Monday, January 11, 2016

The acoustic sounds of January in Florida

During a month when our Northern brethren are stomping through snowdrifts in boots and parkas, we’re lolling around green expanses in sandals and short-sleeve shirts. Instead of skating over frozen lakes, some of us are gliding through silky water in kayaks or rowboats.

Kayaking through calm water on a foggy afternoon

We might even go swimming. At 72 degrees, the Atlantic Ocean was two degrees warmer last week than it was at the peak of summer on Cape Cod, and during yesterday’s sunny afternoon, my husband Ralph swam across our lake.

Swimming in the lake

The ability to garden during a month when the ground is frozen in other parts of the country is another reason why Floridians like January. Rather than shoveling the white stuff into piles, Florida gardeners are sowing seeds into rows. January is prime planting time for cold-weather crops such as lettuce, potato, broccoli and bok choy. There are strawberries to harvest at u-pick farms and fresh oranges to squeeze into juice.

Despite wearing a hat and long sleeve shirt, January is prime gardening time for my husband who tends to young seedlings of Asian Greens in his raised container garden

Instead of eagerly awaiting the appearance of the first crocuses on a bleak landscape, we find ourselves already surrounded by an abundance of blooms. Yellow allamandas, red bottlebrush, sweet-smelling jasmine and colorful bougainvilleas are among a multitude of flowers that fill the January landscape with beauty and fragrance.

The yellow blooms of Carolina jasmine cover a trellis

But there’s another reason why Floridians look forward to the first month of the year, and it has nothing to do with the scent of flowers, the taste of fresh-picked produce or the warmth of the water. It’s all about sound — the sound of music. January is when a cadre of beloved folk singers flee cold New England winters to entertain us with the sweet sound of acoustic songs.

The fun starts Saturday January 16 at 8 p.m. when Cindy Mangsen and Steve Gillette return to Lake County for their annual performance of traditional and contemporary folk music at Trout Lake Nature Center as part of the Lake Eustis Folk 3rd Saturday House Concert series.

Traveling, recording and performing together since 1989 under the banner of Compass Rose Music, the Mangsen-Gillette duo is a well established part of the American folk music scene. Although I have been attending their performances for many years, I never tire of listening to their beautiful harmonies, mellow tones and humorous takes on everyday situations.

The Mangsen-Gillette duo at a 2003 concert in The Villages

And while I love their songs — many are on my personal playlist of all-time favorite tunes — I also appreciate the gentle graciousness with which the pair approaches their audience. I find it a pleasure to listen to songs sung clearly with beautiful melodies that stay with me long after the concert has ended.

Preceding Saturday evening’s event is an optional 7 p.m. potluck supper, a casual gathering of fellow folk music aficionados. For those who choose to attend the pre-concert meal, it’s also a chance to mingle with two down-to-earth performers in a friendly, low-key environment. Following the concert, an after-concert jam ensues in which music-making attendees bring out guitars, fiddles, dulcimers and other instruments to take turns making more music. It’s yet another chance for those of us who don’t play to sit back and enjoy the talent of others. The entire evening is available for a donation of just $10, a small price to pay for a large serving of food, fellowship, fine songs and good old-time fun.

Like Mangsen and Gillette, David Roth is another soothing voice in a noisy world. A Chicago native transplanted to Cape Cod after several years living and performing in Seattle, Roth entertains audiences with his unique ability to combine offbeat observations with moving stories that often are humorous, as well as powerful statements on contemporary issues.

David Roth

Although Roth’s bookings rarely bring him to Lake County, he’s a regular winter performer in Central Florida. This year, his final stop on a 9-day tour across the Sunshine State will be a 6 p.m. concert on Jan. 24 at the University Unitarian Universalist Society in Orlando for a donation of $15 per person.

While Lake County is home to a great number of talented local acoustic musicians who perform all year long in intimate settings throughout the region, I consider it a special treat to be able to attend small-venue concerts by special performers who only visit our stomping grounds in the month of January.

While there are those who object to all the snowbirds who come south when temperatures dip low, I say, bring ’em on. Especially snowbirds that sing, because I for one, intend to be in the audience, absorbing the stories and singing along to the sweet sounds of Florida winter from a folk music perspective. Hope to see you there too.

Here is where you can get details on the performance:

David Roth:

Cindy Mangsen and Steve Gillette:

UUU Society of Orlando: 11648 McCulloch Rd, Orlando, FL 32817, 407-737-4018.

3rd Saturday concert in Eustis: Trout Lake Nature Center; 520 East County Road 44, Eustis, 352-408-9800 or email

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