Several of the state’s top folk music performers, including a Florida Artists Hall of Fame member, will headline the music acts appearing at next weekend’s Battle of Bowlegs Creek festival in Fort Meade.
Frank Thomas, a Lake Wales resident, was inducted into the Florida hall in 2013 in a class that also included pop singer Gloria Estefan.
A 2011 article in the Florida Times Union called Thomas the “last living treasure” of folk music in the state. His hit “Cracker Cowmen” is considered one of the gold standards in the music genre.
The local singing star even has his own namesake event, the Frank Thomas Florida Folk heritage and Music Festival at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. He has also been called the “dean” of Florida folk music.
“We’re thrilled to be able to bring such top notch entertainers to our festival this year,” said Fort Meade Chamber of Commerce Director Priscilla Perry. “Frank Thomas is a living legend, and someone that you do not want to miss as we pay tribute to our heritage and roots.”
Thomas was born in Clay County in 1943, and for many years, sang with his wife Ann, who died in 2004.
According to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, Frank, “was strongly influenced at a very young age by listening to artists such as Hank Williams Sr. on the Grand Ole Opry that he heard on a battery-powered radio in his childhood home in Middleburg, Fla., where they had no electricity until the mid 1950s.
Among his other popular titles are “Cracker Nights,” “Florida Stories,” “Bingo!” “Spanish Gold,” “There Goes the Neighborhood,” and “Just Another Day.”
“Florida is to America what America is to the world,” Thomas said on a newspaper interview.
“It’s like a big tossed salad with each one coming in with his own unique flavor.”
He has recorded nine albums and has over 500 songs, mostly about Florida, that he has written.
Thomas will perform Saturday afternoon immediately following the re-creation of the Battle of Bowlegs Creek by more than 150 Civil War re-enactors at Fort Meade’s Outdoor Recreation Area on U.S. Highway 98 just east of the city.
The Fourth Annual Battle of Bowlegs Creek Heritage Festival is free and open to the public. There is a $7 per vehicle donation for parking.
Battle re-enactments are scheduled both Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 1 and 2. Saturday’s battle should begin around 2:30 p.m., following a memorial celebration to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers. Sunday’s battle, complete with cannons and cavalry, will start at 2 p.m.
The festival’s major sponsor is Mosaic, while this year’s entertainment pavilion is being sponsored by Florida Public Utilities.
“We are extremely fortunate to have such a truly high quality line-up of entertainers this year,” Perry added. “Not only is Frank Thomas a living legend, so too are Jerry Mincey and Larry Mangum. They all have a long list of albums, awards and accomplishments.”
The festivities actually kick off Friday, Jan. 31 when school-aged children are invited to visit the festival grounds and meet with the Civil War re-enactors. Various educational stations are set up to give youngsters an idea of what life was like in Florida in the 1860s, and the students are then invited to stay and have lunch with the Confederate and Union soldiers.
Friday night is the Battle of Bowlegs Creek Dinner Dance, featuring a buffet dinner and music by the New Orleans Nighthawks Jazz Band. The concert and dinner will be held at the Fort Meade Mobile Home Park community building, starting at 7 p.m. Dinner dance tickets are $15, and are available by calling 863-605-4131.
The festival grounds open Saturday morning at 10 a.m., with a special Ladies Tea at 10:45.
The entertainment starts at noon with another legendary Florida folk music entertainer, Jacksonville’s Larry Mangum, taking to the stage. Among his more noted songs are “The Last Troubador,” and “Ain’t It Great to Be Alive and Be In Florida.”
He also co-wrote the hit “Who’s That Knocking” for country superstar Lee Greenwood.
In all, he has recorded seven albums, and also two live albums, and has appeared in concert with such luminaries as Wayland Jennings, Juice Newton, Alabama and more. His mother, Kate, was the guitar teacher for a young Randy Travis.
At 1 p.m. Winter Haven’s Jerry Mincey will hit the festival stage.
“From gospel sings on my Grandmother’s front porch to the rock bands of the 1960s that I played in, it has been a great journey,” He played in local bands with several of Winter Haven’s noted musicians including Jim Stafford, Gram Parsons and Lobo.
“I was preordained to be a musician,” Mincey added. “I played in my first rock band at 14, by my first year of college I was lead guitar player for “The Spades,” one of the premier bands to come out of Central Florida. A Florida tour with The Zombies and The Searchers, secured us a recording contract and a subsequent trip to the RCA studios in Nashville.”
Both Mangum and Mincey will perform on Sunday as well, at noon and 1 p.m., respectively.
The entertainment continues Saturday through the Battle of Bowlegs Creek Ball which starts at 7 p.m. and features the sounds of the Jackson Creek Band.
The public is invited to walk through the authentically re-created Civil War camps, and there will be displays and vendors on hand both Saturday and Sunday with food and gift items.
The Battle of Bowlegs Creek was fought on April 7, 1864, about two miles south of the actual festival site. It was Polk County’s only Civil War battle, fought largely for cattle that moved through the area that were supposed to feed Confederate troops in Georgia.
There was a death during the hostilities leading up to the battle, and another Confederate fatality during the battle itself, according to historians.
For more information, go to www.battleofbowlegscreek.org, or call the Fort Meade Chamber of Commerce at 863-285-8253.