Two things the Florida Strawberry Festival does better than anyone else: Whipping up shortcake, and scouting Nashville talent. Plant City's annual farmapalooza has featured just about every major name in country music history over the years, often by booking them right around the time they're breaking big.
Following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum — two acts that played the Strawberry Festival before moving on to Grammy gold — are The Band Perry, a family trio that rode their smash single If I Die Young to a Best New Artist Grammy nomination and Song and Single of the Year wins at the 2011 CMAs. Other young sexies on the bill include Jason Aldean's tourmate and buddy Luke Bryan (I Don't Want This Night To End) and the more rock-influenced Jake Owen (Barefoot Blue Jean Night).
This year, the two biggest veteran names on the bill are Hank Williams Jr. and Reba (her people are insisting we drop the "McEntire"), and tickets to their concerts are a wallet-popping $50, the most in Strawberry Festival history. (We'll cut Hank some slack on that, though — he did lose his job at Monday Night Football, and a man's gotta eat.) Non-country fans will have a handful of choices this year, led by yacht rockers Air Supply and troubled Disney teen queen Demi Lovato, whose vampy, coif-swirling performance at December's 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball left us wondering just what they're putting in the water these days at Camp Rock.
All shows take place at the festival grounds. As per tradition, the festival will make about 3,000 bleacher seats available for free on a first-come, first-served basis — and for the biggest, hottest names, that queue starts up early. Here's the 2012 Strawberry Festival lineup.
March 2: Demi Lovato (7:30 p.m., $30-$35), Gatlin Brothers/Crystal Gayle (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)
March 3: Air Supply (7:30 p.m., $15-$20), Lauren Alaina (3:30 p.m., $10-$15), Suite Caroline (1 p.m., free)
March 4: Hank Williams Jr. (7:30 p.m., $50), Jake Owen (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)
March 5: Josh Turner (7:30 p.m., $25-$30), Felix Cavaliere's Rascals (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)
March 6: Vince Gill (7:30 p.m., $35), Brenda Lee (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)
March 7: The Band Perry (7:30 p.m., $25-$30), Lee Greenwood/Louise Mandrell (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)
March 8: Luke Bryan (7:30 p.m., $30-$45), Charlie Daniels Band (3:30 p.m., $20-$25), Ronnie McDowell (10:30 a.m., free)
March 9: TobyMac (7:30 p.m., $20-$25), The Platters/Cornell Gunter's Coasters/Bobby Hendrick's Drifters (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)
March 10: Rodney Atkins (7:30 p.m., $20-$25), Allstar Weekend (3:30 p.m., $10-$15)
March 11: Reba (7:30 p.m., $50), Easton Corbin (3:30 p.m., $15-$20)