By Randal C. Hill
Technically, they are known as Fragaria ananassa, but we know them as coveted delights bright red in color and with an alluring aroma, a juicy texture and seductive sweetness. Yes, we’re talking about strawberries here, found in abundance this time of year in Plant City, Florida, the unofficial Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
You can indulge your passion for all things strawberry at the 85th annual Florida Strawberry Festival where, as always, you’ll find offerings of foods that are deep-fried, grilled or smoked, and all bearing the infusion of the heart-shaped fruit for which the Festival is renowned. Available to the most diverse of palettes are mouth-watering strawberry pies, cobblers, crepes, crème puffs, cheesecakes, shortcakes, jams, and milkshakes, as well as—for the culinary adventurous—strawberry pizza, strawberry hamburgers, and strawberry peanut butter. (Hey, you’re here only once a year, so why not try something different this time around?)
Of course, what would the FSF be without a cornucopia of top-flight musical acts? FSF president Paul Davis enthuses, “The announcement of our headline entertainment is a highly anticipated event.”
This year features the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hailing originally from Jacksonville, Florida, they took their name from their P. E. teacher Leonard Skinner, who apparently always hassled his male students about their long hair. The veteran band is famous today for such easily recognizable works as “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird,” and “What’s Your Name?”
In the country-music world, there’s nobody bigger than Rascal Flatts. With roots in Oklahoma and Ohio, they paid $5,000 to buy the name of a defunct ‘60s garage band named (for some reason) Rascal Flatts. The trio has been hitmakers since 2000, and there’s a good chance of hearing such Number One country classics as “These Days,” “Take Me There” and “Yours If You Want It.” You can mine even more musical gold with country queen Reba McIntyre, Michael Ray, Josh Turner, the Oak Ridge Boys, Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye, Neal McCoy and Jimmy Fortune.
Ladies, get ready to resurrect your giggly girlhood (complete with moments of ear-splitting shrieks) when cutie-pie American Bandstand icons Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Fabian and Chubby Checker hit the stage this year. Also on hand will be Tommy James and the Shondells, as well as Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, the tribute-offering twin sons of teen idol Ricky Nelson. You say soul music more your preference? How about Patti LaBelle, ex-Gap Band leader Charlie Wilson, and 98 Degrees performing for your pleasure? Too cool!
For those seeking a musical act with minimal structure and a taste of the bizarre, there’s Bobby Bones and the Raging Idiots. You have been warned.
Concert times and prices are listed on the FSF website. Service charges apply to Internet and phone orders. See below for more information.
Each year, the highly anticipated FSF also includes agricultural and livestock exhibits, commercial displays, horticulture, fine arts and crafts, youth development programs and parades featuring colorful floats. The Bell City Midway offers 80 different rides, and the Sunny Bell Kiddie Korral is there for the little tykes. But wait—there’s more! Don’t miss the annual Battle of the Bands, the magic show, the cow milking, the pig racing, the dog show, the circus acts and a surfeit of eating contests that usually involve—well, you know what.
Local farmers plant over 10,000 acres of strawberries annually, and nearly 3,000 Hillsborough County farms produce fruit and vegetable crops with an a value of over $360,000,000.
The FSF was started in 1930 by members of the nascent Plant City Lions Club. Obviously, the idea caught on; last year 509,000 folks eagerly came through the gates to enjoy a gala that now rivals any state fair in the nation.