During a time of slashed budgets and scaled-back services, the Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department has seen its share of dark clouds. But the department's staging of its Reggae Sunfest this weekend at Linda Pedersen Park offers something of a silver lining: feel-good music in a feel-bad economy.
The third annual festival, which kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday, is proof that Hernando residents like the idea of big outdoor music events in their own back yard, and are willing to come out and support them.
"The idea all along was to give residents something enjoyable that they didn't have to drive far to get to," said county parks director Harry Johnson. "It's a fun event that always brings in a good crowd."
Event coordinator Christie Williams said that Reggae Sunfest and its sister event, Bluesapalooza, have been a financial boon to the county's financially strapped parks department. Proceeds from both festivals have helped pay for several youth programs that might have otherwise been lost because of budget cuts.
"These are hard times for everyone, and it's nice to be able to keep those activities going for kids who really enjoy them," Williams said.
Last year's Reggae Sunfest drew about 1,800 visitors. The event took in $15,120, including ticket sales and vendor space rentals, and netted $6,865. More than two-thirds of that profit came from the sale of beer and wine.
The sale of alcohol was always key to the money-making opportunity, which Johnson pitched to his bosses three years ago. Though heavily scrutinized by those who didn't like the idea of skirting the county's ban of alcohol in parks, Johnson said it has been a nonissue.
"It's pretty routine now," he said. "Besides, we've never promoted it as an alcohol event. We offer it as a way to make money."
Saturday's lineup will once again feature the popular Tampa-based reggae duo Dickie and Melvin Dickenson, performing reggae, calypso and steel drum music. In addition, the festival will feature craft and food vendors, exhibits and children's activities.
Like always, patrons wishing to purchase alcohol will have to show proper photo ID to obtain a wristband signifying that they're of legal drinking age. While patrons cannot bring alcohol into the park, they are encouraged to bring pop-up chairs, sunscreen and insect repellent.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.