Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
October 8, 2011
If you read this column regularly, you know that it's not unusual for the topic to have something to do with a photograph that looks inviting to me.
That's part of the motivation for this week's dispatch: Looking at the image of cypress trees along the banks of the Suwannee River makes me think that's a place I'd like to be.
I'm thinking that was what Stephen Foster was thinking, too, when he wrote "Old Folks at Home" in 1851, which has been the official state song since 1935. Over the years, the song has inspired criticism for the insensitive and politically incorrect references to slavery and use of plantation dialect in its original lyrics. In 2008, the Legislature designated that a revised version of the lyrics be the official version.
That was a good move and I like the notion of the state's official tune being basically a blues song, about a guy longing for life along that river:
"All the world is sad and dreary
Everywhere I roam.
O dear ones, how my heart grows weary,
Far from the old folks at home."
And Foster's song is only one of many songs inspired by Florida. I started to compile a list after reading "Mile Marker Zero," William McKeen's fine new book about Key West's heydays. There's a lot of Jimmy Buffett tales in it, but "Margaritaville" is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Florida songs.
Mofro, the swamp blues band out of Jacksonville, has plenty of material about old-school Florida, the best being "Lochloosa."
And it's worth looking up "Florida's Song," by Florida State University professor Charles Atkins, which mines the vintage R&B sound of Ray Charles, who learned a lot of his musical skills in St. Augustine.
And, if I were picking a state song, I'd go with "Orange Blossom Special," a bluegrass showstopper rich in Florida's history. The composer, Ervin Rouse, was a Floridian (albeit a transplanted one) and Chubby Wise, the fiddler who made his career on the song, was a native.
For that song's entertaining history, I'd recommend another book, "Orange Blossom Boys," by Randy Noles.
Better yet, put it on the soundtrack of your next Florida road trip.
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