A Little SWFBA History

SWFBA History: For some time now we have been talking about gathering some information about the history of the Southwest Florida Bluegrass Association. Many of the new members ask questions about how long we have been in existence and how the association was formed. The following is an attempt to put together some of the information gathered by talking to some of the people who were involved. This is very much a work in progress. We are sure many of you who were around during the early years will see some errors or omissions. You may know the names of other bands who played at the festivals or other individuals who were involved in the formation of the association. If you do, please write down any added information or corrections you have and give them to us. The finished product will be published again and posted on the website.

The Southwest Florida Bluegrass Association was formed in 1975. The first meeting place was on the farm of David Bull, Jr. near Alva, Florida. A group of musicians had been meeting informally for some time on the Bull farm. After meeting for bluegrass sessions for a year or two they decided they would form a bluegrass association and start having bluegrass festivals. David Bull volunteered the use of his farm for the project. In addition to David Bull, some of the people active in forming the association were Don Smith, Dave Knight, Tom Scott, and Stella Scott. Simon Train, a local radio announcer, was also involved. With donated labor and materials from local contractors, plumbers, and electricians they constructed a stage in David Bull's pasture. They found sponsors for the festivals and had their first event in March of 1975. Festivals were held at the Bull farm every March and November from 1975 to 1988. While preparing to start festivals they received assistance from some of the existing bluegrass festival promoters in the Miami area in addition to Lonnie and Peggy Knight of Withlacoochee.

Some of the early performers at the festivals were Seldom Scene, Doyle Lawson, Jim & Jesse, Red and Murphy Henry, The Lewis Family, The McLain Family, The Buffalo Gals, Outdoor Plumbing Co., Brother Oswald Kirby, Charlie Collins, Charlie Louvin, Chubby Wise, and many others, including Mary Raybon's family as the American Bluegrass Express.

Rhonda Vincent was performing with the family band and stayed at the farm during the festival. They brought with them 12 year old Alison Krauss on one occasion. The Tater Hill Band performed at the SWFBA festival there in 1985 during the first year they formed their band. Some of the local bands who performed there were Amos Shepherd and the Good Ol' Boys, Glenn Mudd's Flatland Bluegrass, Solen Hingson's Borderline Bluegrass, Orange Blossom Bluegrass, and others.

After leaving the Bull farm the SWFBA moved to several locations, including the Olga Community Center, Shandler Hall, and Terry Park near Fort Myers. The monthly shows were held on Saturday night and they continued to have occasional bluegrass festivals. The association eventually moved to the Buckingham park location East of Fort Myers. Shows at Buckingham were held for a time on Saturday night and eventually were changed to Sunday afternoon.

In May of 2001 the SWFBA moved from the Buckingham Park location to Craig's RV Park north of Arcadia. Prior to the move, Allen Wickey had already been hosting weekend camping/picking sessions at Craig's RV for a few years. The SWFBA Sunday show complemented the picking weekend to make a full weekend of camping and shows. After about a year the show was changed from Sunday afternoon to Saturday afternoon.

In 2006 the SWFBA moved from Craig's RV Park to Rambler's Rest Campground on River Road just outside of Venice. This facility provided a year-round indoor hall for the concerts, and plenty of summer and winter camping.

It is interesting to know that the SWFBA we enjoy today has had such a long and varied existence. We are sure the next thirty years will bring many more changes, but we hope the members will still be playing and enjoying bluegrass music.