Florida Net Maker: The Strangest Catch

Every year, staff at the State Archives of Florida gets ready for the Florida History Fair by searching out primary source documents and compiling a list of resources for students and teachers. One of this year’s suggested Florida-related topics is “Commercial Fishing Net Ban: Economics, Ecology, and Responsibility.” That topic led us to this story.

In 1980, folklorist Peggy Bulger interviewed net maker Billy Burbank III as part of her research on the fishing industry in Florida. Burbank told Bulger the tale of a fishing boat that accidentally caught something very strange in its trawl nets.

Burbank family at Burbank Trawl Makers, Inc., Fernandina Beach, 1986

Burbank family at Burbank Trawl Makers, Inc., Fernandina Beach, 1986

Billy Burbank and the Strangest Catch

B: My name is Billy Burbank, III. I was born in Fernandina Beach, Florida, October 2, 1951.

P: Now tell me something about your grandfather, William Burbank.

B: Well, my grandfather was born on Cumberland Island which is in Georgia. He started shrimping oh back in his early years when he was 15-16 years old. He got into the shrimp business, oh just starting shrimping and started making his own nets.

And when oh his nets seemed to out produce everybody else’s nets. Then everybody decided to get him to make their nets and then that’s when we got started in the net business in about 1915 and been in it ever since.

P: […] Oh, what is the strangest catch you’ve ever heard anybody catching around here?

B: Strangest catch?

P: Yeah.

B: […] Probably be oh, submarines. An actual submarine in someone’s net started towing the boat backwards almost sinking the boat didn’t even realize they had the shrimp boat caught. It was the— not a Navy submarine. It was a German, I mean a Russian submarine.

P: Here?

B: Well, it was off this coast, yeah. They didn’t even realize that they had the submarine in the net at first. They were towed one way and all of a sudden started going backwards of the cable popped. And just a little while later they saw the submarine surface with the shrimp net on top of ‘em. I guess I’d have to say that is the weirdest catch.

Learn More About Net Making

Burbank nets have been used by people in the U.S. from North Carolina down to Florida and up the Gulf Coast through the Texas Panhandle area. Their nets have also been exported to Central and South America and Africa. At the time of the interview, Burbank Trawl Makers was the largest producer of fishing nets in the United States.

In the interview, Burbank also describes the different net types and uses – including flat nets, four seam balloon nets, two seam balloon nets, and a modification that Billy Burbank III developed called the Mongoose, which is actually two nets in one.

Read the full interview in Netmaking and Net Fishing in Florida.

Close-up view of net made by Billy Burbank III, Fernandina Beach, 1980

Close-up view of net made by Billy Burbank III, Fernandina Beach, 1980

Mariachi Jalisco

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

Mariachi Jalisco is an aptly named band, as Mariachi music originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco. This recording of the band comes from the Metro-Dade Folk Arts Survey conducted in 1986 by folklorists Tina Bucuvalas, Nancy Nusz, and Laurie Sommers in order to identify folk arts and folk artists for the 34th Annual Florida Folk Festival.

Members of Mariachi Jalisco performing at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival, Miami, 1986

Members of Mariachi Jalisco performing at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival, Miami, 1986

Here, Mariachi Jalisco perform the song “La Llorona (The Weeping Woman),” a tune based on the legendary tale of a mother condemned to roam the earth for eternity looking in vain for her children that she drowned in life.

La Llorona

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Survivalist Librarian

Listen to Boomslang Swampsinger perform “Survivalist Librarian,” a song from his Swamp Opera, at the 2006 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

Lithograph of a Florida Swamp, by Harry Feen, ca. 1890

When I was scanning through catalog records in the Folklife Collection, a song called “Survivalist Librarian” caught my eye. After the song circulated the office it was an obvious hit… to us anyway.

Survivalist Librarian

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As with any curious archivist or librarian, I wanted to add context. We knew the song was recorded on the Main Stage at the Florida Folk Festival on May 26, 2006, and that it was attributed to Murray Palmetto’s South Florida Swamp Show. But whose imagination came up with such a song? Thanks to Stan Geberer, a great patron of the Archives, who happened to be on stage that night playing harmonica for this very song, I was able to track down the composer: Boomslang Swampsinger.

Boomslang Swampsinger cordially agreed to an interview and was happy to provide some background on the song and the musicians involved. Beware, there is a fully developed mythology here, as difficult to keep straight as the Greek gods, but I will attempt to keep it as brief and coherent as possible.

Murray Palmetto’s South Florida Swamp Show is a one man show featuring Boomslang Swampsinger, star and producer of what he describes as his “Swamp Opera,” which consists of a mixture of swamp music and stories. Whenever Murray Palmetto (Boomslang Swampsinger) appears he plays with The Peters Road Swamp-Blues Band that specializes in “acoustic roadhouse country music about bars in the Everglades.”

The band for this particular performance consisted of Jake Vanderplate (mandolin), Bret Hartcrane (banjo, vocals), Mark Harris (bass, flute, vocals), Dawn DeWitt (bass, guitar, vocals), Ron Litschauer (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Stan Geberer (harmonica), Bari Litschauer (banjo, mandolin), and Barbara Meade. You’ll notice no mention of Boomslang Swampsinger above because he is also known as Bret Hartcrane (free CDs if you can guess the origins of this name) when playing with this band.

Yes, Boomslang has a number of aliases, adding to the pantheon of characters in this tangled Florida yarn, not to mention every band member has also been assigned an animal inspired name in addition to other colorful monikers.

In 2006, Murray Palmetto’s South Florida Swamp Show presented one of their “Swamp Operas” on opening night of the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs. It was called the Everglades Campfire Radio Show. “Survivalist Librarian” was one of the songs performed during the show.

The seed for this song was planted back in the early 1990s, according to Boomslang, when he and his wife were having a late lunch in western Broward County and “more than three or four dozen” well behaved and well armed camouflaged militia men came out of the swamp, leaned their rifles against the picnic tables and ordered lunch. Upon witnessing this scene Boomslang mused what if “they had [with them] an official librarian to serve them books to read, while waiting for the lone waitress to feed all 48 of them.” The result of this thought… well, we’ll let Boomslang explain the rest.

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

The latest podcast features traditional Arab music performed by Rick and Mark Bateh from Jacksonville. Listen to the Bateh’s explain styles, techniques, and rhythms used in Arab music and demonstrate their skills to the crowd at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

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For more information about Arab music, see Habib Touma, The Music of the Arabs (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1996).

Kan-Dee Rappers Delight

Belle Glade based hip hop group Kan-Dee-Krew formed in the mid-1980s.

Hip hop culture has undeniably solidified itself as a worldwide phenomenon. The mouthpiece of the culture is its music, the aural representative so appealing to so many people. Hip hop originated in the Bronx, New York, in the early 1970s. Its rise is attributed to DJ Kool Herc, who looped break beats on his turntables to keep dancers out on the floor. As the MCs who rapped over the break beats achieved greater notoriety, the limelight shifted from the DJs to the MCs and evolved into what is commonly understood today as hip hop music. By the mid-1980s, hip hop was storming the airways nationwide and there was no stopping the momentum, despite dissenters who dismissed it as a fad.

Kan-Dee-Krew at a performance for a medical center, Wellington, 1987

Kan-Dee-Krew (left to right: Emanuel Harden, Charles Plummer, and Terrance Coffie) at a performance for a medical center, Wellington, 1987

Belle Glade based hip hop group Kan-Dee-Krew formed in the mid-1980s. The Krew consisted of Terrance Coffie, Emanuel Harden, Rodney Rumph, Duane Rumph, Charles Plummer, and Elijah Thomas. Heavily influenced by Run-DMC (one of the most popular hip hop groups at the time), the Kan-Dee-Krew delivered energetic lyrics with accompanying vocals that overlap. Unlike some of their counterparts, however, the group focused on the betterment of the community, using hip hop music as a way to connect with children and the underrepresented by advocating for education and warning against the dangers of drug abuse with songs like “Education” and “Crack is Whack.” This doesn’t mean that the group shied away from a little braggadocio and style, showing off with songs like “Fresh” and “Nikes and Reeboks.”

In February 1987, the Kan-Dee-Krew performed for a classroom of students at Pahokee Elementary School as part of the Palm Beach County Folk Arts in Education Project. The goal of this performance was multifaceted: the children learned how a vernacular art form is transferred to new practitioners, while at the same time received positive guidance through the music’s content that was delivered in the fresh form of hip hop, making them more receptive to the Krew’s message.

Kan-Dee-Krew’s “Education” speaks of the necessity of having a good education to pursue one’s goals in life. Those familiar with Run-DMC will certainly recognize the heavy influence. And, check out that accompanying beat box.

“Education,” by Kan-Dee-Krew

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This next excerpt is entitled “Fresh.” Also accompanied by a beat boxer and hand claps from the class, listen to Emanuel Harden, a.k.a. Kid Chilly, rip a bombastic verse.

“Fresh,” by Kan-Dee-Krew

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Kona Vernacular

Skateboarding originated in California in the 1950s and swiftly moved east to Florida. Kona Skatepark, located on Kona Avenue in southeast Jacksonville, opened in 1977 and is the longest-running skatepark in the United States. In the world of skateboarding, Kona is legendary. The picture below features one of the park’s most popular features that still remains firmly upright and imposing today: “The Tombstone,” a vertical wall measuring 6 feet above the rim of the bowl.

Ben French riding on "The Tombstone," Jacksonville, 1988

Ben French riding on “The Tombstone,” Jacksonville, 1988

In 1988, Gregory Hansen interviewed skateboarders Ben French and Shawn Roden as part of the Folk Arts in Education Project in Duval County. At the time of the interview, both French and Roden were high school students who spent every spare moment on their skateboards. Of course, Kona Skate Park was their venue of choice.

Skateboarder Ben French at Kona Skate Park, Jacksonville, 1988

Skateboarder Ben French at Kona Skate Park, Jacksonville, 1988

While you’re looking at the photos, listen to an interview excerpt of Ben French and Shawn Roden explaining some of Kona’s features for a glimpse into the life of young skateboarders in Jacksonville in the 1980s.

Excerpt from an interview with Ben French and Shawn Roden

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Take a listen to this interview excerpt to enhance your vocabulary of skateboarding tricks as French and Roden give in-depth descriptions of a wide range of tricks.

Excerpt from an interview with Ben French and Shawn Roden

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Goose Culbreath and the Cortez Grand Old Opry

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Cortez is a small commercial fishing village in Manatee County, Florida. The village itself is no larger than 10 blocks, yet their annual commercial fishing festival draws crowds numbering in the thousands. Despite its size, Cortez boasts a wealth of culture, including some fine traditional music.

Fishermen hauling in the nets - Cortez, Florida

Fishermen hauling in the nets – Cortez, Florida

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Jaya Radhakrishnan Podcast

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Florida’s diverse communities support a wide number of traditions, both native to the state and brought from afar. One such example of the latter is the traditional Indian music and dance performed by Jaya Radhakrishnan of Dade City. Mrs. Radhakrishnan, frequently accompanied by her daughter Nila, made several appearances at the Florida Folk Festival, and both have participated in the Florida Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program teaching others East Indian dance and rangoli.

Jaya Radhakrishnan and unidentified man performing Indian music at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

Jaya Radhakrishnan and unidentified man performing Indian music at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

This podcast features performances by Jaya Radhakrishnan at the Florida Folk Festival from 1982-1985. She sings Indian folk songs from a repertoire spanning hundreds of years, accompanied only by the drone of her harmonium and occasional percussion from her son. Take a listen, and enjoy the sounds of India as they carry on through the Sunshine State.

Jaya Radhakrishnan teaching East Indian dance to children at the 1989 Florida Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

Jaya Radhakrishnan teaching East Indian dance to children at the 1989 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

Happy Birthday Moses Williams (February 15, 1919)

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams (1919-1988) was born February 15 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He spent much of his life traveling, either in show business or working as an itinerant farm worker, which eventually brought him to Florida.

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow for a group of boys- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow for a group of boys- Waverly, Florida

At the age of 11, he learned the harmonica, but it was his one-string zither, or “diddley bow,” that made him unique. The instrument was comprised of a broom wire tensioned upside a door with a tin can resonator, and played with glass bottle slide. It earned him nicknames like “Broom Wire Slim” and “Doorman.”

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow - White Springs, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow – White Springs, Florida

Moses was discovered by folklorist Dwight DeVane in the late 1970s, and appeared on the Florida Folklife Program’s 1981 double LP, Drop on Down in Florida, which was recently reissued by Dust-to-Digital. In addition to these recordings, Moses made several appearances at the Florida Folk Festival, schools, and other folk arts forums around the state.

His distinctive repertoire for the diddley bow consisted of both standards such as “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and original tunes, most notably “Which Way Did My Baby Go” and “Apple Farm Blues.” Both of these songs have been included on the Florida Folklife Collection sampler CDs Music from the Florida Folklife Collection and Where the Palm Trees Shake at Night: Blues Music from the Florida Folklife Collection.  Enjoy.

“Which Way Did My Baby Go”

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“Apple Farm Blues”

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