Concert kicks off Parrish revitalization

The community is on the comeback thanks to the Parrish Arts Council

kmoschella@bradenton.comMay 10, 2014 

PARRISH -- Toward the end of the Civil War, a plantation named Oak Hill was used to hide the secretary of the Confederacy from Union soldiers. That plantation was sold to a cattle and citrus rancher named Crawford Parrish, who created a town complete with a post office, school and a train depot named after him.

Today, Parrish, in northeastern Manatee County, has a railroad museum and a lot of Florida charm, but that's about it, and the Parrish Arts Council is hoping to bring it back to life.

Following its postpone

ment last week due to rainy and stormy weather, the group held its first-ever Music on the River concert, a free Saturday afternoon of country, folk and bluegrass music and cowboy poetry among the mighty oak trees and idyllic setting of the Manatee River at Fort Hamer Park in Parrish. It was the council's first effort to raise money, restore the identity of Parrish and return it to the vibrant community it once was.

As part of Parrish history, a homemade reproduction of a Civil War quilt made by Parrish Arts Council member and resident Marie Synder was auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Concert-goers of all ages from all areas of Manatee County were treated to a variety of music, beginning with the acoustic duo of JD and Zetha Lewis and their Swamp Grass Tunes, to a lead performance by Kim Betts, high-energy front singer for the group, the Gamble Creek Band and daughter of legendary Allman Brothers Band founding member, Dickey Betts, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.

In between the foot-stomping tunes, self-described cowboy poet Les McDowell performed his musical poetry. McDowell is a Parrish resident who hosts a successful cable television show, Dry Creek, on a set he built in the backwoods of Parrish after he was laid off from a long-time radio career.

Parrish has a lot of musicians who live in and around the area, but they often go somewhere else to perform their music, said resident John Phillips, who introduced the idea of a free concert to the arts council. They ran with it.

"They put it all together from a simple idea and a simple dream. They turned it into a reality, and we plan to continue it," said Phillips. "We're looking forward to bringing all types of art to Parrish -- painting, dancing, whatever people are interested in, let's do it."

Performer JD Lewis, a seventh-generation Florida pioneer, along with his wife, a fourth-generation Floridian, says they do what they can to can to promote their heritage.

"We tell our audience, it doesn't matter where you're from, you need to grab on to your heritage and salvage that to pass on to your children. because that's important, and it's all that matters."

Concert-goer Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, says she wanted to leave the beach for a while for the outskirts of Manatee County, and also to hear her favorite couple, JD and Zetha Lewis, perform.

"I'm a fan of any kind of outdoor venue in Manatee County. The parks here are better than any place in Florida, and they really do a nice job," said Fox, who enjoyed listening to the music under the park's cool shade of the oak trees.

"Local folk, Florida folk, it's part of the culture," said Parrish native Jim Hysmith when asked what brought him to the concert. "Good country music. Love it," he said.

The arts council is planning to host another free concert in November at Fort Hamer Park, and an out-of-town band with young musicians who have ties to Parrish will be the featured entertainment.

Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.

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