in Auburndale, Florida Died: March 26, 1996
in Auburndale, Florida
Anderson Allen was born in Auburndale, Florida on
February 13, 1918. He was the ninth of nine children
born to parents William F. and Annalou Allen, who had
moved to Florida from Georgia around the turn of the
century. Carl got his middle name from his father's boss
and friend, E. K. Anderson, who was a local farmer and
general store owner. At his death, Allen's home and Historical
Cafe were just eight blocks from the place he was born
some 78 years earlier.
his humble beginnings, he had become, among other things,
a successful restaurateur, a historian, an author, a collector,
a folk humorist, a champion of senior citizens, and a force
in local politics.
Allen was probably most proud of his role as a promoter of
bluegrass music. His death came only one week after the 20th
Annual Florida State Championship Bluegrass Festival, an
event which he conceived and almost single-handedly built
to become what is perhaps the largest free bluegrass festival
in the world. As if this weren't enough, his Historical Cafe
in Auburndale, Florida, was a place where hundreds of bluegrass
pickers were given an opportunity to jam and perform. For
over 38 years it was a sort of bluegrass incubator where
untold thousands of patrons were inoculated with the happy
many people, Carl Allen personified the Florida Cracker.
In 1976 he was named Florida's "No. 1 Cracker" by
the state Sertoma Club. The term "Cracker" originally described
the early Florida cow "hunters" who liked to show off by
crackin' their whips when the first tourists arrived by train
years ago. These days the term has come to denote any rural
Floridian of native birth. Having rounded up scrub cows on
horseback as a kid, Allen qualified as a genuine "cracker".
He wore his heritage with pride and dignity, and was known
his weekly syndicated newspaper column about life in the
days when the Orange Blossom Special was a real train that
brought vacationing Yankees into this neck of the groves.
opening his restaurant Allen's career had included stints
as a cowhunter, a citrus processor, a hobo, a sheriff's
deputy, and a Highway Patrol officer. In the late fifties,
he opened up a bait and tackle shop on U.S. 92 just west
his Central Florida hometown. Frustrated that no restaurants
in the area served catfish, he started offering catfish dinners
in the store. Eventually, Carl's business card as well as
his menu read, "Okeechobee cat fish and hush puppies,
oysters, shrimp, frog legs, turtle, rattlesnake, armadillo,
chicken, gator, quail and fried green tomatoes". As
one writer put it, "A most unusual place to eat."
Allen was a self-described pack rat that made him all the
more valuable to his state and the preservation of its history.
He had been fascinated with history since digging up some
old metal tools when he was about 9 years old. His father
had regaled him with tales of their possible origins.
the son and grandson of range-riding cow hunters, he had
collected and saved everything he could get hands on from
Florida's frontier days. The artifacts covered every square
inch of his sprawling, five-room cafe.
bluegrass got started in the mid-60s when some boys Carl
knew from Kentucky, started hangin' around the cafe and pickin'.
Local pickers started joining in and it soon got to be a
regular Thursday night thing -- and just never stopped.
1980, Allen added a large dining room with a full stage and
sound system to accommodate regular bluegrass and gospel
performances in addition to the customary Thursday night
a Thursday night in 1976 that Allen got the idea to do
a bluegrass festival with a competition format. By the time
it was all
over, he had organized a festival and
dubbed it, "The
Florida State Championship Bluegrass Festival". That
first event was held in the middle of the street in downtown
and probably had an attendance of around one to two thousand
people. The following year, he moved the festival about a
block west to the gazebo in the Auburndale City Park and
finally in 1994 to the grounds of "International Market
a large flea market on the outskirts of town.
explained his dedication to bluegrass in simple terms. He
did it as much for fun as anything. He loved the music, he
loved watching his "boys" develop as musicians and he loved "bluegrass
people." Allen felt strongly that as a group, bluegrassers
are a bastion of honesty and decency in a troubled society.
Allen unexpectedly passed away on Tuesday, March 26, 1996
and his passing has left a void that no single man will ever
to fill. He was truly one-of-kind and able to get
that no one else could pull off. His shrewd business sense
was surpassed only by his ability to instill loyalty
in those around him. He
the only man I've ever known who could have a room overflowing
with musicians, fighting for the opportunity to play for
free. Maybe you'd
appreciate that. Believe me....that's a phenomenal feat.
of the information contained on this site came from
various articles that were written
about Carl Allen and his endeavors over the years.
However-- the information contained in an article written
by Bruce Kistler entitled "Of Catfish and Bluegrass
- A Tribute to Carl Allen", published in the February
1997 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine was an invaluable
reference and has been heavily quoted.
Also a very special "thanks" to Jewell Allen
and Henry and Billie Tupper for their cooperation in
helping with the overwhelming
amount of material we've had to sift through. This site will continue
to grow for some time. Check back often and give us a shout if you
have something to contribute.
This site was created and is maintained by Carl Chambers for Dizzy Rambler Productions
Articles, quotes, images and music not our own remain in the copyright of the originator or else in the public domain. The information contained in this web site is intended for educational, historical, and informational purposes only and should not be copied or otherwise redistributed without permission.