Trundling through the Yorkshire countryside on my bike yesterday I was miraculously transported back to Florida thanks to the presenter, Calvin Powers, on the Americana Music Show podcast. He made reference to the Suwannee Roots Revival Music Festival in October and talked through the acts about to appear.
Usually it is hard to remember a day in your life in enormous detail but I well recollect passing through Suwannee County on a hot day in late August 2015 on my bike. After cycling down the USA and taking in its magical musical history I had got to New Orleans, duly worshipped, and was heading east to the coast to meet the family. In fairness another 700 mile bike ride from NOLA isn’t inconsequential but after the earlier adventure it would be a flat run to the coast and the hell, that is, Orlando.
To my surprise I enjoyed the ride more than I ever thought. This part of Florida bears no relation to its angry, busy and prosperous eastern ‘pan handle’. It was relatively flat, very wooded, lots of African Americans and not too wealthy at all but in an unexploited and rural way. In places though it was very quiet and had that Southern combination of lethargy and debilitating heat.
On such a potential day I left Tallahassee early in squally rain (they had said there would be implications from Hurricane Erika, gosh those crazy Americans worry about anything) and headed east into a dry afternoon of heat and emptiness. As the 76 miles for the day ground by then I found myself on the ‘Ray Charles Memorial Highway’. Here in the middle of nowhere I quickly discounted it was the great man’s asphalt but slowly as I got nearer to Greenville then it became apparent this is where the African American Rhythm & Blues legend had spent his early years, his mother’s home town.
So I ‘collected’ another musical institution – saw the monument and took the photos and continued east to a State Park where I hoped to camp. The camp was in Suwannee State Park. Again in my heat dazed brain then Al Jolson came to mind with ‘Swannee’, his first large commercial hit written by George Gershwin in 1919. This became a world wide famous song. Digging around finds that Stephen Foster first adapted the Suwannee river to ‘Swannee Ribber’ in his song ‘Old Folks at Home’. From here with the river in circulation George took the name for his song.
So with all this musical history amassed I argued with the Park Ranger about charging me the same price as an RV to pitch a miniature tent (without a hook up) in this parched forest ($24) for a night. It was good to be detained and argue because the air conditioning was delicious and I noted in a tank, within the Ranger’s office, was an imprisoned Corn snake. It lived off frozen mice and as I wandered out of the office, defeated, but consoling myself that I had just cycled past a nearby gas station that sold beer and also that my exorbitant fee would keep the snake in chilled rodents for some time to come.