Gamblefest 2022: Return to the Colonial Quarter

Gamble Rogers

Gamble Rogers was a Florida-based folk singer with a unique gift of storytelling, and a vocabulary that defied description. While he was an accomplished guitar player and singer, his stories about fictional Florida and Georgia locations and characters made him a regular on public radio and led to appearances on national television and an appearance in the classic music documentary Heartworn Highways. He influenced scores of musicians, including Jimmy Buffett, who dedicated his album Fruitcakes to Rogers. Gamble Rogers died trying to save a drowning man at Flagler Beach in Florida in 1991; both a school and a state park carry his name, and a Foundation as well that produced the video below. The Gamble Rogers Music Festival began in 1997, making this year the 25th Anniversary of the event.


St. Augustine’s Colonial Quarter is a recreation of early life in the mid-1700’s, located in the middle of the Historic District. It’s been used as a music venue in the 8 years since it was renovated. Finally, after a two-year Covid delay, this year’s festival featured a great line-up of regional, state and national acts. Gamble was a folk singer, and the festival celebrates folk music in all forms. The three-day event includes two stages and a newly added Youth Stage. The main stage area is sheltered by a giant oak and is a comfortable place even in the Florida sun.

Colonial Quarter 📷: Rick Davidson

Friday started off with several local St. Augustine musicians, and long-time friend Pierce Pettis. Pettis has been a nationally-known songwriter for decades, with covers of his songs by Joan Baez, Garth Brooks, Art Garfunkel and many others. His solo set included a number of songs from his most recent album, Father’s Son, as well as the Mark Heard song “Nothing But the Wind” and a song from my favorite album, Chase the Buffalo, called “Envelopes of Light.”

Pierce Pettis 📷: Rick Davidson

Remedy Tree did a high-energy set; the group, composed of husband-and-wife Gabriel and Abigail Acevedo, have added two high-level pickers in the past year, Benny McDowell and Joey Lazio (former members of Brett Bass and Melted Plectrum). This combination was running hot all set, playing some of their recent songs (“Changing Times,” “Bandwagon”) and reached a conclusion with some amazing hot fiddle playing by Gabe. This band has recently started playing on the road in some EMS festivals; if you get a chance to see them, don’t miss it.

Remedy Tree. 📷: Rick Davidson

The iconoclastic songwriting, poet, and mullet fishing rebel of Florida, Grant Peeples (with Michael Lagasse accompanying) provided his usual in-your-face songs laced with humor; he was introduced by saying “this guy does not hesitate to tell you what he thinks.”  A Peeples set always has me looking around the crowd to see if anyone gets so angry they leave….but they never do. He included some of his classics, as well as “Insurrection Song January 6” which makes no bones about his stance; a reviewer once put it perfectly: “He’s the only songwriter I have ever thought to call ruthless.”  For his closer, the classic “Sunshine State,” he had the Wild Shiners join him; they remained onstage for their set to finish the night. The Shiners covered John Hartford’s “Riverboat Man,” and followed up with a great Gamble Rogers song “Habersham County Mephistopheles,” and a few original songs in the mix as well.

Grant Peeples and the Wild Shiners. 📷: Rick Davidson

Saturday’s lineup introduced me to a few new folks and some old friends as well. Catching my attention were several acts I’ve never seen before. Bad Dog Mama is a St. Augustine-based duo (Lauren Gilliam and Chelsea Sadler) who did a great set of covers and original songs. The Duffy Bishop Band features the energetic Duffy and a hot blues band; Duffy clearly likes to move around, so she charged out into the crowd with a wireless mike and basically raised hell, pulling off some Janis Joplin-style vocals that had the crowd cheering.

Duffy Bishop Band. 📷: Rick Davidson

I also enjoyed a set by Fiona Maura, who won a youth contest at this festival back in 2017; she has moved to Nashville and has put out some singles and videos that she describes as “dream pop”….new age-inspired mystical music, but she just had her guitar and her songs are interesting without the ambient backup and synths. A paean to cannabis called simply “Sativa”, a great song called “Motorcycle,” and “Polly Pocket,” a hard take on what women deal with on a regular basis. Great guitar work and fine songs should get her noticed in Nashville.

Fiona Maura. 📷: Rick Davidson

Among the more familiar bands were the duet of Kathryn Belle Long and Mickey Abraham, known as Belle and the Band. The pair are regular performers at many Florida festivals, and they’re working on a “folk opera.”  Abraham is a regular contributor to several guitar instructional magazines and their tasteful arrangements and Williams’ fine voice work blend together perfectly.

Belle and the Band. 📷: Rick Davidson

Also regular participants Red and Chris Henry made an appearance; Red has been a stalwart in bluegrass music for years in the southeast, primarily with his wife Murphy in the band Red and Murphy and Friends. His son Chris grew up playing mandolin and has worked as Peter Rowan’s regular mandolin player. Accompanied by Barbara Johnson on bass, they ran though some traditional songs, including a few twin mandolin numbers. They were followed by Passerine, a group I first heard at the Riverhawk festival, and really enjoyed. Formed more than a decade ago, they cover the waterfront in terms of music with some great original tunes, including “Crash Burn Love,” “Fish,” and “Little Leslie Ann.” Carmela Pedicini and Sara Stovall provide solid vocals with David Brain’s dobro and Doug Conroy on bass; Stovall’s fiddle playing is a highlight. A band worth seeing, I’m looking forward to seeing them at Heartwood Soundstage in Gainesville in June.

Passerine. 📷: Rick Davidson

The Driftwoods are a north Florida institution. Playing together for 25 years, Lis and Lon Williamson, multi-instrumentalist Gabe Valla, and Eric Searcy on banjo always find that sweet spot. Fantastic vocal mixes, Valla’s inspired guitar breaks, and Searcy’s solid banjo are worth going out of your way to see. From their original “F-L-O-R-I-D-A” to covers of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and the traditional “I’ll Fly Away” and “Nine Pound Hammer,” they put together a great set.

The Driftwoods. 📷: Rick Davidson

Brian Smalley is a solo artist who lives with his guitar and knows it well. An intense player with a great sense of humor and a live wire on stage, he is constantly moving and his energy and commitment to entertaining the crowd is infectious. Whether it’s fiddle tunes or his own hilarious “Greasy Palm Marina,” he is a unique talent.

Brian Smalley. 📷: Rick Davidson

I was particularly excited when I found out that the Steel Wheels were the festival headliners this year. I first saw them at Merlefest in 2014 and was struck by their vocals and the quality of their original songs. Since forming in 2010, through eight albums, every one a jewel, they have toured constantly and have a huge following, and host their own Red Wing Music Festival every year. Fresh from this year’s Merlefest the week before, their solidly professional set included a number of songs from their newest two albums, Everyone A Song Vol. 1 and 2, a album based on original songs they wrote during the pandemic for specific people they knew. Trent Wagler, the primary vocalist, is a spectacular songwriter. “The Adventures of Grace and Henry” is a tale of a family birth and bonding interrupted by the pandemic. “Where I’m From” is a tribute to family history; “It’s Your Fault” is a hilarious song based on a fan’s injury that led to a wedding, and “Falling” is a beautiful love song.   Along with their great songs and solid instrumentation, the thing that sets this band apart from many is their flawless vocals.  An a capella “With It All Stripped Away” showcased their four-part harmony. They finished the night with the uptempo “Scrape Me Off the Ceiling” and because of time, we missed their usual closing song “Rain in the Valley”, a song that is their signature. Wagler switches off between traditional banjo and guitar; multi-instrumentalist Jay Lapp moved from mandolin to acoustic and electric guitar and added some hardcore slide and solid vocals. Eric Brubaker’s fiddle and vocals were impressive, and Kevin Garcia’s percussion adds texture and solid rhythm with new bass player Derek Kratzer. Years ago someone described this band to me as a bluegrass band; it’s not. With their original songs, multiple instrumentation, and great harmonies, they pretty much define what “Americana” is these days. They were a great choice to headline the festival.

Steel Wheels. 📷: Rick Davidson


Steel Wheels. 📷: Rick Davidson

The unique venue, an intimate appreciative crowd, and a great mix of folk, blues, traditional music and lots of original songs make this festival a must for me every year. I knew Gamble Rogers and I’m pretty sure he’d be delighted with this memorial. There were many stories about Gamble told from the stage, from people that played with him for years; it’s a fitting tribute to a unique and talented man, gone too early.







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