Main Street was still a stretch of dirt when the first Chasco Fiesta rolled out, offering the lure of the sparkling Pithlachascotee River and a "Spanish Explorers verses Calusa Indians" fictional pageant to raise money for the community library.
That festival, held in early March of 1922 and featured in the New Port Richey Press, was deemed a gala affair. Sidewalks were teeming and parking spaces scarce during three days of celebration that featured a street parade of decked out Ford Model T's and the like, the crowning of a Queen Chasco and Prince Pithla and a couple of cabaret shows that raised $381 for the cause and featured a lineup of singing, dancing and comedy. Only one casualty was reported, when a high wire act ended unfortunately, resulting in two fractured ribs for the performer, Art Dacomo.
The Chasco Fiesta has grown in fits and starts since then, swelling from three days to two weeks of fun while also drawing some controversy for such things as the depiction of American Indians, a bead tossing ban and funding for the event during tough economic times. Held annually since 1947, Chasco has melded some of the old with the new, keeping the popular street and boat parades and moving toward a more artful and realistic celebration of American Indian culture with a traditional pow wow held in Sims Park.
Today's fest crowns a queen and king, giving a nod to two leading philanthropists at a black tie ball that benefits Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, while downtown New Port Richey offers the grittier thrill of spinning carnival rides and a wafting mix of barbecue, fried dough, cotton candy and a whole lot of music.
Chasco Fiesta 2013 is a nine-day festival that kicks off next week with two major events. American Indian dancers from throughout the country will celebrate a three-day pow wow that starts at 5 p.m. April 5, along with a night of Christian contemporary music held at the Sims Park amphitheater and the opening of the midway on Bank Street. Meanwhile, it will be formal attire for attendees of the 28th annual Chasco Coronation Ball. That gets under way at 6 p.m. April 5 at Spartan Manor in New Port Richey.
Some 80,000 spectators are expected to line the streets with the plea for "beads!" on April 6 as 140 floats and a multitude of pirate krewes, school bands, local civic groups and organizations participate in the second largest street parade in the Tampa Bay area. On April 13 boaters will show off their decorated rides with a float down the Pithlachascotee River in what is touted as the state's oldest boat parade.
Sports enthusiasts are welcome to take in a charity round of golf, softball or bowling at various venues, or run the Main Street Mile on April 6.
Music lovers will be treated to a rather eclectic blend featuring a daily genre at the Sims Park Amphitheater. Think country, blue grass, blues, patriotic tunes, oldies, rock 'n' roll tributes and some youthful singers, too.
Of special note, and well worth coming out for: Southern Hospitality (Damon Fowler, JP Soars and Victor Wainwright) playing selections from their latest CD release, Easy Living, on Blues Masters Night (April 11) with New Port Richey singer/songwriter Julie Black. New to the venue is the crowd pleasing, can't help but get up and dance, Black Honkeys belting out Motown covers on True Oldies Night (April 12). Concerts are free, except for the Country Concert on April 13, featuring Randy Houser and the Henningsens. (Cost for tickets is $10-$20 advance/$15-25 day of.)