WEEKI WACHEE — Today's Reggae Sunfest at Linda Pedersen Park promises a laid-back experience where folks can relax and soak up some sun to the groove of Caribbean music.
But for the Hernando County parks and recreation department, the event will be a dance step into uncharted territory.
Along with live reggae and Caribbean style music, food booths and craft vendors, the festival will feature alcoholic beverages on sale — a first inside a county park.
And employees for the county, which is sponsoring the event, will be the bartenders.
"It's going to be a big test for us," said Hernando County Recreation Manager Harry Johnson. Indeed, there will be a lot of eyes watching to see whether the event is successful.
Last month, county commissioners agreed with parks and recreation officials that beer and wine sales at the event would probably boost the crowd and granted an exemption to rules prohibiting alcohol in public parks.
Having county employees dispensing drinks will help put more dollars into programs the department sponsors during the year.
Johnson is quick to point out that it is "not being promoted as an alcohol event." County staffers have gone through extensive training, he said, and will be responsible for checking IDs and watching for any signs of intoxication.
Patrons wishing to purchase alcohol will have to show proper photo IDs to obtain a wristband identifying them as of legal drinking age. No alcohol will be allowed to be brought into the park.
Johnson said the music festival has been on his department's radar for some time. The original proposal to the county commission called for producing three music events. But commissioners granted permission for just two, this event and a festival in the fall. Any future events will depend on the success of the first two.
"Since we've never done this before, we don't have much data on something like this," Johnson said. "This weekend will be about learning as much as we can.
Linda Pederson Park is home to the annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest in March, which draws upwards of 8,000 visitors during the weekend. And though Johnson isn't expecting today's crowd to approach those figures, he's hopeful the festival will appeal to people who enjoy reggae music.
"We think it's an idea whose time has come," said Johnson. "There's been a lot of support from the community so far, and we've had people say, 'It's about time Hernando County got with the times.' "
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.