Hooray, for the Blueberry Festival!
Three cheers for the organizers, especially Michael Heard, who worked countless hours putting the event together.
Many thanks to the volunteers who donated time and the businesses and organizations that gave cash, billboard space or a long list of other goods and services.
Praise and gratitude are in order because there's no question the festival did what it was supposed to do — expose thousands of out-of-towners to Brooksville's brick streets, courthouse, pretty old houses, stores and restaurants.
Still, it was a first-year event, and first years are for learning. And based on my trips to the festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — and on my conversations with attendees, vendors and organizers — here's what I would do differently next year:
Can the Berry Bucks. This was the confusing, inconvenient, commerce-inhibiting currency sold dollar for dollar by the festival to those in attendance. You might have noticed, however, that these bucks didn't quite spend like the real thing. That's because, besides charging food vendors a $500 deposit and an extra $125 for electricity, the festival skimmed 20 percent of all Berry Bucks revenue, a cost that, naturally, the vendors passed on to customers, which explained, for example, the $7 bowls of chowder.
Better and more local vendors. That clam chowder, from Tony's Seafood Restaurant in Cedar Key, was actually one of the best offerings. Mostly I saw a lot of carnival food. Where, with the exception of a taco-dispensing vehicle that made a cameo on Friday evening, were those gourmet food trucks we hear so much about these days? (Maybe at last weekend's Taste of Pinellas or the competing food truck rally.) Where were representatives of the county's landmark restaurants?
More blueberries. The star of the show was in surprisingly short supply. You had to hunt them down. How about a centrally located tent where local growers could rent space at a rate low enough to encourage their attendance, where they could talk about their crop and the magic worked by agricultural scientists in Gainesville that made the entire industry feasible in Florida.
They could sell fresh blueberries, blueberry muffins, blueberry pies, blueberry smoothies, tablecloths embroidered with images of blueberries — anything to remind people this is, after all, a Blueberry Festival.
Better musical acts. Remember all the fuss about Hernando Park, its tennis courts and trees? It all could have been avoided because the place was deserted most of the weekend. Attendees, it turned out, weren't eager to spend an extra $10 for bands that weren't much better or better known than the ones playing for free on the street corners. The exception, Heard told me, was the Friday night performance by a Journey tribute band.
And if that's all it takes to pack them in. ...
I liked those bands on the corners, by the way. Liked it that most of the people I talked to enjoyed their visit to town, liked the mercifully short parade on Friday, liked the kids zone, and, surprisingly, I even liked my first taste of blueberry wine.
I liked that downtown was packed on Saturday afternoon and respectably bustling most of the rest of the weekend.
I'd just like to figure out how everybody involved could like it a little more.