71st Annual Florida Folk Festival
The 71st Annual Florida Folk Festival is May 26th-28th at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, FL. This three-day festival held over Memorial Day weekend is a celebration of the crafts, music, culture, and stories that make Florida such a unique and exciting place to live. Seminoles have been an important and celebrated part of the festival since the beginning. This week, join us to learn more about the history of Seminoles at the festival, and also how you can attend this year.
Seminole Participation in Historic Images
In our featured image this week, you can see Billy Bowlegs III in traditional regalia. Bowlegs stands with Edward Silver, dressed as a Spanish conquistador. The printed text reads; “Indians – Identified. Billy Bowlegs, III, 101 years old. Patriarch of the Seminole Indians in Florida. Member of the Cow Creek Tribe. Shown Here Participating in the Florida Folk Festival at White Springs in 1963. (With Edward Silver of Bradenton’s Desoto Celebration.”
Bowlegs was a celebrated Seminole elder. He was well known for his commitment to sharing Seminole culture. Bowlegs also fostered a better understanding of Seminole life, experiences, and traditions. In addition to being an accomplished hunter and guide, Bowlegs was widely known and loved throughout Florida. The featured image was taken in 1963, and coincidentally Bowleg’s last Florida Folk Festival. In 1964, festival director Thelma A. Boltin stated that he had sent word he would no longer be able to attend, as “He is now 102 years old and doesn’t feel up to the trip from Brighton” (Tampa Bay Times, 30 Apr 1964). Below, you can see Billy Bowlegs III, along with Josie Billie, featured on the cover of the 1971 Florida Folk Festival program. Bowlegs and other elders were important and remembered parts of the festival history, even after no longer attending.
Florida Folk Festival 2023
The first Florida Folk Festival was held at the Stephen Foster Memorial (now renamed the Stephen Foster Culture Center State Park) in May 1953. Stephen Foster’s famous song “Old Folks at Home” features the Suwanee River running through the park. Ada Holding Miller, the President of the National Foundation of Music Clubs, toured the Stephen Foster Memorial after a trip to White Springs in 1952. Soon after, she suggested that it would be the perfect location for a folk festival.
Lillian Saunders of White Springs then ran with the idea. The first festival was just the next spring. The first festivals were a dazzling array of “Minorcan, Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, Greek-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Czech-Americans, Spanish-Americans, African-Americans and Florida Crackers.” Each shared unique aspects of their cultural perspectives. It was a resounding success that has stood the test of time over the last 70+ years.
Today, that continued tradition of celebrating the unique and varied pieces of Florida culture and heritage continues with the 71st Annual Florida Folk Festival. The three-day celebration features music, dancing, crafts, food, demonstrations, and stories that “reflect the lives of generations of Florida families and communities.” Even during the pandemic, the festival continued virtually for 2020 and 2021.
Seminole Presence at the Festival
There is a longstanding Seminole presence at the Florida Folk Festival. We explored the relationship a bit last year in a post about the 70th Annual Florida Folk Festival. Seminoles were present at the very first festival in 1953. Although the first festival was small, over time the Florida Folk Festival grew to include more demonstrations and traditional crafts. Due to this shift, Seminoles began contributing more and more to the history and fabric of the festival itself. Singing, dancing, canoe carving, patchwork clothing, sweetgrass baskets, traditional foods, wood carving, and doll making are only some of the traditional Seminole activities that have had a long history at the Florida Folklife Festival over the years.
Below, you can see a photographic print of a group of Tribal Members at the Florida Folk Festival, May 2-4, 1958. From left to right are Mary Jane Shore, Nancy Shore, Brown Shore, Jim Shore, Eddie Shore, Geneva Shore, Lottie Shore, Lucy Tiger, Naha Tiger, Frank Shore, and Billy Bowlegs. For several years the Frank Shore family of the Brighton Reservation were guests at the Annual Florida Folk Festival. Others, such as Naha Tiger and Billy Bowlegs, often accompanied them. Thus, they were considered representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and told of Seminole customs and life. The image is part of the Boehmer Collection. Frank Shore was another celebrated Seminole elder who was also a staple participant in the Florida Folk Festival for many years. Shore would often share traditional knowledge about plants and medicinal herbs.
Seminole Village and Crafts
The Florida Folk Festival features a Seminole Family Camp, with a large, elaborate chickee. Chickees are traditional Seminole houses. They are constructed of cypress log frames with palmetto thatched roofs. Over the years, former Chairman James Billie directed the camp and chickee expansion, which was originally added in the 1950s. Today, there is a much larger chickee and family camp, donated and constructed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, near the Craft square. This year, there will be several exciting demonstrations offered in the Seminole Camp so people can learn and experience Seminole traditions and culture. Below, you can see Alice Osceola making sweetgrass baskets at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival.
This year, there are several crafting demonstrations, where visitors learn more about Seminole crafting traditions. Nancy Shore, pictured above at the 1958 Florida Folk Festival with her family, will demonstrate patchwork sewing. Seminole clothing features bright, intricate patchwork patterns that are distinct to Seminole culture. Patchwork is one of the many iconic Seminole crafts that were sold during the early Seminole tourism era. Onnie Osceola will demonstrate and explain the crafting traditions behind Seminole beadwork, which is also a long-time Seminole tradition.
Carla Cypress will demonstrate Seminole doll-making. Artisans make Seminole dolls of palmetto fiber, and also dress them in traditional styles. Malcolm Jones will demonstrate basket-making, and explore two types: coiled and twilled baskets. Artisans make coiled baskets (above) from sweetgrass, stitching them with brightly colored thread.
Some traditional Seminole foods include sofkee, frybread, gar, pumpkin, swamp cabbage, turtle, and deer. Sofkee is a warm, stewed porridge drink. Made of corn or rice, it is flavored with pumpkin, guava, or even spices. Often, this comforting dish would be offered to camp visitors. In a Seminole camp, there would be a cooking chickee located at the center of camp. Someone would tend the fire continuously. Thus, the fire would feed the entire camp.
Frybread is another popular offering, made from a quick dough fried in hot oil over an open fire. Frybread can also be sweet or savory, and pumpkin frybread is a particular favorite. You can also find recipes for sofkee and frybread here from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This year, Mollie Jolly and Jennifer Billie will demonstrate traditional cooking practices and recipes at the family camp during the festival.
How can I attend?
The 71st Annual Florida Folk Festival is May 26th-28th at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. Located on the Suwanee River, the park is approximately an hour north of Gainesville in White Springs, FL. Festival gates open at 8 am each day. Stage performances begin at 10 am, and end around 11 pm daily. Additionally, you can purchase your tickets in advance. Adult three-day advance tickets are $70 ($80 at gate), and $35 for one-day ($40 at gate). Children’s tickets are $5, and good for all three festival days.
There is something for everyone this year at the 71st Annual Florida Folk Festival! We encourage you to explore and appreciate the many varied cultures and perspectives that make up Florida heritage. So, stop by and learn more about Seminole culture and traditions under the Seminole camp big chickee. Then, stay for some sofkee and frybread and enjoy one of the many engaging craft demonstrations. You won’t regret it!
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series, and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.