That Happened, Too
I met Gina Forsyth at the Lagniappe Dulcimer Fete in Port Allen, Louisiana in early 2014. I was eating supper and she came by, asked if she could join me. A very low-key and unassuming personality, Gina and I proceeded to talk about things, music being at the forefront of the conversation, and I really enjoyed her perspectives. Besides being supremely knowledgable, she was down-to-earth, funny and engaging. She didn't talk a whole lot about what she did, so I had no idea.
Until she got on stage that night with a fiddle and absolutely burned the place down to the ground.
Suffice it to say, I was floored and it just reinforced my impression of her as a genuinely nice person with no pretensions; someone who has accomplished much and isn't prone to brag about it. After hearing her perform some Cajun tunes, I asked her later if she'd ever heard of a song called "Mes Parents" and she didn't think that she knew it. After I played a few bars, she excitedly said, "that sounds like 'Don't Bury Me'" and began to sing along in Cajun French. Well, that sealed the deal and I asked Gina to come up onstage and perform with me during my concert set:
A friendship was formed that day and we kept in touch over the past year. Shortly before heading off to the IBC, Gina contacted me about doing some recording on her next album and I, of course, said yes. It was originally thought that perhaps I could come down to New Orleans after IBC and record, but I mentioned the imminent Florida Gulf Coast Dulcimer Retreat and the fact that I wouldn't have enough time. As it turns out, Gina was to be performing at the Super Cajun Fais Do-Do at the famous Tipitina's in the Garden District on the Sunday that Jae and I were heading back to Florida, so we planned on stopping over for the night to come and see her play. With some local brews and red beans and rice on the menu, we listened to the music, watched the dancers and were enthralled by the otherworldly joy of it all. We ended up staying until the dance was over, still wanting more and looking forward to the next time we could experience such a wonderful cultural treasure. Here, Gina performs a cool Cajun take on a blues classic with Michael and Cameron Dupuy:
We arrived back in Orlando, still reeling from the week on Beale St., quickly got prepped and then headed out to the Homosassa Riverside Resort in Homosassa, Florida for our 3rd Annual Florida Gulf Coast Dulcimer Retreat. A music event unlike any other, it all began at the Portage Dulcimer Day in Portage, Pennsylvania a few years back where I was performing along with Guy & Sharrie George. After the Saturday night concert, we were sitting on the back porch of organizer JT Taylor, sipping margaritas and musing about what a great chemistry the three of us had together. Not only did we all perform and teach a wide range of instruments but we genuinely enjoyed hanging out together and the attendees certainly picked up on that camaraderie. Upon thinking about how we could do something of that nature again, I was reminded of the Riverside Resort, it's incredible location in old Florida and the relationship that I already had with the staff, having stayed there a number of times with Jae. It seemed like the perfect place to hold a different sort of retreat; mellow but freewheeling, intensive but laid-back with plenty of fun things to see and do. After a few exchanges with the management, our location was set.
I approached Richard Ash of Folkcraft Instruments about sponsoring the event and underwriting our facilities cost, which he agreed to immediately. We'd all vend our wares and have a concert along with the many different workshops for mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, pennywhistle, Native American flute, steel drum, ukulele and guitar. Registrations skyrocketed, the resort began to sell out of rooms and, before we knew it, the retreat came and went with a good number of people inquiring about next year's event. We actually put it to a vote at the concert. "Who wants us to do this again next year?" was the question and the answer, shouted back by the audience, was deafening. We had a hit.
For the second year, Folkcraft would once again be the sponsor and Richard joined the instructor roster. The idea that we'd have the same four instructors in the same location each year, with different workshops, was a different kind of concept. Less a dulcimer festival than a reunion of friends and even a mightily cold storm that brought ice and snow from the skies and delayed the arrival of some participants didn't freeze the spirits of those who attended. New for the second year was the Manatee Orchestra, a group that learned parts to tunes throughout the four-day event and then performed them as an ensemble during the evening concert. It was a huge success and it became clear to everyone involved that a third year was a no-brainer.
This year's event was another incredible one with record attendance and lots of happy, smiling registrants and guests. Workshops were arranged in linear fashion, no concurrent classes, just one session after the other so that no tough choices had to be made. (We deviated from that plan in the second year and decided to revert to the original schedule.) We even had to stop selling tickets for the Saturday night concert due to lack of room. Retreat-goers could take a workshop, then head out onto the Homosassa River to swim with manatees, then come back, dry off and take more classes. Jams took place every night, some fueled by mimosas and margaritas supplied by the instructors. There aren't many dulcimer festivals where you can get away with that but, as I said to Guy, "what are we gonna do? Fire us?" And, again, before the retreat was even over, folks had begun to sign up for next year's edition.
We've all put our heads together to see if there was some way to replicate this extraordinary event in other locations but came to the conclusion that it was a unique sort of lightning in a bottle. It came about not due to fevered planning and calculation but simply a question of "hey, what if we do this?" Work too hard at it and the magic goes away. We have a perfect location, a staff that works well together and a group of folks that enjoy being part of a very exclusive experience.
With no advertising and just the word of mouth buzz that generates excitement, we're already well on our way to selling out next year's event, which will be February 25th - 28th, 2016. As usual, we will enjoy a post-retreat thrill by attending the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Walt Disney World. Register now and make your reservations; you don't want to miss another year!