Florida Frontiers is the name of this column. It’s also the name of a public radio program, podcast, and public television series produced by the Florida Historical Society. In all its forms, Florida Frontiers celebrates the diverse history and culture of our state.
The second annual Florida Frontiers Festival will be held Saturday, October 21, from 11am to 5pm on the grounds of the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science, 2201 Michigan Ave., in Cocoa.
The event will feature a day of Florida music, demonstrations including Highwayman artist R.L. Lewis, vendors, food, a beer garden, and a children’s area with a “bouncy house” and games. Admission includes entrance to the museum, featuring permanent exhibits from the Ice Age to the Space Age, and the touring exhibition “Florida Before Statehood.”
Advance tickets available at FloridaFrontiersFestival.com are $15 for adults. Children 12 and under are free with a paid adult. VIP packages are $75, with amenities including complimentary food, beer, and wine in an air conditioned setting, and reserved seating in front of the stage.
The Willie Green Blues Band is headlining this year’s Florida Frontiers Festival. Green earned the 2017 Florida Heritage Award, and he has performed with blues legends including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Robert Cray.
Green started out playing clubs in south Florida in the mid-twentieth century. Since the 1980s, he has been performing regularly at The Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, named after the beloved book by Florida writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
“I play other people’s stuff, but I make it my own,” says Green. “I’m just an old time blues musician and I’m not going to change. The blues is me. I hope they like it when I play it.”
Also headlining the second annual Florida Frontiers Festival is Florida folk legend Frank Thomas, who writes and performs songs about the history, people, and places of Florida. Songs such as “Old Cracker Cowman,” “The Flatwoods of Home,” and “Spanish Gold” have earned him a loyal following. In 2013, Thomas was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
Thomas’s Florida roots run deep.
“The Thomas side of the family came into Florida in 1820,” says Thomas. “He married a girl who was born in St. Augustine in 18 and 5, and her parents was well established there, they’d been there about 20 years, so I’m thinking it had to be late 1780s or early 1790s.”
Members of the Thomas family experienced a lot of Florida history.
“Longevity seems to run in my family,” says Thomas. “My daddy was born in 18 and 82. Now he grew up in a whole different era. Now think about that. I was born in (19)43. He was 61 when I was born. His daddy died at a fairly early age. A one-eyed mule kicked him in the head. That’s what killed him. My great-granddaddy, who I sing about in the song ‘The Flatwoods of Home,’ fought in the Great War of Northern Aggression and fought in the Seminole Indian Wars.”
Thomas grew up in Middleburg, Florida, in a musical family who played gospel music. His first performing experiences were in church. His early musical influences also included performers on radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, including Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, and Webb Pierce.
After serving seven years in the Army in the 1960s, Thomas began touring with nationally known gospel, country, and bluegrass bands as a guitarist and singer. He played with groups including the Taylor Brothers, the Webb Family, and the Arkansas Travelers.
“I made my way back to Florida in the late (19)70s, and I met Will McLean,” says Thomas. “Will was a big inspiration for me. He encouraged me to write songs about Florida. He said ‘You know, you write all these love songs and cheatin’ songs, you don’t do much of that. Write about what you know.’ He used to tell me that it would take all of us doing all we can to tell Florida’s story. There’s so much history in the state of Florida.”
Also performing at the second annual Florida Frontiers Festival are the Native Rhythms Festival Ensemble, heritage musician Bob Lusk, acoustic rock musician Mike Garcia, and singer-songwriter Chris Kahl.