Magnolia Hits 10 Years of Music Festivals

Article excerpt

Byline: Tamara McClaran

Jacksonville Beach-based Magnolia Music and Events is gearing up to celebrate a decade of producing music festivals that showcase Americana and grassroots music in 2006.

Next year, the company marks the first decade of its two Florida offerings, the Suwannee Springfest and the Magnoliafest, which are held in March and October at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak. Last year, they also introduced Magnoliafest Midwest, which takes place in Indiana in July.

Every business has its challenges, yet Magnolia's founders and owners never doubted their success.

"We thought we were building something that would last," said festival co-owner Beth Judy, who owns and operates the company with Randy Judy, her ex-husband and business partner.

In addition to presenting a mix of musical styles, including new and traditional folk, bluegrass, roots rock, alternative country, rhythm and blues, Cajun and Celtic music, Magnolia Music's festivals have built a reputation for its community spirit and vibe.

"They think it's important to invest in people's lives," said the Rev. Jeff Mosier about Magnolia Music. Mosier's Atlanta-based group, Blueground Undergrass, has performed at the festivals since 1998.

"It's hard to create a vibe at a festival that feels like the same people are there every year and you know these people," Mosier said. "There is no question that Beth and the way she fosters human beings single-handedly installed that vibe."

Mosier is among a group of performers that appear at the festivals year after year. Peter Rowan and Roy Book Binder have performed every year. Guy Clark has appeared at every one except for the first year. The late Vassar Clements performed at every festival from fall 1997 to 2004.

"When it comes to the artists, everybody wants to come back," Judy said. "That's important to me. Music is the glue that pulls all of these people together and creates a community."

In addition to Mosier, Rowan, Book Binder and Clark, many familiar names are returning to the next Suwannee Springfest, including Bela Fleck, Del McCoury and Donna the Buffalo. The lineup also has artists new to the festival, including soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples.

The festivals also introduce new music talent and offer opportunities for aspiring up-and-coming artists, including a songwriting contest at the Suwannee Springfest. They also offer a vehicle for many artists' success and honor those who have died. Since his death last year, festival Sundays have been named Vassar Clements Day, with music and activities to honor his memory.

For Judy, the festival's vibe helps measure their success.

"The value is not measured in financial terms," she said. "The value has to do with impact and the value that it brings to the community. What we have accomplished is satisfaction."

While the Judys had a business plan for their company from the beginning, producing a musical festival has its challenges.

"You have to have a passion for it," Judy said. "If you don't have the guts to go in your backyard and burn $50,000, you shouldn't be in the festival business."

Judy says they always plan for the worst-case scenario. Even so, nothing truly prepared them for last year's Suwannee Springfest, when heavy rain and thunderstorms flooded the festival and wiped out the outdoor stages. …