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Florida Revisited


Dan & Mary’s return tour of central Florida – February 2011


Thirteen years on from our previous tour in 1998, our return trip to central Florida involved working at a dulcimer festival, giving concerts, seeing wildlife and catching up with old friends. On this occasion I travelled with two dulcimers and a camera.

 dulcimer stall at Mount Dora Festival


I have used some American terms in this write-up – in case they are not obvious, here are the English translations …

a bunch of – many
board – mixing desk
Florida cracker – supper, typical of cowboys of old (who would crack whips)  
gator – alligator 
nature preserve – nature reserve 
RV – camper van
snowbirds – retired people who migrate from colder US states to winter in Florida 


Fri 11th & Sat 12th Feb – Mount Dora Dulcimer & Autoharp Festival
Mount Dora is a picturesque town just north of Orlando. Many of the houses are brightly coloured and the trees are eerily adorned with hanging air plants, colloquially know as Spanish moss.

letterbox Mount Dora 


Previously, I’d led a workshop there for a local dulcimer club in a shed by Lake Dora with a gator gliding glibly by. Thirteen years on, the town now boasts a dulcimer festival, which was held in Round Lake Christian Church on the outskirts of town. Ruth Harnden, the festival director, certainly knows how to run a good event and the six-year-old festival is growing in popularity, now featuring nearly twenty tutor/performers.

Round Lake Christian Church


I gave five classes, two on dulcimer technique in Ionian/DAA, one on the dulcimer in Bagpipe tuning and two on vocal technique, based on my popular voice workshop in the UK.


I enjoyed teaching and also entertaining a responsive audience with a performance at the closing concert.  It was good to catch up with fellow performers and for Mary to meet some of them for the first time - like the great dulcimer players Tull Glazner and Rob Brereton and the irrepressible multi-instrumentalist Guy George

Guy George playing steel drum  

An important part of the trip was for us to catch up with old friends like Jim Lowman and Elaine Reichenbacher, who were our charming hosts last time and who were honoured at the closing festival concert for their long-standing contribution to the local dulcimer scene. I didn't capture a current photo of them but here's an old film snap taken back in '98 ...

Jim & Elaine in 1998  


Sally and John Wilson had visited us in the UK and Hank and Sharon Link were our hosts this time during the festival. All are folk musicians, variously playing dulcimer, guitar and/or banjo.  We had met Hank back in ’98 and I remembered his interest in motorcycles - there was always lots to talk about.

Hank on his Harley


Sun 13th Feb – Orlando Folk Festival
Hosted by the Mennello Museum Of American Art this open-air event was held in the lovely museum grounds. I was a little apprehensive about my performance as all the other acts were very much rooted in American culture – but I had nothing to fear as the audience appreciated my concert of British folk tunes for just what it was.

Dan performing at Orlando Folk Festival   


The performer who followed me, Magda Hiller was stunning - a petite lady with a great voice and a huge stage presence. Shortly after my concert professional dancers, dressed as fairies, gave a magical impromptu performance, which was other-worldly and totally captured the spirit of fairyness.

fairy dancers at Mennello Museum


life in an RV
Hank and Sharon were great hosts and we left their comfortable home for the interesting experience of living in an RV for a week. Sally & John kindly allowed us to stay in their ‘Born Free’ RV at the Olde Mill Stream RV Park in the nearby town of Umatilla. Born Free is very well equipped and we had a comfortable stay for the rest of our trip. The temperature was typically 25º C (77 º F) – pleasantly warm. Many of the park residents were snowbirds and everyone was friendly and curious.

Born Free RV 




Mon 14th Feb – lake Griffin & friends gathering
We spent the afternoon with Nancy & Jim, John’s sister and brother-in-law, who live on a peninsular jutting out into Lake Griffin. It’s a truly magical spot. Nancy took us on a pontoon boat ride around the lake and into some of the creeks where we saw a bunch of wild birds and a small gator. Seeing bald eagles, ospreys, anhinger and various types of egret, herons & ibis was a highlight of the trip for Mary, who’s a keen birdwatcher.

osprey with fish


The day ended with a friends’ gathering of Jim & Elaine, Hank & Sharon, Sally & John, Nancy and Jim and Mary & myself all enjoying a traditional Florida cracker together to a spectacular sunset.          

sunset over Griffin Lake


Tue 15th Feb – Indian River Lagoon
We took an Eco-tour from New Smyrna Beach up the various creeks in Indian River Lagoon, just north of the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. We saw many more local birds like ospreys and kingfishers and learned of the ecology of the mangrove swamps and oyster beds. At this time huge swarms of sharks eerily came to the Florida beaches to catch the warm weather – the local TV advised that they were not a threat to humans but I limited my swimming to the pool in the RV park.     

Thu 17th Feb – Homosassa Springs & manatees
We visited the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on our previous trip. It has been developed since and has grown in popularity. The park is a convalescence home for injured wildlife, especially the lovely manatees. These docile creatures stole our hearts on the last trip and we were glad to see them again – they move slowly and gracefully, almost ethereal.               

mantee at Homossasa


Fri 18th Feb – boadwalk & rat snake
Flat Island is a peninsular in Lake Denham and a nature preserve. We took a walk through tropical woodland that lead to a boardwalk into a swam. We didn’t see many animals but the cypress knees (roots jutting upwards) were characteristic of swamp terrain. On the walk back Mary spooked herself by accidentally stepping over a 4ft yellow rat snake. The snake carried on unperturbed, so no harm was done.

John, Sally, Sharon, Hank & Mary      

Sat 19th Feb – concert
My last commitment was to give a concert for Eustis County Folk, organised by Jeff Freiberg, who we already knew and who’s PA skills ensured a great sound for my dulcimers on the board. The billing was shared with autoharp champion Ivan Styles, who also plays the saw with a bow, very skillfully.


We performed our solo sets to an appreciative audience and then closed the evening with the Scottish tune ‘The Water Is Wide’, played by me on dulcimer with Ivan on saw. It was a truly eerie experience, more so than the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, more eerie than the fairies at Mennello Museum, more so than the manatees at Homosassa, more eerie than the swarms of sharks and more so than Mary nearly stepping on a snake. 


We flew back the following day to land in a cold (2ºC/35ºF) and very wet England. 



more images ...


Mount Dora lighthouse    


 Spanish moss


Mount Dora house    


 gator crossing sign


osprey nest


sunset over Griffin Lake


great white egret   




Homossasa Springs State Park


swamp trees


swamp canopy


palm frond


cypress knees


bait shop, Umatilla


animal food shop, Umatilla


pool at Umatilla RV park

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