Nine years ago, Siesta Key resident Benny Kimsey began hosting small picnics at Turtle Beach to play bluegrass music with his friends. He never thought they would become so highly anticipated among residents.
“Some of my friends and I just liked to get together and jam,” Kimsey says. “We’d bring food and have a little picnic. We weren’t pros — we were just having fun.”
But more and more people expressed an interest in participating, and the picnics grew.
In 2003, Kimsey decided he could use the events’ success to benefit a good cause. The picnics always had been free, but with their growing popularity, people had begun offering donations to help pay for food and other expenses. Kimsey says he never was interested in making money, so he decided the people’s generosity could be used to help others.
That’s when Kimsey worked out an arrangement with the Southwest Florida chapter of the American Red Cross, to have volunteers collect contributions.
Not only did the picnics become a big attraction on the south end of the Key, but they also proved a great way for Kimsey to give back to the community while spreading his love of bluegrass.
A native of Hiawassee, Ga., at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Kimsey learned to love the type of music that is identified so closely with those hills.
“I grew up listening to that music,” Kimsey says. “My dad was a big fan of Bill Monroe and the Osborne Brothers, and we would go to the Georgia Mountain Fair to see concerts.”
With the creation of the Turtle Beach concerts, Kimsey had found a way to share his love of bluegrass with the Siesta Key community. While the picnics were a big success, though, it became increasingly difficult for him to coordinate the schedules of his band mates. He also wanted to spend more time with his nephew, whom he had helped raise.
In 2006, Kimsey took a break from hosting the picnics. However, by November 2011, he realized the demand for such a regular gathering at Turtle Beach remained undiminished.
“People just seemed to miss it,” Kimsey says. “It’s a great family atmosphere, it’s a beautiful place, and we get to support a good cause.”
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IF YOU GO
Benny Kim-sey’s Bluegrass Picnic will return from noon to 5 p.m. March 10, at the Turtle Beach Pavilion. Hot dogs, burgers and sides will be provided, but guests are asked to bring their own drinks. The event is free, but American Red Cross volunteers will collect donations.
The concert will include performances by Skeeterland Bluegrass Band, Sycamore Shade, Siesta Key Boys and Tonga Street Bluegrass.