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.
The Culbreath family moved to Cortez in 1921, and quickly became known for their musical talents. Julian “Goose” Culbreath and two of his brothers learned how to play the fiddle from their father James, a prize-winning contest fiddler, who learned from his father before him. The extended family gathered each week for a Sunday morning jam session, and the Culbreath household became known as the Cortez Grand Old Opry among the villagers.
In addition to their in-house performances, they played square dances in Cortez and neighboring towns, and even held their own radio show, “Country Cracker Jubilee,” on WDHL in Bradenton. The Culbreaths also appeared almost every year at the Florida Folk Festival from 1987 until Goose Culbreath’s death in 2003, and were favorites at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.
While traditional southern fiddle tunes such as the “Orange Blossom Special” or “Arkansas Traveler” were a large part of his repertoire, Goose was well known for his trick fiddling techniques. These included bowing the fiddle with no hair, or wrapping the bow hair around the fiddle, as illustrated on “Back Up and Push.” The Culbreath family also kept the tradition of “beating the straws” or “fiddlesticks” alive, with a family member tapping out rhythm on the fiddle with sticks while Goose played “Granny Will Your Dog Bite” or “Old Joe Clark.”