Guests dressed in their best 60s attire listened to the eclectic sounds of local musicians as they celebrated 100 years of the Orange County Library System on Saturday. Staff members decided to dedicate each month of 2023 to a decade, with June celebrating the 60s. Doing so, they hosted the Melrose Pop Festival, a play on the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, which headlined local legends and upcoming artists such as Marc With a C, Hannah Stokes, Milk Carton Superstars, Eugene Snowden, Beth McKee and her Funky Time Band, and Oak Hill Drifters, in the Orlando Public Library’s Melrose Center.
During the planning process for the library’s centennial, Jim Myers, the Melrose Center Department Head at the Orange County Library System, said it struck him to do a festival this month. Along with performing in his band, Milk Carton Superstars, with his longtime friend Guy Larmay, he reached out to some Orlando artists he knew would have a strong presence, like Beth Mckee.
The singer-songwriter said she loves to connect with the local community through music. While she enjoys being a part of events like this, she also hosts music-centric occasions.
As the founder of the Swamp Sistas, a nonprofit with the mission of “community service and supporting women and other marginalized artists,” McKee hosts La Las— a concept she brought from New Orleans. She said her La Las raise money for community causes while paying artists to perform, giving them a good stage, an audience, promotion and mentorship.
“A La La is actually a Creole party. In the 1920s, the Creole musicians, after playing their gigs, would come back home, and they would all throw it all together. Their friends would come with lemonade or beer and dance and just put a big pot out for any community cause maybe it was somebody’s rent, medical bill, electrical bill, or whatever. And everybody would just come to the La La and dance and have fun and throw in the pot wherever they could to help out whatever the community,” McKee said. “It’s almost a tradition around here now.”
She and Stokes said they find events like the Melrose Pop Festival an integral part of being involved in the Orlando community.
“Being exposed to that local culture for free in a place where it’s the focus is the music is really cool because it gets people connected to what’s going on here instead of what’s going on at the Amway Center where huge international acts are coming in,” Stokes said. “And it creates a sense of connection to where we are because location, culture, and a city influence music.”
Stokes is a singer-songwriter who would describe her music style as “a little funky with some jazz harmony” and finds her tastes continue to evolve since first becoming interested in being a musician at around 14 years old. From her parents telling her to stop making noise as she sang and played guitar around the house to posting song covers on YouTube to eventually recording her own music, Stokes said she knew she was serious about music.
She said her songwriting has evolved from writing about liking a boy to things she is dealing with as a young adult, which she hopes her audiences can relate to. As she played at the festival, she described each song on her setlist, allowing her and her listeners to bond over what she was performing.
“I think my favorite part is just the feeling when I finish with a song, like, wow, I created this thing. And I appreciate it. And I think it’s cool, but then the song becomes more than just mine, you know, as soon as other people hear it, they can hear themselves in it, and they take a piece of it,” Stokes said.
With the implementation of a professional stage at the Melrose Center in the Orlando Public Library, Meyers said they hope to have more opportunities there alongside their monthly improv shows and show production classes.
“I think the value of events like this, beyond providing free live music from an eclectic gathering of performers, is that it hopefully reminds people of the amazing array of resources the Orange County Library System offers when they visit,” Myers said. “The Melrose Center, specifically, is a pretty rare gem among public libraries, and we are always striving to make the community aware of the opportunities available here.”