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COLUMN SEVENTY-FIVE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright 2001 Al Aronowitz)

LETTER FROM NASHVILLE:
WAY DOWN UPON THE SUWANEE RIVER. . .

Nashville, TN, June 2, 2002---When we last left our hero, he, with his newfound sidekick Gloria Holloway, also known as NiceLady were on their way to White Springs for the Fiftieth Florida Folk Festival.

BEING WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANNEE RIVER... What ensued was four days of utter roasting debilitating Hell, in which I came to understand the meaning ob dat ol folk song Go Down Hannah Don' You Rise no more.  De sun so hot I froze to deaf.  Et cetera.

The Suwannee River flows through White Springs.  And it is largely in part due to the Suwannee's presence that the Festival is held in White Springs.  For it was the Suwannee that provided the name for the River in The Old Folks at Home (Way Down upon the Swannee River), the immortal as these things go song by the American songwriter, and maybe even America's first popular songwriter, Stephen Collins Foster, who though he never saw the Suwannee, did make it famous. He had been working on the lyrics (he was using "Pedee River" at first), and suddenly bolted into his brother's printing shop in Pittsburgh Pa demanding to see an atlas, and from it he chose Suwannee, which he shortened to Swannee, and somehow from that Florida named a State Park after him, and the Folk Festival has been held there, despite the most recent best efforts of Katharine Harris (hint: Florida Secretary of State, threw the Election to Dubya.  Remember?  Hate her, or pray for an epiphany) for the past fifty years.

Not to belabor the point, but Foster is responsible for just about every manic piano track in every saloon scene in every oater you've ever seen:  Camptown Races, Oh! Susannah, Old Kentucky Home, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, Clementine, it goes on and on.  They have a carillon


Stephen Collins Foster
never did
get to see the South


which plays his tunes at the Stephen Foster State Park, mercifully quiet during the festival, and in the nearby museum the very desk on which he scratched out "Pedee" and substituted "Swannee".  Establishing the true songwriter tradition, he got ripped off for just about all his royalties and died, nearly penniless, in New York City before he was fifty.

He never saw the South, but he so idealized the life where darkies were gay, as in Old Kentucky Home, that a whole generation of people grew up in absolute ignorance of the dark realities of slave life.  It may be said that Uncle Tom's Cabin, the first million-selling American book, was in part driven by a backlash to the success of Collins' idealized pictures, as both occurred in the 1850's.

Anyway the Festival lasted four days, during which, in addition to the blistering rays of the Florida sun, I was also treated to the plank plank plankity plank of a hundred banjos and the dow didi dow didi dow of twice that number of fiddles, as well as about as much Piedmont blues on guitar as I ever want to hear.  Mostly, though, I baked, roasted, broiled, sweated deliriously in the merciless heat and blazing intensity of the sun.  I did make some friends, however.

Monday rolled around, we rolled up camp and set out back to Deerfield Beach, Ol Folkie Jim, his better half Ia, and me, arriving at about six pm.  I crashed all night long, got up, caught my flight back to Nashburg the next day, and I've been sleeping ever since.

When I haven't been sleeping I've been dealing with bus stuff...mostly batteries, as The Phoenix has to be put in shape again, and I don't yet have anything to do until the end of July, for which my services as a picker have been engaged by a party who shall be nameless for a while yet anyway.

Which brings me to this point:  that since my internet access will soon of necessity be curtailed, and since I don't have anything really to do until two months away, I'm probably gonna be less of a presence than I have been for a while.

What'll I do?  I've been thinking about this character, a German prince who wants to be a delta blues player, and I think I'm gonna write a book.  It's not gonna be a big book, but a little book, and I think I can maybe get it done in two months.

Maybe it'll be good all written out in longhand on legal pads.  On the other hand, maybe it'll be pure suction. Major Electrolux.  Hoover.  

We'll see.  And thanks to all who were so very kind to me on the soulful Florida trip.  ##

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