Toasting the sunset in a kayak on the Gulf of Mexico is a fine way to kick off the weekend. It's not a bad way either to launch a couple of events that meld the blues, boats, shrimp and other festival sundries with the opportunity to embark on a gentle paddle to the gulf's edge or weave through obstacles and stilt houses along Pasco's scenic coast.
Organizers of the Cotee River Seafood & Blues Festival and Boat Show this weekend in downtown New Port Richey have partnered with organizers of a new water venture called Pasco Paddlepalooza that will be staged at Gill Dawg Marina on Miller's Bayou in Port Richey.
"This is awesome — two separate entities working in partnership," said Judy DeBella Thomas, executive director of Greater New Port Richey Main Street, which hosts the seafood festival. "It's really neat that we're together on something like this. It's the perfect mix for creating that beautiful blue waterway between New Port Richey and Port Richey."
The festival, now in its 15th year, has brought in lots of boats, sumptuous seafood, fun activities for kids, art exhibits, an annual photo contest and musicians such as Damon Fowler, Julie Black and the Betty Fox Blues Band.
This weekend's musical lineup promises to please, Thomas said, noting that folks will be happy to see the return of locals like T.C. Carr and Franc Robert along with first-time appearances by Steve Arvey and headliner Lauren Mitchell. Local favorite Circle Sky will pay homage to the 1969 music scene — Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Allman Brothers — in what will be one of their last appearances as a band, Thomas said. Also appearing will be the winners of last year's "First Catch Contest," the Mighty Ones With Eve Shaw.
"They were so good that we invited them back again," Thomas said.
The paddling should be just as fine, with offerings meant to suit most anyone's endurance level — from a leisurely paddle on the bayou to a sunset rendezvous to the more challenging 2.3-mile Durney Key Challenge, the Salt Springs Classic, and Battle in the Bayou Dragon Boat Team Races.
That event, sponsored by Gill Dawg, Salt Springs Alliance, Pasco Parks and Recreation Paddling Pasco and the Pasco Office of Tourism, also serves as a fundraiser, said Rick Buckman, director of Pasco County Parks and Recreation and president of Paddling Pasco. Proceeds will help fund youth scholarships for the Pasco Parks and Recreation programs and AFIRE, a day-training program for developmentally disabled adults. (The DUCKTONA 500 Duck Race, held during the blues fest at the Main Street Bridge in downtown New Port Richey, will also benefit AFIRE. )
Campers, take note: After gaining approval from the city of Port Richey, Paddlepalooza attendees and participants can pitch a tent (for a fee) at Waterfront Park on Friday and Saturday nights. A craft beer fest, featuring over 50 varieties, will be held at Gill Dawg on Saturday afternoon. Live music will also be featured at Gill Dawg at various times, and water and land shuttles will be available to ferry attendees from the waterfront to Sims Park throughout the weekend.
"This should be a first for Pasco County," Buckman said. "There are such wonderful waters to paddle around Pasco County, and we'll be able to show it off a bit along with the waterfront district. Now that we're connected with Main Street and the blues fest, we're hoping this becomes an annual big river event."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]