For a decade, the Friends of Music on the Beach volunteer group passed the hat at the evening concerts held at Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs. They hoped to raise enough money to build an honest-to-goodness pavilion with electricity and lights where bands could give free concerts for hundreds of people sitting in lawn chairs and on blankets, watching the sun set and moon rise in the background.
For a while, the group had help from Beach Barbie, a ragged, cast-off doll who acted as a surrogate solicitor for the shyer Friends who made the rounds of concertgoers asking for a dollar here and leftover pocket change there. Soon, those quarters and dollars and a fundraiser added up to more than $25,000.
With help from Tarpon Springs and a $76,000 grant from the state, the Friends' dream pavilion started rising from the sand in October 2009.
In June 2010, the first Music on the Beach concert with the band on solid concrete instead of shifting sands actually happened, said Daniela Smyth, recreation specialist with the Tarpon Springs Parks and Recreation Division.
Now, instead of long extension cords to their guitars and keyboards, sand in their shoes, and hot sun beating down on their heads, the musicians are plugged in, sheltered and comfortable in the 1,100 square-foot pavilion with the four-sided green metal roof and cupola. In addition, the restrooms and playgrounds have received a makeover, Ms. Smyth said.
"We're getting 1,500 or more at our concerts," she said. Each month from February through November, the city uses a fund provided by sponsor Sun Toyota to hire the area's most popular bands to play from 7 to 9 p.m. on a chosen Thursday.
"The Friends help with parking and choosing the bands," Ms. Smyth said. Because of the increasing size of crowds and limited parking space, the school district allows parking at the Tarpon Springs High School a few blocks east of the park on Gulf Road, and the city provides a shuttle bus to the park at the west end of Gulf Road starting at 6:15 p.m., continuing throughout the evening, she said. (If you see the park gate closed, that's the signal that all parking spaces are filled and to go back to the high school lot and take the shuttle.)
Concertgoers can take a picnic lunch (the picnic pavilions are first-come, first-serve) or buy hot dogs, popcorn, sodas, water and ice cream from a concession wagon set up by the recreation division staff. Also for sale are T-shirts, hats and koozies (foam rubber can holders). And the Friends of Music on the Beach have an information table set up to recruit more volunteers.
"There's no passing the hat any more," Ms. Smyth said.