Just north of Arcadia, FL on highway 17, after passing cattle grazing on each side you quickly realize you have found yourself in the “Heartland” of the state. All the things Florida is famous for come together in this one area; Orange Groves, cattle ranches, rivers, lakes, and Bluegrass. Craig’s RV Park can be found on the west side of the highway just 7 miles north of town, and at first glance, it seems like any other park tucked away in this scenic part of the state. But as you draw close, you can hear the sounds of Bluegrass music ringing. Craig’s RV boasts two stages (A large pole-barn pavilion covered stage for the winter months and a large air-conditioned concert hall for the summer months), hundreds of RV hookups and a massive property where people can primitive camp.The “season” camping area also features a concession stand with attached bathrooms and showers.
In the early 2000s the park was home to the Southwest Florida Bluegrass Association. They would hold weekend camping and shows at the park and people would come from miles around to enjoy the toe-tapping music. The place would be filled with campers, fans, and pickers for weekends at a time. In 2006, The SWFBA decided to move their organization to Venice, FL and the owners of Craig’s RV were left with a hole they couldn’t see but they could feel while reminiscing on all the friends who had made the trek to Arcadia join in on the Bluegrass fun.
A few years later a jam was organized by Allen and Vicky Wickey, the owners of the park and that old familiar feeling started to come back to the park. Each time they got together more and more pickers and grinners came out to join in, reflecting on how much they had missed getting together here. With the park owner’s encouragement, Dave Cowles and his team of “regulars” formed a 501c3 Non-Profit in 2010 called the Heartland Bluegrass Music Association of Florida, and started holding mini-festivals each 4th weekend of the month ( in December it is the weekend closest to New Years). David and his team started to bring in bands from all reaches of the state to provide the main show. Ultimately, many of the state’s top Bluegrass bands have graced the Heartland stage(s), but the show isn’t the only event.Heartland prides itself on making a full weekend family Bluegrass experience. The weekend of the festival, Heartland members get a $25 full hookup price per night ($7 per for primitive camping) so that they can get together before and after the shows to jam with friends and family. Heartland also hosts multiple jams during the weekend including a slow jam for beginning players. Before the concert, a few of the Heartland Staff hosts workshops for Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo and all the rest of the Bluegrass standard instruments. After the show there is a potluck supper for whoever wishes to partake. Heartland’s goal is to not only bring fans out to see a show but also bring musicians together and foster Bluegrass among the area’s youth. For many years the organization has held fundraisers to help young musicians go to Bluegrass camps to learn or acquire better instruments to learn on. Heartland also donates to other non-profits to help in the growth of young musicians. Just this last year they donated $1000 to Sandy’s Music Girls (an organization that fosters young women who are interested in acoustic music.)
Bluegrass associations have always been the lifeblood of Bluegrass music in the state and The Heartland Bluegrass Association goes far and above just putting on a show in order to foster Bluegrass in and around Arcadia in any way that they can. If you would like to become a member it is only $25 per year for you and your household. That membership allows you to get the lower camping rate and also allows you into each show for free. Non-members pay $7 to get into each event. Membership Board meetings are held three times a year (April, September, and December) at which you can also volunteer your time to help out.
The next monthly festival is April 27th Featuring Rekindled Grass, The House Jam Band, and The Justin Mason Band. Click the links below if you would like more information:
Justin Mason, Florida Bluegrass Network
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