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Hear violinist Stephanie Simon at Florida Strawberry Festival

Johnathan Riley of Lakeland swallows some strawberry shortcake during an eating contest at last year’s festival.

CARRIE PRATT | Times\uFEFF

Johnathan Riley of Lakeland swallows some strawberry shortcake during an eating contest at last year’s festival.

Stephanie Simon wields a fiery fiddle. She got a master's degree in classical violin from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and spent seven years with the Grand Ole Opry.

"They'll say, 'What kind of show do you do? What kind of songs do you do?' I just tell them, 'A little bit of everything.' I do a lot of real wild and crazy stuff," she said.

Simon, of Brandon, also teaches violin and composes and arranges her own music, sometimes rocking out with pyrotechnics and flashing lights.

She's one of the featured artists at the Florida Strawberry Festival, which runs through March 8 in Plant City. She has played there before, about eight years ago, but her performance as part of the Florida Opry's March 6 show is a homecoming of sorts because her first violin teacher will be in the crowd.

"It's nice to have him out in the audience and see how much I've improved," she said.

Along with Simon's performance, shows that are free with general admission tickets include lumberjack demonstrations, trick pigs and nationally known polka band Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra, said festival general manager Paul Davis.

Other acts, which require a separate ticket, include Randy Travis (7:30 p.m. Monday, $15 and $20), Travis Tritt (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, $15 and $20) and Jeff Foxworthy (7:30 p.m. March 6, $35).

This year's festival, Davis said, also features about 70 new vendors. That means the number of merchants, selling everything from purses and walk-in bathtubs to frog aquariums and corn dogs, tops 370.

An expanded agricultural show area is expected to bolster horticultural and livestock demonstrations, Davis said. There's also an expanded lineup of rides for children, and ticket prices are the same as last year.

For those with a brave stomach, there's a new dish to try: chocolate-covered bacon.

"I can tell you," Davis said. "That is going to be one of the hits."

If you go

The Florida Strawberry Festival

The Florida Strawberry Festival runs through March 8. Gates are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets cost $10, or $8 if purchased in advance at the festival's Web site, www.flstrawberryfestival.com. The festival grounds are at 2202 W Reynolds St., along U.S. 92.

Hear violinist Stephanie Simon at Florida Strawberry Festival 02/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 3:31am]

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