BROOKSVILLE ó It started as a small bluegrass festival in the northern Florida town of Waldo, drawing anywhere from 300 to 400 guests. When it started growing, organizers moved the event to eastern Brooksville with hopes of a more diverse repertoire of music and even larger crowds.
The first festival Florida Classic Park started two years ago, and the crowds came. In fact, last yearís event drew about 2,000 guests, which doubled from the year before.
As time nears for the return of the Florida Bluegrass Classic on Feb. 20, organizers are stunned.
"Our pre-sales have tripled," said event promoter Ernie Evans of Evans Media Source. "Itís crazy. This is something that we dream of, but usually never happens. ... Itís just exploding this year."
Evans said his company puts on about nine festivals each year, with three major bluegrass festivals in Florida. But the one most people talk about is the festival at Florida Classic Park.
"There is just something about this location," he said.
The music festival runs Feb. 20 through 25, and festival-goers will have a full daily lineup of entertainment, including classic country and bluegrass music. Headliner T.G. Sheppard will perform Feb. 24.
"We sent a poll out on who (festival fans) wanted to see, and the ladies overwhelmingly wanted T.G. Sheppard," Evans said.
The Grand Ole Opry star will make his Brooksville stop following his concert at the Florida State Fair in Tampa Feb. 14. Sheppard is ranked among the top 100 country artists of all time, with 21 No. 1 hits during the 1970s and Ď80s. He is known for hits Last Cheaters Waltz, I Loved ĎEm Everyone, Do You Wanna Go to Heaven and Party Time.
The five-day festival also includes concerts Feb. 22 and 23 by Nothiní Fancy, an award-winning bluegrass band from Virginia that puts on a comedy musical show.
"They are incredible," Evans said.
And the Atlantic City Boys, a Four Seasons tribute band, will present an afternoon concert Feb. 24 that includes a military tribute and a special dedication to emergency responders.
"Their arrival will be great," Evans said. Without giving away too much, Evans said the bandís grand entrance will include classic cars.
Others include the Larry Gillis Classic Country Show, Penny Creek Band, Billy Droze, Williamson Branch, Greg Bird, Kenny Stinson & Perfect Tymín, Big Cypress, Phil Leadbetter and Richard Bennet with the Walker Brothers, and Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. There will be a gospel sing on Feb. 25 with Jan Ladd.
The festival includes a classic car show, arts and crafts, food vendors, raffles, games and other activities for both overnight campers and day visitors.
"I think people finally realize weíre here and what we are doing," Evans said. "We are always adding more variety to the entertainment. Next year we may also include some Cajun. .... We are keeping the bluegrass theme, but itís definitely not all bluegrass."