There aren't many places that manage to remain unchanged for decades, but the Mill Top Tavern in St. Augustine still evokes the days when Florida troubadour Gamble Rogers roamed St. George Street almost 30 years ago.
In April, the Gamble Rogers Folk Festival celebrates the legacy of the iconic storyteller, who died in 1991 at age 54 when he drowned trying to rescue a tourist in choppy waters at the Flagler Beach State Recreation Area near his St. Augustine home. While people remember how Rogers died, the enduring memories revolve around his music and the hilarious tales of Airstream trailers, three-legged dawgs — the "o" being reserved for more urban creatures — and other characters in imaginary Oklawaha County.
Slated to unfold April 29-May 1, the festival that bears his name has evolved to showcase more of the old city that he called home. A lineup that includes singer-songwriter and virtuosic guitarist Richard Thompson will perform on an outdoor stage in a bayfront space between the Bridge of Lions and the St. Augustine Marina. There also will be indoor concerts at the 700-seat Flagler Auditorium and additional showcases at some of the clubs where Rogers once performed, including the Trade Winds and the cozy Mill Top Tavern.
The complete lineup is still being finalized, but acts already confirmed include bluegrass and folk by the Grascals, Kim & Reggie Harris, John McCutcheon, Larkin Poe, Tim Grimm, & Ashleigh Flynn and blues from Florida favorite Bill "The Sauce Boss" Wharton. The latter will be cooking up songs and gumbo for the audience on April 30 on that outdoor stage by Bridge of Lions.
Advance 3-day tickets are $59.50, with one-day tickets available for $29.50 for April 29 and evening music on April 30; and $19.50 for daytime performances on April 30 and May 1.
Visit the festival website at gamblerogersfest.org for details.
And try to catch a set by St, Augustine singer-guitarist Don Oja-Dunaway, who quietly holds court most afternoons at the Mill Top. Rogers recorded Oja-Dunaway's Civil War ballad "Kennesaw Line" and the two performers shared stages as long ago as 1967 in the folk heydays in Coconut Grove in South Florida.