Festival #10:  March 13-15, 1987

Pick of the crop at bluegrass festival
Cross Country Bluegrass

The Cross Country Bluegrass Band plays a tune. Members are from left: David Crow, Mark Maggiolo, Janet Messer, Pete Campbell, Martin Decato,
and Roger Messer.

By Philip Booth
The Ledger

AUBURNDALE - It's that dadgum beat that gives Carl Allen happy feet when he listens to bluegrass music.

"I like the tempo of it, the music, the harmonizing, and I also like the five-string banjo," says Allen, a 69-year-old restaurant owner and local purveyor of all things historical.

"Bluegrass is about people, about the good things of life," Allen says. "And it's not X-rated songs at all."

Janet Messer

Janet Messer (left) leads the band in song. "Bluegrass is about people, about the good things of life," Carl Allen says. Allen (right) plays host to the 10th annual State Championship Bluegrass Festival in downtown Auburndale this weekend.

Carl Allen

Allen, who celebrates Polk's beginnings with a weekly column in The Ledger, this weekend plays host to the 10th annual State Championship Bluegrass Festival in downtown Auburndale.

Allen is an Auburndale native who worked as a cowboy and a Sheriff's deputy and hoboed on trains before he settled down to manage his Historical Cafe in 1961. He says he was turned on to bluegrass when he was in his 20s.

Bill Monroe, Seldom Scene, Don Reno and Lester Flatt were among the bluegrass kingpins who aided the former country music fan's musical conversion to the bluegrass camp.

"It began in the hills of Kentucky, with Bill Monroe," Allen explains of his beloved bluegrass music. "Soon it spread like wildfire. People would just get together out in the woods, and start playing."

Eventually, as Allen tells it, dozens of country musicians who specialized in cheat-on-me and break-my-heart lamentations found a new calling - the bouncy rhythms, fleet-fingered picking and streamlined harmonies of bluegrass.

"Soon it became a challenge to country and western pickers," Allen says.

"Any bluegrass picker can play country and western, but not every country and western person can play bluegrass."

The bluegrass explosion in Auburndale had its origins with the opening of Allen's cafe, a Cracker-style restaurant that features fried catfish, fried chicken and such delicacies as alligator tail, rattlesnake meat and fried dill pickle.

Local bluegrass devotees and experimenters figured out, early on, that Allen's Historical Cafe was a good place to practice their craft.

"They started to jam on the outside and the inside," Allen recounts. "We encouraged it for the simple reason that I liked it.

"Pickers need a place to pick."

The bluegrass festival, which had its origins as a two day event with a 10-band line-up, has expanded to a 16-band, three-day event.

Flatland Bluegrass, Cross Country Bluegrass, Boots Eubanks and the Dizzy Ramblers, the Greenback Dollar Band and the North-South Connection are among the bluegrass bands set to compete at the festival, which opens tonight at 7 at City Park in Auburndale.

Three judges will evaluate the bands on the basis of playing ability, appearance and attitude. The highest rated band will walk off with $1,500, while the second place group will take home $1,000.

The festival is designed to provide both free, down home entertainment for the people of Polk County and an outlet for local bluegrass bands, Allen says.

"I wanted to give the bands in the area and throughout Florida a chance to see how good they would be if they were judged," he says.

Allen, who volunteers his time and resources to organize the festival, says the pay-off isn't monetary.

"I look out there and see the people enjoying themselves," he says. "That's the way I get paid."

Hours for the State Championship Bluegrass Festival are tonight from 7 to midnight, Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

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