Not too far from I-75 just north of Tampa, you will find a gem hidden in Brooksville. This isn’t a treasure hunt for gold or rubies, this is the Road to Sertoma where a treasure that isn’t as tangible can be found. The path from 75 to the ranch is filled with quaint back roads and farmland views to the point that you are asking yourself “Where can they be having this festival at?” As you make the turn off Meyers road and crest the hill you finally see the grove hidden from the road called The Sertoma Youth Ranch.
For over 40 years, the boy’s ranch has played host to the Sertoma Bluegrass Festival which has hosted the best of the best in Bluegrass music from popular local bands to international touring Bluegrass stars. While many festivals can boast rich histories and packed lineups, not too many can match the charm that you feel at The Sertoma Youth Ranch. It feels like a memory of bygone days before the world sped up. The camping spots are naturally divided by giant Oak trees and the canopy they create give the place its private feel. A tiny creek splits the campground and serves as a landmark for the ranches many paths and footbridges.
During the Bluegrass festival, the ranch becomes home to so many Bluegrass fans that they have had to squeeze extra spots between trees in order to accommodate the sheer number of people wanting to be a part of the family like feel. From Tuesday morning on the constant flow of campers can be seen along the main roads as people find the spots they have had for years and begin to set up for the long week of events. The ranch hands are already in full force making sure the beautiful restroom/shower facilities are immaculate and getting the handful of picking pavilions ready for all-nighters.
This year’s spring festival (as it always does) boasts a lineup filled with some of the most popular acts in Bluegrass. Balsam Range, The Grascals, Larry Stephenson, Nothing Fancy, Don Rigsby…the list goes on and on of very original artists. Alongside the main stage show, Ernie Evans with Evans Media Source (the festival’s longtime Promoter) has planned a ton of side events and activities. Mark “Brink” Brinkman, one of Bluegrass’ most well-known songwriters will be hosting a songwriting workshop. Brink is very insightful and provides aspiring writers with some tips and tricks of the trade. Alligator Alley will be hosting their “Alligator Alley Jam” all weekend which draws in some of the festivals top pickers into the 700 lane for a mashing good time. There will also be Bingo, a Pot Luck dinner and so many other side activities that you will always be able to find something to take up your time (outside of eating delicious food provided by the Ranch Café and specialized gourmet vendor options)
For jammers, it doesn’t get much better that Sertoma’s jam scene. Each year at Sertoma you can find dozens of jams spread around the ranch varying in size and style. This year, Evans Media Source has decided to make that even more of a focus by not only having the Alligator Alley Jam again but also adding in “Musicians at Large”. These musicians will be roaming around the festival all week with the sole purpose of jamming! Royce Burt, Jimmie White, Joey Lazio and a bunch more will be burning it up with pickers all across the park. If you’re a picker wanting to jam at Sertoma and can’t find a jam, walk a dozen more steps and you will surely find one.
This Bluegrass festival season has been an amazing journey winding from the beaches of Islamorada, up to the big lake, through the Everglades, through a dog park, up past the Ocala National Forest down through horse country of Bronson and Dunnellon and landing at the doorstep of The Sertoma Youth Ranch. This is not the end of the road (there are so many great Florida Bluegrass festivals and shows that are held year-round) but the Road to Sertoma has been filled with amazing Bluegrass….time
for another drink from that good well.
Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network