foster State Park (you have to book them 11 months in advance), there are plenty more campgrounds, both public and private, within an hour’s drive. Check availability on Hotels.com.
Ocean Pond Campground/Osceola National Forest. Sixty-seven campsites for tents, trailers, or RVs. Many campsites are waterfront sites, allowing guests to enjoy the water or fish right from their campsite. A beach area, boat ramp, drinking water, hot showers, and flush toilets in the campground. Located on the north side of Ocean Pond, a 1,760-acre natural lake, and about 17 miles east of Lake City and 34 miles from Stephen Foster State Park. $8-$18. Reservations not accepted.
Hogpen Landing/Osceola National Forest. Hog Pen Landing serves is a primitive campground used as a hunt camp during hunting season and is open for general day use and camping during the rest of the year. With a boat ramp and restrooms (chemical toilets), it’s an appealing, quiet place to enjoy fishing or relaxing on the lake. Tents and tent trailers only. Located on the northwest shore of Ocean Pond, about 20 miles from Lake City and 40 miles from Stephen Foster State Park. $8-$18. Reservations not accepted.
There is also primitive, dispersed camping through the national forest for backpackers. For more information, go to the Osceola National Park web site.
Suwanee River State Park. Located along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, Suwannee River State Park has 30 campsites that can accommodate tents and RVs. Each campsite has a picnic table, grill, clothesline, 50 amp electric service, water and sewer hook-ups. An accessible restroom with showers is centrally located in the campground. Pets are welcome. Firewood and ice are available for sale on-site, as are kayak rentals. Sites are $22 per night. There are also five cabins, $100 per night. East of Live Oak, about 31 miles west of Stephen Foster State Park. Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance by calling (800) 326-3521.
O’Leno State Park. Two camping loops with 61 campsites, each with water, electric, in-ground grill, picnic table and a centrally located restroom in each camping area. A dump station and dumpsters on site. Leashed, well behaved and attended pets are allowed within the two campground loops but not in the swimming area, river, youth camps or buildings. There is a kayak/canoe launch in the park, and some great paddling awaits you. Sites are $18 per night. Campground is 35 miles south of Stephen Foster, near High Springs. Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance by calling (800) 326-3521.
More information about the Florida Folk Festival
- More about the Stephen Foster State Park
- Website for Florida Folk Festival,including scheduled performances.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.