Twenty eight years ago there was a “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” moment here in White Springs. That was the day that a very significant portion of the music died for many of us who live here. That was the day that we got the word…that we had lost Gamble Rogers. Gamble died an untimely, heroic death that day and when we heard about it, we all cried. And ever since then, something has been missing in the music and the storytelling and I thought that we would never find it again. But still, every now and then I set out on a quest, against all odds, in search of Gamble Rogers. Some folks might think it a futile effort but, as Gamble himself used to say, “Let them who don't want none, have memories of not getting any!” So I went off in search of Gamble this past weekend…but first some perspective!
As I said in this column a few years ago, I remember going to my first Shrimp Festival in Fernandina in the 1970s. It was hot and the pirate’s punch that I’d partaken of at the Historic Palace Saloon was taking its toll. I needed a place to rest and get out of the sun so I gravitated towards some music that I heard and had a seat in the shade. This tall, gangly looking, string bean of a man had just started to play and within a minute I was transfixed. This guy’s fingers were like lightening as he stroked that guitar.
What I heard was nothing short of incredible. His fast, clean finger picking left me at a loss for words, but not him, nothing left him in a state of verbal paucity. His vocabulary was astounding and even though I am a fairly well read and educated man, he threw some words at me in a context that I had seldom or never heard. And when he would tell a story, picking that guitar the whole time, he had the entire audience rolling in the aisles with laughter one minute, and shedding tears the next. No, it wasn’t the pirate’s punch or the heat that was causing me to feel this way, it was the transformational experience of hearing Gamble Rogers for the first time. Indeed, Gamble was one of the reasons I fell in love with White Springs. I came here from Jacksonville to my first Florida Folk Festival because I heard he would be performing here.
He had a powerful influence on life in White Springs, and he was a must see, musical storytelling hero for much of the regional populace around here. He didn’t live here, but he visited often and many people in town knew his name. This man had the kind of presence that was powerful in a very positive way, and anyone who ever met him felt that they had met a friend. When he died, family and friends and even casual acquaintances and people who had only seen him on stage all shared a common experience. They grieved. They wept and felt a unique sense of loss, knowing that no matter how long they lived, they would probably never see the likes of him again. Yet, eventually, they all began to search for Gamble Rogers.
So…back to my own personal search for Gamble Rogers. Our friends Bill and Melissa Sykes had just completed their documentary film, “Gamble Rogers; Down at the Terminal Tavern,” and it was to be shown at the Saint Augustine Film Festival last weekend. The search was on!
Friday night 12 searchers gathered at Cap’s Restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway. The atmosphere was festive, as it is at all film festivals. Film makers show up at these festivals in hopes of being “discovered” or gaining financial support and distribution. They are hopeful, but they are also realists. They are here to have some fun too. Many of them are social folks and they revel in each other’s company.
Many of the attendees don’t make films, but they love films, certain film makers and certain topics. The people at our table loved the film makers Bill and Melissa, and they loved Gamble Rogers. They too were searching. They had come from Atlanta, New York, Fernandina, White Springs and other places that altogether comprised a pretty amazing geographic spread. Here they are! Investors, producers and directors formerly with HGTV and National Public Television and Radio, and folklorists, health care professionals, educators, scientists and me, one struggling column writer just trying to find the words for this occasion. One thing we all have in common. We are all in search of Gamble.
Table talk soon turns to travel talk, and people are sharing experiences they have had in Canada, Great Britain, Europe, Indonesia and the Far East. These folks have traveled all over the world to some truly wonderful places! But the places they’d all most like to return to may be lost to them. They are in search of the guide that can take them back on the magical journeys they took to these mythical places. Journeys to Ocklawaha County, Snipes Ford and Bean Creek. Places that you can only go if you are…in search of Gamble.
Sunday afternoon arrives and the long-awaited screening approaches. Five hundred plus folks stand in line, in search of Gamble. I ask the couple behind me, “What’s your Gamble connection?” “Well, we often drive by a State Park that is named after him, and we are just curious,” they answered. I suddenly realized that many folks here had never heard or seen him, and yet here they were…In Search of Gamble Rogers!
Then, finally, comes the long awaited film. I can’t begin to describe it. Jimmy Buffet and Pete Seeger led a multitude of notables speak sincerely and eloquently about Gamble’s journey from obscurity to Carnegie Hall, about how he had achieved a permanent spot, not only on NPR but also in our hearts, about how his accomplishments were solely due to his talent, hard work, and the magic he brought to his performances. No special favors or privileges came to Gamble. He earned it all. And, throughout all of the film, there was Gamble Rogers, amazing us once again with his hot guitar licks, singing and talking about his pantheon of characters, sharing their philosophy, telling their stories, bringing them all to life again. Yes, long after we thought he had left us forever, there he was! The search for Gamble Rogers was over. Against all odds, we had found him once again!
The film, “Gamble Rogers; Down at the Terminal Tavern” will be shown at this year’s Florida Folk Festival, May 22-24, exact day and time to be announced prior to the festival.
I love writing this column but I always appreciate your help! Let me hear from you. I am thankful that we can depend on each other, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. As always, I look forward to seeing you out and about, enjoying your community and your life in White Springs.