Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in 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.
2024 performers will be updated when available
Highlights of performers in 2023
Many of these performers return every year.
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.
Grant Livingston, a singer and songwriter who weaves history and the environment into his songs. He has written about South Florida pioneers Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle, the invasion of the Everglades by Melaleuca trees and pythons, armadillos and barnacles, among many topics.
Jim Stafford, born in Winter Haven, is a singer, songwriter, musician, and comedian. He recorded “Spiders & Snakes,” “Swamp Witch,” “Under the Scotsman’s Kilt,” “My Girl Bill,” and “Wildwood Weed” in the 1970s. Stafford headlined at his own theater in Branson, Missouri, from 1990 to 2020. Stafford is self-taught on guitar, fiddle, piano, banjo, organ, and harmonica.
The Lee Brothers, are an African-American “sacred steel” ensembles. This family group consists of three brothers, Alvin Lee (guitar), Derrick Lee and Keith Lee (vocals) along with their three nephews, Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel guitar), Alvin Cordy, Jr. (7-string bass) and Earl Walker (drums). Each member began making music at the ages of 7 and 8 in the House of God church they attended in Perrine, Fla. Born and raised in Miami, each of The Lee Boys grew up in the church where their father and grandfather, Rev. Robert E. Lee, was the pastor and a steel player himself. “Sacred steel” is a type of music described as an inspired, unique form of Gospel music with a hard-driving, blues-based beat. The musical genre is rooted in Gospel, but infused with rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, country and ideas from other nations.
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.
Papaloko & Loray Mistik
Loray Mistik – or “Mystic Thunder” – emanates from the hills and villages of the ancient land of Haiti.
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 $40 per day for adults; $80 for the three-day weekend. Children 6 to 16 are only $5 for the weekend. You can purchase tickets online in advance for $35 per day for adults and $70 for the three-day weekend. Kids tickets are $5 in advance. Here is ticket information.
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.
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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.