Duette Cracker Fest: Florida musicians to play concert for Duette Elementary

jajones1@bradenton.comApril 2, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- The Duette prairie will come alive with some of Florida's best musical talent at a free concert benefitting the community's iconic one-room schoolhouse.

Signing on for the Duette Cracker Fest 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday are harmonica man T. C. Carr, Florida folk musician Mac Martin, versatile blues man Steve Arvey, former Duette Elementary student and country singer Sara Spencer, folk band The Florida Boys, the JD Lewis Band, Frank Thomas, a country music member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and former NFL star Henry Lawrence, a candidate for U.S. Congress.

Also slated to participate in the fest are the Seminole Stomp Dancers, Seminole medicine man Bobby Henry and authors Chip Ballard and Alvin Futch.

Duette Elementary School, opened in 1930 as a "strawberry school" -- to allow children time out of class to help with the annual harvest -- has struggled in recent decades to keep its doors open.

In 2009, after the Manatee School District decided it could no longer financially justify keeping the school open, the Duette Education Foundation Inc. was formed.

The foundation, working

with long-time principal Donna King, championed keeping the school open through fund-raising efforts.

This year Duette Elementary has an enrollment of 16. The school actually has five rooms, but is called a one-room school because all the students are taught in a single room.

Even after her retirement, King continued volunteering her time for the school.

This past year was even more difficult for King, who has been battling cancer, but now says she is feeling much better.

"My worst time was when school opened and I couldn't be there. It was the first time in more than 20 years that I wasn't there on the first day of school," she said.

King, who has finished her chemotherapy and radiation, plans to be at the festival Saturday.

In addition to all the music, the event will celebrate all things cracker: cows, food, whip cracking and more. It's being held at the school's rural 12-acre campus at 40755 State Road 62.

"It is in a gorgeous setting," said Gary Bogart, owner of Jake's Automotive in Bradenton.

Bogart is a fan of Donna King and knows first-hand her passion as an educator.

"She taught two of my girls," Bogart said. "Donna is one of those people who commands the respect of the kids, and the community loves her."

Pete Gallagher, a member of The Florida Boys and host of a Florida folk music radio show on WMNF 9 a.m. Saturdays, helped line up the talent for the concert.

"JD Lewis came to me and told me the story of this school. I called out and talked to Donna King, and it was very compelling," Gallagher said.

For more information about the fest, visit duettecrackerfest.org.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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