Mitch Harbeson Lives Behind The Scenes
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Mitch Harbeson Lives Behind The Scenes

- edited by: Michael Kaufmann

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On the road to anywhere, Mitch Harbeson loves his motorcycles.

If it was once true that All Roads Lead To Rome, then thank God for the fall of the Roman Empire. After growing up in North Georgia, when Mitch Harbeson hit the road to make his way in life, the road he hit led to the First Coast, and fortunately not Rome.

Harbeson isn’t really much different from all the rest of the kids he grew up around, just like the rest of us, he just followed his own road and that road led to North Florida.  “Growing up in North Georgia,” Harbeson said, “was really fun. My mom had taken my siblings and me up to Chickamauga and we lived near my grandparents. Naturally I was into hunting and fishing, I got my first deer when I was 12, but I lettered in Football in high school and played other sports as well. I was just your typical kid growing up in a very rural area.” Other sports Mitch excelled in included shot put and discus and at one competition Herschel Walker of the University of Georgia and Dallas Cowboys fame was a competitor and worked with Harbeson to improve his technique in the discus throw. Ultimately though, Mitch joined the military and after serving a stint in the Army he ended up on the First Coast.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a soldier for an entire career,” Harbeson remembered. “I had always wanted to be a stunt man in the movies and on television so I thought that Orlando had all these sound stages where they did post-production work and surely someone would hire me to jump off of buildings or wreck perfectly good cars!” While heading to Orlando though, Harbeson’s car broke down as he was going through Jacksonville and he found a home on the First Coast that he never left. He did find work in the movie production business, although it wasn’t as a stuntman. Harbeson worked in Miami mostly but also got gigs around the Caribbean basin and in Venezuela. Then Marvel Comics called and hired his company as a production service company on Avengers 3 & 4. “Avengers was certainly the biggest movie shoot I was ever involved with and looking back I wouldn’t trade the direction that shaped my life for anything,” he recalled. “It led me to join the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association (FMPTA) where I met guys like Billy Pope, Sam Veal and others who offered me opportunities in and around Jacksonville that certainly shaped my career.”

Marvel Comics gave Harbeson his biggest opportunity in the movie business with Avengers 3 and 4.

In the early days of Springing The Blues Mitch worked with Sam, Billy, Reid McCormick and Madlynne Ramsey, as well as others to make what was originally a one-day festival turn into one of the premiere music festivals in the country. Madlynne Ramsey came on board and recalled that Mitch and Sam and Reid needed more mothering than anything. “They were a bunch of young men who started out with an idea that would be fun. And they were having more fun than anything,” Ramsey said. “But they were all hard workers at heart so I just kept them on the right path!”

Sam Veal remembered that Mitch was part of the crew that produced the original television commercial for Springing The Blues. “It was a great accomplishment making that commercial,” Veal told First Coast Life. “There was an excitement in the newness of this festival and Mark Kohl had Pepper Lindsey, Billy Pope, Mitch Harbeson and you Kaufmann brothers and there was such a high energy level centered around this whole thing that it sort of just solidified a team of people that have pretty much been a part of it for all these years.” Harbeson has had many duties on STB but over the thirty years of Springing he has served as a main stage producer, a locations manager and served on the Board Of Directors. One of the most important things Mitch does for the festival is sit in with other board members and listen to demo tracks submitted by musicians seeking a spot on the stage. “None of the bands who play any of our festivals are chosen by one person,” Harbeson pointed out. “We consider every band from a committee perspective so we are sure we are presenting the best talent we can provide to the patrons.”

STB’s first television commercial produced by the all star crew of Mark Kohl, Billy Pope, Pepper Lindsey, Mitch Harbeson and Mitch and Mike Kaufmann.

When it comes to music events one thing for certain is that at the top of the list of priorities is the quality of the sound. Harbeson’s experience in the movie-making business played a big role in his decision-making process when it came to providing sound for the festivals. “It wasn’t just for Springing,” Mitch told us. “Blues is a very special genre and the sound for all of our festivals had to be the absolute best, but Blues music isn’t like rock n roll or country. We had to find the best sound company we could and so far we have never had a complaint about the quality of the audio at Springing The Blues.” Reid McCormick, former Mayor of Jacksonville Beach, agreed that Mitch Harbeson has played a pivotal role in the success of so many years of Springing The Blues. “Mitch came to us in the very beginning and was an asset to the team from the very start,” Reid said. “He has gone off and worked in many different capacities over the years, but every year he is right back in Jax Beach providing us with expertise that has been invaluable for the success of the show.” 

As Springing The Blues grew in popularity over the years so did the crowds and with the event being free to the public, the lack of a gate revenue put a limit on how big the acts were that were hired to headline the show. In the early days Sam Veal and Mitch Harbeson traveled to other festivals in the hopes of meeting headlining acts that they could invite to come play Springing. Harbeson was quick to add, “When we first met Susan Tedeschi she was on her way up and she was super excited to come play Springing The Blues. Same with Joe Bonamassa and even Tab Benoit. Now it’s hard to afford the biggest names, but fortunately, the biggest names in Blues music are happy to work with us.” One thing for sure is that promoters could move the festival to downtown Jacksonville and make it even bigger, but both Harbeson and Veal agree that it would lose the intimacy of being a free beachside event that benefits the residents of the beaches year after year. Jacksonville Beach Mayor Christine Hoffman said, “Springing The Blues is quintessentially a Jacksonville Beach event that is unlike any other in the world with the beach and the Atlantic Ocean right there on one side and world-class Blues being performed at Seawalk Pavilion. Our community embraces this event every year and I couldn’t see it being held anywhere else.”

Mayor Christine Hoffman (far right) and friends supporting local music!

Between film production, music festivals and supporting his family, life is as good as it has ever been for Mitch Harbeson. “Next to having my children,” Harbeson said, “being involved with Springing The Blues is hands down the second best thing I have ever done. I just couldn’t imagine life without it.” Then he added, “And my marriage to Shannon, so maybe Springing comes in a close third!” Well said Mr. Harbeson. And without a moment to lose! Whether all roads ever led to Rome or not, the road that led Mitch Harbeson to the First Coast was indeed a fortuitous one, not only for him, but for music fans from near and far as well. 

Harbeson with his boys.
Mitch and Shannon Harbeson living the good life.

Springing The Blues 2024 kicks off Friday April 5 at 5:00pm. Friday’s lineup includes an opening performance by the First Coast’s best local Blues band Smokestack on the main stage. With two stages running in unison, here is the lineup for the three-day event:

The First Coast’s premiere Blues Band, Smokestack, opens the festival Friday April 5.

Friday April 5, 2024

SEAWALK PAVILION

SMOKESTACK   5:00 PM – 5:45 PM

CHRIS O’LEARY BAND  6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

JP SOARS’ GYPSY BLUE REVUE ft. ANNE HARRIS  7:20 PM – 8:20 PM

BYWATER CALL  8:40 PM – 10:00 PM

MO’ BLUES STAGE

MISSISSIPPI BLUES BAND 5:15 PM – 6:00 PM

SMOKESTACK 6:20 PM – 7:20 PM

CHRIS O”LEARY BAND 7:40 PM – 8:40 PM

JP SOARS GYPSY BLUE REVUE ft. ANNE HARIS  9:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Saturday April 6, 2024

SEAWALK PAVILION

NO FILTER 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM

RAY FULLER AND THE BLUES ROCKERS 1:35 PM – 2:35 PM

DIEDRA & THE RUFF PRO BAND 2:55 PM – 3:55 PM

D.K. HARRELL 4:15 PM – 5:15 PM

LIL’ ED & THE BLUES IMPERIALS 5:35 PM – 6:35 PM

ROBERT JON & THE WRECK 7:00 PM – 8:15 PM

JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR 8:35 PM – 10:00 PM

MO’ BLUES STAGE

“BLUES BY THE BOOK” WITH ROY BOOK BINDER 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 

NO FILTER 2:10 PM – 2:50 PM

RAY FULLER AND THE BLUES ROCKERS 3:05 PM – 3:55 PM

DIEDRA & THE RUFF PRO BAND 4:25 PM- 5:15 PM

ROY BOOK BINDER 5:45 PM – 6:45 PM

D.K. HARRELL 7:15 PM – 8:15 PM

LIL’ ED & THE BLUES IMPERIALS 8:45 PM- 9:45 PM

Sunday April 7, 2024

SEAWALK PAVILION

ERIC CULBERSON BAND 12:00 PM – 12:50 PM

THE COLD STARES 1:10 PM – 2:10 PM

THE NICK MOSS BAND 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM

SHAW DAVIS & THE BLACK TIES 3:50 PM – 4:50 PM

VANESSA COLLIER 5:10 PM – 6:25 PM

TAB BENOIT 6:45 PM – 8:00 PM

MO’ BLUES STAGE

SERIOUS BUSINESS  12:15 PM – 1:00 PM

ERIC CULBERSON BAND  1:20 PM – 2:20 PM

VANESSA COLLIER  2:40 PM – 3:40 PM

THE NICK MOSS BAND  4:00 PM- 5:00 PM

SHAW DAVIS & THE BLACK TIES  5:20 PM- 6:30 PM

THE COLD STARES  6:50 PM – 8:00 PM

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