by Randal Hill
Every year the Florida Strawberry Festival rolls out the berry-red carpet and welcomes visitors from around the world to enjoy ripe, juicy strawberries; top name entertainers, agriculture and livestock exhibits, horticulture, fine arts and crafts, youth programs and parades with colorful floats.
“The theme of this year’s festival is It’s a Hit,” enthuses festival president Paul Davis, “and I believe our guests will be impressed with the all-star lineup we
have this year.”
Impressed? How about awestruck, Paul? There are enough gold-record veterans coming to the 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival to please discerning music
fans of every imaginable ilk. Country, Rock, R & B, Christian—it’s all here for your toe-tapping pleasure.
The 2019 music headliner is 70-year-old Steven Tyler. The indefatigable Energizer Bunny of the Rock World will be here for his inaugural performance on March 3rd to kick out the jams with the hard-driving Loving
Mary Band. Nicknamed the Demon of Screamin’, Tyler’s distinctive high-octane voice has powered nearly two dozen Aerosmith singles into the Top 40, not to
mention a bazillion albums and his soaring love ballad, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, created for the 1998 hit film Armageddon.
You say that April Love is more your speed? Then catch the legendary Pat Boone, at 84 years young still headlining the nostalgia circuit. Add in the Platters, the
Drifters and Cornell Gunter’s Coasters, and you’ll be in Oldies Heaven this year.
Maybe you’d prefer country gold. In that case, you will want to enjoy legendary Willie Nelson, a still-spry 85 who was born a mere three years after the festival first began in 1930. Other country superstars include Bobby Bare, Bill Anderson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Tanya Tucker and Martina McBride.
Seventies dance devotees Kool and the Gang shift the dance party into overdrive. Factor in diverse talents like Keith Sweat, Styx, The Kingston Trio and The Lettermen, and you’ve got a retro-cool musical mashup to top off those strawberry shortcakes.
As always, Memphis maestro Dennis Lee and his band will once again bring
his repertoire to the Publix showcase tent. And new this year, there’ll be nine groups competing in a Battle of the Bands rockoff, with the winner pocketing $10,000 and earning free recording-studio time.
Moving on to the food, the Florida Strawberry Festival has it going on: the smoked, the grilled, the deep-fried and the sugar-powdered. The main focus is naturally those little heart-shaped delights that inspired this celebration in the first place. Strawberries are the center of attention in pies, cheesecakes, cobblers,
crepes, crème puffs, milkshakes, jams and shortcakes.
Try hamburgers, pizza or peanut butter infused with the lush fruit for a healthy and tasty twist.
The Bell City Midway offers 80 different rides as
well as the Sunny Bell Kiddie Korral for the younger
attendees. And don’t forget the magic show, cow
milking, pig racing, a dog show, circus acts and a half dozen or so eating contests that usually involve—well,
you know what.
The FSF festival began when members of the fledgling
Plant City Lions Club developed the idea of an annual
event to celebrate the rich strawberry harvest of Eastern Hillsborough County. Today more than 10,000 acres of strawberries are planted annually in the local area, and some 2,800 Hillsborough County farms produce fruit and vegetable crops with an annual value of over $360 million. About a half-million enthusiastic visitors come each year to experience one of the top festivals in the nation.