Sunday, January 13, 2008

Among winter pleasures: Vermont folk musicians

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel January 13, 2008)

There are many things to look forward to during a Florida winter. There's the fresh taste of red navel oranges and the juicy flavor of a just-picked strawberry. There's finally having a reason to don long-sleeve shirts and the opportunity to go for midday walks now that the sun's heat has been somewhat subdued.

Something else I anticipate during wintertime is the return to Florida of some of my favorite Northern musicians. As predictable as a pair of songbirds flying south from their snow-covered homes, Bennington, Vt., residents Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen make up a folk music duo that has been flocking to the Florida winter music scene for the past nine years.

"We've been coming to Florida each January and have built up an audience over time," said Gillette. "We were invited to the South Florida Folk Festival in 1998, and in May of 2000 we played at the Gamble Rogers Memorial Folk Festival in St. Augustine."

While I'm not sure if I attended their concerts every year, I've been in the audience enough to know how much I look forward to their annual concerts. With Gillette on guitar and Mangsen on concertina, their show never fails to entertain, enlighten and amuse.

Perhaps Florida singer-songwriter Jack Williams said it best when he posted these comments on a Florida folk music listserv about the couple's 2008 tour, "The coming of two of my favorite people/musicians to Florida prompts me to write and suggest that no one miss a concert by Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen! Whether you like your folk contemporary or traditional, you'll get it all with these two most comfortable of writer/performers. These two friends always remind me that folk music can still be gentle, friendly, old and new -- all at once. Hold on to your hearts for Steve's song about Gamble Rogers. They're the best."

I'm not sure which of the Gillette-Mangsen songs I like best. Out of the four compact discs they have produced together -- individually they've each also produced four others -- their most recent album, Being There, might be my favorite.

That album includes the lyrical "Road Through the Wood" that Mangsen adapted from a Rudyard Kipling poem, as well as two irreverent ditties -- "Homelessness" and "Odd One Out" -- written by their friends, fellow performers and comedic cohorts Lou and Peter Berryman. Also on the Being There album is the thought-provoking tune, "The Kid with the Comic Book" written by Canadian songwriter Trevor Mills, which Gillette-Mangsen call a "quirky, sweet vision of the cosmos."

This year the husband-wife team, whose performing history dates back to the 1960s, will be providing music lovers with several choices of listening venues. Their first Florida stop will be in The Villages for a one-hour free concert at the Church on the Square at 6 p.m. Wednesday. For information, call 352-750-5411.

They leave The Villages for Tampa, where they'll do an on-air show at 88.5 FM (WMNF) and then a live concert at the Cultural Center in Tarpon Springs before returning for a . show at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lake Eustis Folk Center. For information, call 352-253-6448.

After a quick trip to Sarasota for a house concert, they return to Orlando at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27 for a performance at beautiful Harry P. Leu Gardens, sponsored by Central Florida Folk. The Leu Gardens show costs $12 at the door. Those who arrive early can enjoy a pre-show ramble around the ever-verdant botanical gardens. For information, call 407-679-6426.

I haven't decided yet which of the three local gigs I'll go to this year, but whichever I select, it's sure to be time well spent. If you're in the mood for music that will soothe as much as amuse, check out these mavens of the melodic folk scene.

Snippets of their songs are available at

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