WEEKI WACHEE — Under a canopy of oak trees, Linda Charbeaux took a much-needed breather and dove into a bowl of swamp cabbage soup she had just bought.
Charbeaux, who hails from Illinois, had never tasted the concoction that has become synonymous with the Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest. But when she passed by a food booth Saturday set up by Brian's Place she was curious. When proprietor Bob Alvarez reeled off the ingredients of the dish, which contained hearts of palm, onions and his own special addition, chorizo sausage, she decided to take a chance.
"It kind of reminds me of the cabbage soup my mother used to make, but with a little more of a kick," she said after a couple of spoonfuls. "I'm glad I tried it."
The festival, which continues today at Linda Peterson Park in Weeki Wachee, is a amalgam of the kinds of activities people enjoy doing on warm, sunny spring day — hunt for crafts, sample good food and listen to a little music.
"It's a laid-back event where people just like to mingle," said Bill Dickerson a Homosassa vendor and creator of nautical motif items he hoped would catch the eye of passersby. A favorite was his "porta bar" made from a wooden ironing board with hand-painted palm trees, parrots and a slogan proclaiming "it's 5 o'clock somewhere."
The festival, which is sponsored by the Weeki Wachee Area Club, drew hundreds of visitors in its first hour, which quickly forced organizers to open remote parking lots.
"It's one of my favorite things to do every year," said Spring Hill resident Lois Deerfield, visiting a booth selling glass jewelry. "I have to watch myself or I'll end up spending too much money."
Festival arts and craft chairwoman said that despite the economic downturn all 150 vendor spaces were rented out for this year's event.
"We have them from all over the country," she said. "If they have a good product that people want they'll make money."
James Sadler, an entrepreneur from Brooksville selling a homemade novelty instrument called a "canjo," was hoping that would be true.
"This is my bread and butter right now," he said.
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.