Arvel Bird, the American Indian flutist and fiddler known as the "Lord of the Strings," will take the stage Thursday night to kick off Chasco Fiesta, Pasco's oldest, largest and longest festival.
Bird has been a crowd favorite at previous fiestas, with a musical style that fuses his Scottish (Clan Kennedy) and American Indian (Paiute) roots. So it was only natural to bring him back to headline Chasco's Native American Night, a free event that starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey.
"He is such a phenomenal performer. He's one of a kind in our circle of what we do," said Katrina Big Mountain, one of the Chasco powwow organizers. "He stays over and performs for our powwow during our dinner breaks, so you're not only getting him Thursday night. Come to the powwow and you'll see him perform throughout the weekend."
The Native American Dance Competition runs through the weekend, starting with the first grand entry at 7 p.m. March 25. Additional grand entries — when dancers, musicians and drum circle members gather in full regalia — are slated for 1 and 7 p.m. March 26 and noon March 27.
Dancers in various age and style categories compete for more than $14,000 in prize money. Winners will be announced at 5 p.m. March 27.
"We get anywhere from 15 to 25 different nations," Big Mountain said. "We have people that come from Oklahoma, Canada, Kansas; dancers from Wisconsin, Georgia. Everybody is welcome if they want to compete."
The 11-day Chasco Fiesta will also include nightly live entertainment, a carnival, athletic contests, a flea market and arts and crafts village (March 26 and 27), special children's activities, a car, truck and bike show (March 27), barbecues, food vendors, a huge street parade (1 p.m. March 26), a boat parade (1 p.m. April 2) and the coronation of Queen Chasco and King Pithla — all of it to raise money for 30 local nonprofit organizations.
In the second week, the festival launches into educational mode with presentations on American Indian traditions.
Master falconer Ray Pena will showcase birds of prey. Chipa Wolf will illustrate the importance and use of horses in American Indian tribes. Robin Jumper will set up an encampment along the Cotee River and talk about his culture. Dance troupes will teach visitors about their dance styles.
Presentations will run daily from March 31 to April 3, also free in Sims Park.
"There's so much to learn," Big Mountain said. "The first weekend you see the beauty of American Indians in our element. You witness our dances and our traditions. The second weekend you come out and see a time line of how it was back then and how it's progressed to now.
"It's a free event and I really encourage people to come out and witness such a beauty and such a proud history of a people," she said. "It's really something."