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By Bev Ringenberg
Although Jim Carrick, singer/guitarist from St. Augustine, played music in Cedar Key in the 80s “down on the waterfront,” it was not until 1990 when the new owners of the Island Hotel, Tom and Allison Sanders, invited him to play in the hotel’s courtyard, that his festival tradition began. Since 1990, Jim has played at both the Seafood Festival and Arts Festival every year. Along with some of his own “followers” (aka groupies) he draws an enthusiastic crowd both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Jim says he has always been treated well at the hotel, especially by present owners, Stanley and Andy Bair, who have even dedicated a room with his name on it (and a golden star, no less). He hasn’t been visited by any ghosts, but he reports hearing footsteps at about 3:30 a.m. in the hallway on many occasions and has been told “that’s just Mrs. Bessie getting up to make biscuits.” He has many fond memories of playing music on the balcony, Andy’s delicious breakfasts and spending time with Cedar Key residents who have become life-long friends.
When asked about his music, Jim describes it as, “traditional Americana.” “You’re not supposed to call it Folk Music anymore, but to me it is storytelling in song.” He likes to take “old songs and bring them into the now.” He calls it old-song-interpretation. His companion on this visit, Marianne Lerbs, an artist and musician herself, says his songs are so descriptive that they remind you of a painting, “You can just see it.” Some of his favorites are old railroad songs with the guitar played in a way that you can hear the train in the background as the story is told.
Jim has played all around the country with many well-known musicians, including, most recently, Willie Nelson at the Amphitheater in St. Augustine in 2009. But, when asked where his favorite place to play is, he answers without hesitation, “Right here, this is home.” He met Tommy Jones, “one of the greatest guitar players he’s ever played with,” here in Cedar Key. And enjoyed playing in the courtyard with Spanky and Our Gang about five years ago.
Reminiscing about his years in Cedar Key, Jim says, “In many ways it is still the same, friendly people, it takes a special person to want to live here, it still has the feel of Old Florida.” Some things have changed though, “It was wilder back then,” he says, but the “cops were friendlier, they’ve gotten meaner since 2007 when property values went up.” As far as the Arts Festival goes, he feels there’s been a noticeable improvement in the quality of art since the event returned to a fine arts show in 2006, but likes the fact that the Seafood Festival is different with arts and crafts.
So, as you are planning your time for the 50th Annual Spring Arts Festival in Cedar Key, April 12 & 13, take some time to stop by the Island Hotel Courtyard and enjoy some of Jim’s musical storytelling. And remember, Jim likes to catch up with the locals late Sunday afternoon or early evening at what he sometimes calls the “Thank God they are gone party.”