SPRING LAKE — It's a music festival that started as an "experiment" with 25 jam bands. It proved quite popular, drawing about 1,000 visitors over three days. By 2016, it had grown into a four-day event featuring 70 bands performing on four stages, with crowds totaling more than 2,500.
But when the eighth annual Orange Blossom Jamboree kicks off May 18 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, it will be somewhat smaller, with 60 bands performing on three stages.
"It was too much last year," promoter Russ Bowers admitted. "This will keep the capacity down and keep it humble."
Bowers and his wife, Toby, started the jamboree in 2010 with the intent of offering a weekend of improvisational rock music with Florida-based jam bands. With groups performing in a free-form format with lengthy musical pieces, the jam band genre tends to garner cult followings, with roots traced back to the iconic 1960s band, the Grateful Dead.
Orange Blossom has become one of Florida's most prominent music festivals, drawing some of the region's favorite improvisational rock, ska and reggae bands. This year's lineup will include bands such as the Heavy Pets, the Lee Boys, Thomas Wynn and the Believers, Holey Miss Moley, Uncle John's Band, Joose and Come Back Alice.
"There is an incredible amount of music talent in Florida," Bowers said.
Bowers said about half the bands are new to the festival. However, many favorites will return, such as Applebutter Express, a four-piece acoustic group from Tampa.
"It's hard not to have (Applebutter Express) back," he said. "They always get the crowd going."
The festival has grown to include much more than the music. It's a family event with camping and a variety of activities throughout the weekend, including free interactive classes and workshops. There will be approximately 35 to 40 vendors on hand selling food and merchandise. There also will be Kid Row, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, offering a full schedule of events for youth, such as arts and crafts, a petting zoo, kickball, scavenger hunts, origami art, painting and contests. This year will also include an area geared for teenagers.
Those attending may bring coolers with their own drinks and food, but there will be plenty of food available from vendors.
While all of the RV camping sites are sold out, primitive camping is available, with sites selected on a first-come basis.
Bowers said campers will be arriving early in the week.
"They take advantage of the camping, where they can just kick back, relax and enjoy the quiet," he said.