Ahhh ... feel that? We've made it through winter and into March, which means the official start of spring is just around the corner. And music fans can't wait. Over the next two months, Florida will host some great weekend music festivals that'll bring in everyone from Weezer to will.i.am to the Zac Brown Band. California may have Coachella and Tennessee may have Bonnaroo (Page 35), but if you like camping, live music and fun in the sun, Florida's got it all. Here are the 10 biggest music festivals that'll hit the Sunshine State in March and April. — Jay Cridlin firstname.lastname@example.org
Florida Strawberry Festival
When and where: Through March 14 at the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds, 2202 W Reynolds St., Plant City
Who it's for: Anyone who loves country music, strawberries and pig races
Headliners: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Darius Rucker, Julianne Hough, Tracy Lawrence, REO Speedwagon, Sara Evans, Michael W. Smith, Switchfoot, Bill Engvall, Josh Turner. There's also free entertainment daily.
The deal: Okay, it's not exactly a weekend fest — but still, for decades, the Strawberry Festival has brought world-class country talent to Hillsborough County, from Johnny Cash to Garth Brooks, from George Strait to Brad Paisley, from Loretta Lynn to Taylor Swift. Every year, there are tweaks to the lineup, which explains why this year's lineup is more heavy on rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, Switchfoot) than usual. This weekend's headliners include Julianne Hough and Bobby Bare on Friday, Michael W. Smith and Switchfoot on Saturday, and Darius Rucker and Heidi Newfield on Sunday. Young Nashville stud Billy Currington kicked off the festival Thursday night; go to blogs.tampabay.com/tbt on Friday morning for a concert review.
Tickets: Tickets to each concert range from $10 to $30, but about 3,000 free seats are available for headline shows on a first-come, first-served basis.
Harvest of Hope Fest
When and where: March 12-14, St. Johns County Fairgrounds, St. Augustine
Who it's for: Forward-thinking outsider punk, hip-hop, indie and aggro-folk fans
Headliners: Billy Bragg, Broken Social Scene, Rogue Wave, Anvil, Dr. Dog, the Mountain Goats, Senses Fail, Anti-Flag, Kimya Dawson, Kid Sister, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Sea Wolf, Man Man, Dead Prez, Freelance Whales, Kool Keith, Matt Pond PA, Rev. Payton's Big Damn Band
The deal: In 2009, this first-time festival benefitting migrant farmworkers established itself as one of Florida's hippiest, drawing in 17,000 fans. This year's lineup doesn't quite match the hipster heights of last year's, but it's got a slew of eclectic on-the-rise indie bands, including a few from Tampa Bay (the Beauvilles, New Bruises, Too Many Daves, the Tim Version). Plus, for a three-day festival, you can't beat the price. (Several Harvest of Hope headliners, including Matt Pond PA, Kid Sister, Cory Branan and Jon Snodgrass, are also playing gigs in Tampa Bay in the next week or so.)
Tickets: Single-day: $25 through March 11, $35 at the gate. Three-day: $49.50 through March 11, $60 at the gate. Camping is $19.50.
When and where: March 25-28, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak
Who it's for: People who can't wait for Tropical Heatwave
Headliners: Leftover Salmon, Robert Earl Keen, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Donna the Buffalo, Ruthie Foster, Jonathan Edwards, Peter Rowan
The deal: The genres may bend, from blues to zydeco to folk, but it's all part of a loosey-goosey collection of roots music that fans of WMNF-88.5 FM might like. They swear the event will be held "rain or shine, war or peace." Bring a tent.
Tickets: Advance four-day tickets are $148.50
Ultra Music Festival
When and where: March 26-27, Bicentennial Park, Miami
Who it's for: DJs, club kids and house music lovers
Headliners: Tiesto, Deadmau5, will.i.am, Passion Pit, Faithless Sound System, David Guetta, Orbital, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and Digwaeed, Swedish House Mafia, Carl Cox, Armin Van Buuren, the Crystal Method, Damiam Marley and Nas
The deal: Ultra is actually part of the Winter Music Conference, which starts March 23 and is more of a networking and industry event. But there's no doubt South Beach will be especially hopping on these two days, when a who's who of the world's top DJs will be spinning beats. If you like electronic music — and don't feel like putting up with all the late-night party-tent hipsters at Coachella — this is the best festival in the country.
Tickets: Two-day general admission is $139.95; VIP tickets are $350
Tampa Bay Blues Fest
When and where: April 9-11, Vinoy Waterfront Park, St. Petersburg
Who it's for: Anyone who likes drowning their sorrows in sweet, tangy rib sauce
Headliners: Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jimmie Vaughan, JJ Grey and Mofro, Bettye Lavette, Shemekia Copeland, Ryan Shaw
The deal: In its 15th year, Blues Fest has become Tampa Bay's biggest multi-day music festival — past headliners have included Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and George Thorogood. This year, a big highlight will be the "After Hours" parties each night at Nova 535 in St. Pete. For $20 each night, you can see some of the festival's performers, including Magic Slim and the Teardrops and Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm, in a more intimate party setting.
Tickets: Single-day, $30-$150; three-day, $75-$325
When and where: April 15-17, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak
Who it's for: Hippies!
Headliners: Allman Brothers Band (two shows), Widespread Panic, Gov't Mule, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, the Funky Meters, the Wailers, North Mississippi Allstars, Stephen Stills, Bob Weir, Dr. John, the Black Keys, JJ Grey and Mofro, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
The deal: Think jam bands, southern rockers, blues guitarists and folks who like to get their hemp on. This is what Bonnaroo used to be, before it went all Pitchfork and became more about indie rock (Bon Iver, Animal Collective), reunions (Phish, Pavement) and slumming megastars (Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M.). The Allmans also rocked Wanee last year.
Tickets: $178 through April 14; $188 at the gate
Florida Music Festival
When and where: April 15-17, Downtown Orlando
Who it's for: Unsigned artists and people who wish they were at South By Southwest
Headliners: A full lineup will be announced March 26
The deal: With more than 250 bands on some 15 stages in and around downtown Orlando — and an indie film festival to boot — this is clearly Florida's answer to SXSW. In its ninth year, it has attracted some decent headliners in the past — Filter, Third Eye Blind, Flogging Molly. (Asher Roth was booked last year, but he bailed at the last minute.) But it's mostly for unsigned artists, some of whom do go on to bigger things — alumni include Taylor Swift, The Academy Is... and Manchester Orchestra.
Tickets: Prices vary. Tickets go on sale April 1. See the Web site for details.
When and where: April 16-18, Sertoma Youth Ranch, Brooksville
Who it's for: Families and folks looking for an excuse to rev up the ol' RV
Headliners: Slaid Cleaves, Malcolm Holcombe, Crooked Still, Austin Lounge Lizards
The deal: This is laid-back and outdoorsy fun that's safe for music fans of all ages. If you want to teach your kids how to experience a music festival, but don't want to put up with the hipsters at Pitchfork, this rootsy, folksy, alt-country fest is for you.
Tickets: Three-day tickets: $85-$95 adults (includes RV parking, water/electric hookups extra), $20-$25 children 13-17. Two-day: $65-$75 adults. Saturday only: $35-$40 adults.
Suwannee River Jam
When and where: April 22-24, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak
Who it's for: Country music fans
Headliners: Zac Brown Band, John Fogerty, Travis Tritt, Kansas, Justin Moore, John Michael Montgomery, Colt Ford, LoCash Cowboys
The deal: There aren't many country mega-festivals out there, but River Jam is a good one. It'll be one of Floridians' first chances this spring to check out Best New Artist Grammy winners Zac Brown Band, as well as other country up-and-comers like Justin Moore and LoCash Cowboys. Giving this year's lineup a classic rock flavor are John Fogerty and Kansas.
Tickets: Single-day: $45-$55 kids, $75-$90 adults. Three-day: $130-$140.
When and where: April 28-May 2, downtown West Palm Beach waterfront
Who it's for: Fans of, uh, popular music
Headliners: Weezer, Flaming Lips, ZZ Top, Ben Harper and Relentless7, B-52s, Rise Against, Damian Marley, Nas, Shinedown, Patti LaBelle, Five For Fighting, Flogging Molly, Sister Hazel, Better than Ezra, Classic Albums Live: 40 Years of Woodstock
The deal: Billed as "Florida's largest waterfront music and art festival," it's a bit like an oversized artwalk, only with a massive lineup of seriously huge, mainstream names — last year's slate included James Taylor, 311, David Cook and Slightly Stoopid. This year's lineup is a little more alt-friendly; both Weezer and Flaming Lips are playing this festival about six weeks before hitting Bonnaroo. SunFest 2010 will take place at the new $30 million West Palm Beach Waterfront, which opened in February.
Tickets: One-day passes start at $30-$32 adults, $8-$10 ages 6-12. Two-day passes are $46-$50 adults, $15-$17 ages 6-12. Five-day passes are $60-$65 adults, $20-$22 ages 6-12. Kids 5 and younger free; discounts for seniors.