Monday, November 28, 2005

Suwannee River

The Clog-wife and I took a leisurely drive into Suwannee County (Florida) yesterday.

We landed in Branford, a small town on the banks of the Suwannee River, which is home to old-time fiddler friend Lloyd Baldwin. We explored the banks of the legendary river from a small memorial park built on the site of an old steamboat landing. The park facility seemed like it was constructed in the 1940’s, to judge from the claustrophobic concrete block picnic pavilions and restroom building.

Picking along the cypress knees and uprooted brick-and-concrete piers of the old steamboat landing, I observed for the first time a
water hickory in fruit. I’ve found the nuts of this waterside species on beaches and strands throughout the coastal plain states, but never had seen them on the tree. The Highway 27 bridge over the Suwannee in Branford has a sign identifying the Suwannee, consisting of the first phrase from Old Folks at Home, the famous Stephen Foster song, and state song of Florida (“Way Down Upon The Swanee River”). Below the phrase was a musical staff and the corresponding notes to those words in the key of C. I sang the music printed on the sign and realized that the note corresponding to the first syllable of “River” should be an “A” and not the “B” printed on the sign. So there’s an embarrassing misprint on the sign. Who do you call? How many other (nit)pickers have noticed the error?

Every year Lloyd sets up his “Fish Camp” in the participants’ campground at the Annual Florida Folk Festival and hosts friends and fiddlers all weekend long at the festival, including the sometime members and fluid roster of his band The Polecats. There is always a coffee can full of peanuts for visitors to shell and eat, and fine music mixed with storytelling and grand mischief until the wee hours. During these long evening music jams, Lloyd takes a rest from fiddling and picks, in the old southern clawhammer style, a banjo he made decades ago. The neck of the instrument is made from a piece of cherry he obtained right there in Suwannee county. You have to respect a man that can build his own banjo.

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