The Town of White Springs, particularly the White Springs Historic District, is a bit of a time machine. The abundance of homes and churches and buildings that were built from 100 to 150 years ago make it easy to imagine life back then, and imagination is the key to time travel.

I’ve got bad news and good news. The Bad News? The White Springs Suwannee Hardware Store old location is closed! The Good News? They have traveled back in time and have relocated to the Old Adams Country Store! It’s an exciting new location, still in White Springs, and as soon as the dust settles I’ll have some information on what the move means in terms of new inventory and services. White Springs is fortunate to have a hardware store and we are glad to see the Historic Adams Country Store occupied again!

At this time of year another annual time travel event recently happened in White Springs that can’t be found anywhere else in a small town like ours. I’m happy to hear each year from folks who, having discovered this event, say they will never miss it again. I’m talking about the annual Jeanie and Stephen Ball and Vocal Auditions at the Stephen Foster Park. Throughout the weekend the historically formal attire was worn by the contestants in keeping with the theme of the event, which is named for a song Stephen Foster wrote about his wife, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.” The event is a tribute to Foster, a 19th century composer who wrote some of America’s best-known songs, including, “Oh! Susanna” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” This event is a treat for the eyes and the ears and we’ve always enjoyed it.

So, many folks stepped back in time to attend January’s Stephen Foster/Jeanie Auditions, which originated in White Springs in December 1951 to encourage promising young Florida female vocal students. The first music scholarship award was presented to the winning Jeanie in 1954 by Stephen Foster’s closest living relative, Evelyn Foster Morneweck. Since 2006, the auditions have also been open to male contestants as well, due to the generous endowment by Connie Tuttle-Lill.

It was opera, but don’t let the word “Opera” put you off! I promise you that this was a fun and entertaining event! For 69 years the residents of our area have enjoyed an annual opportunity to hear the popular songs of Stephen Foster and other classical and operatic compositions of American music performed live at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. This event was a real jewel and if you have not attended in a while, give yourself a treat and plan to come out next year to enjoy this annual opportunity to see these vibrant, talented college students as, once again, the world comes to White Springs.

Stephen Foster Park has had a busy couple of months. Thanks to all the volunteers and community partners that assisted with Festival of Lights. The park is proud to announce that Kim Rivers is the new Gift Shop and Craft Square Supervisor. Kim’s knowledge of special events and Folk Life is a great asset and she looks forward to the challenge.

The Stephen Foster Park has brought back the Stephen Foster jam at the Tourism Center, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Friday until end of March. If you play an instrument, want to learn to play an instrument or just want to step back in time to enjoy good old fashioned fellowship and music, come on down and join them. Call the park office for further details at 386-397-2733.

Music lovers! Get ready for a world class concert! There is a “SAVE OUR BELLS” benefit concert at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park on the banks of the Suwannee River, Sunday, Feb. 23, starting at 4 p.m. This extraordinary concert is featuring Florida Folk legacy performers, Jeanie Fitchen, Joe Mark and Mark Smith. I can tell you a thing or two about Jeanie because she was one of the first performers that I sought out for the White Springs Folk Club. Refreshing, bell-like voice clarity, and captivating, only partially describes this artist's multifaceted singing performances which make her one of Florida's most sought-after singer/songwriters. From the age of 13, Jeanie Fitchen has enchanted concert and festival audiences from the Alaskan Arctic to the Caribbean Tropics, bringing to them her singular musical art intertwining original stories and stellar vocals in a rich musical synthesis. Jeanie’s performances at the Florida Folk Festival are a mainstay of that event and give just a hint of what it’s like to hear her in a concert venue like this one. You will fall in love with the sweetheart of Florida folk music, and she’s bringing some other real talent with her too! Joe Mark has been a mainstay on the folk music scene since the 70’s Much loved by audience and fellow singer songwriters. And Mark Smith… Mark Smith concerts are pretty rare, so grab your chance to see him while you still can. He is an amazing songwriter, and this concert is sure to be a real treat.

Tickets for the concert can be purchased from the CSO and will be $20. Limited seating is available so get your tickets early. Please call the park for more details at 386-397-2733. For more information and donations for the restoration of the carillon bell tower, contact the CSO at 386-397-2733. SAVE THE DATE! Sunday, Feb. 23, starting at 4 p.m. in the Auditorium at Stephen Foster State Park.

“I don’t believe in the polls!” That is what you will often hear politicians say when the polls are not in their favor, but the fact is that polling, when properly done, can be a pretty accurate indicator on what the voters want. Florida Trend, a prominent business magazine that is well read in the business community across Florida, recently ran a poll that asked the question, “What top issue do you believe Florida lawmakers should address in 2020” and the available choices to vote for were; Health Care, Insurance, Water/Environment, Education, E-Verify, and Online Sales Tax. You might have thought that, being a business publication read primarily by people with business concerns, Sales tax and Insurance and E-verify (a program meant to verify that people are authorized to work in the USA) would have been the top concerns. The actual results may surprise you.

The business voters seem concerned about the same issues that many of us here in White Springs are concerned about. Water/Environment got the majority vote, followed by Healthcare and then Education. Clearly this is a message to our legislature. Let’s hope they hear it and vote for some common sense legislation to address these important issues.

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.

Walter McKenzie

386-303-1394

lifeinwhitesprings@gmail.com

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