Orange Blossom Revue
Community development through arts and education
Lake Wailes Park • Lake Wales, Florida • December 2, 2023
by Nancy Garmer
Lake Wales is a surprisingly sweet Florida destination and road trip. It’s easy to get to from any Florida coast, and most importantly, as far as locations go, there is absolutely NO reason to get on I-4. That makes the journey almost worth it in and of itself. Except of course, if there happens to be a super cozy, homegrown music festival set upon Lake Wailes under sweeping old-growth live oaks – with on-site camping.
The folks putting on the Orange Blossom Revue got a lot of things right, and hosting the festival in early December — when the weather is right, the bugs are non-existent, and the sunset over the lake creates the layered lighting of a vintage Highwaymen painting — is definitely one of them. Bonus features: the spirit owl overseeing the entrance booths and the launch from Cape Canaveral, who appeared in the night sky just above the ambient cloud-shrouded moonrise.
So, there’s the location, but then there’s the music, too. Two days of some well-known headliners who draw their own crowd, but then there’s also the bands that are lesser known, if known at all, who surprised and entertained the crowd — many perhaps outside genres that audience members would identify as within their musical tastes. This amalgam of musical talent creates the magic that is Orange Blossom Revue. It’s a mash-up of a feeling, a sense of place, and history that the festival founders use their gut instinct to create. And it works.
Festival co-founder Rusty Ingley throws around phrases like outlaw music and red dirt music and Americana, but the Orange Blossom Revue is more than that. The acts on stage this year transcended the boundaries of classification and simply embodied an Old Florida community feel, much like an old-timey gathering in the town center back in the day, with a wood stage and picnic blankets, food, and cold drinks. Kids are holding hands and dancing in a ring as the folks while the day away smiling in a big way, enjoying the day, enjoying where they are in the world.
JJ Grey and Mofro, with their popular bluesy, swampy, Florida-heavy sound, headlined Saturday night, and Ingley knew they would boost sales, but the rest of the day’s lineup was kind of a gamble. Ingley and the other co-founder of the festival, Reid Hardman, have eclectic musical tastes, but for this festival, they do their own research. Searching networks and webs of talent from the Nashville scene and recent musical award winners, mostly they are trying to put their finger on both the pulse of what makes this festival what it is and the niche it fills for attendees.
Ingley and Hardman focus on curating the schedule of musicians as part of “this kind of movement we are trying to create in our community,” Ingley said. “We occupy a unique spot. Set in a small, rural Florida town, our festival is perhaps the only one in Central Florida, maybe even statewide, focusing on Americana and outlaw music. It’s partly serendipity, but the setting, with its rolling hills and live oaks, creates a perfect backdrop for these genres.”
The festival blossomed to more than 3,000 tickets sold this year from 800 in the past, so it is certainly finding its footing. Ingley says that the diverse mix of musical styles resonates with the festival’s audience. This year in particular brought in a lot of locals, especially as they offered a locals’ discount. Ingley said it felt like a family reunion of sorts with so much attendance from the community, which really meant a lot to them.
Both Ingley and Hardman are “hometown boys” born and raised in Lake Wales, with a commitment to serving their community and showcasing its uniqueness. “Our aim is not just entertainment, but also community development through arts and education.”
So, as far as the music itself, do a look see hear. Pull up your Spotify account and start searching the names. Listen to their studio stuff. Find some live shows on YouTube. Google their names and research their cred. Then, just go to the fest with an open heart, no expectations, and rock out. Enjoy the musical talent in its myriad of forms and make a damn weekend out of it.
The Orange Blossom Revue will return in 2024 to the shores of beautiful Lake Wailes Park located at the intersection of Park Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard in Lake Wales, Florida.