BROOKSVILLE — Last year, the lines formed early in the morning, with many waiting in anticipation of entry to the weekend event that combines thousands upon thousands of pounds of blueberries with musical entertainment, artisans and a variety of children and adult activities.
Those lines should run much more smoothly during this weekend's fifth annual Florida Blueberry Festival in downtown Brooksville.
"We're making entry easier," said festival president Michael Heard. "The flow will be better, and you won't be held up in line."
This year, admission tickets can be purchased online, and those who pay at the gate can move quickly though a cash-only booth.
That is good news for an event that has been growing by leaps and bounds since it debuted in 2012. In fact, last year's event may have topped 60,000 visitors, Heard said.
Those numbers are expected to rise this weekend with the addition of several new attractions — the largest being the Urban Slide, a 1,000-foot-long slip-and-slide that will be set up in the street. Participants, who must be at least 44 inches tall, will ride down on inner tubes. There will be changing rooms available so participants need not wear their bathing suits all day.
"It should be pretty exciting," Heard says. "It is the first time the Urban Slide has been brought to the Tampa Bay area."
Also new to this year's festival will be ice skating for the children at the Spring Skate area. Although not made of ice, the rink will give children an experience similar to that of ice skating.
There will be some staples returning to the event, including a full lineup of entertainment on two stages; about 250 exhibitors, artisans and food vendors; plus a juried art show, plein air artists, Monster Transmission's car and truck shows, a kids zone, a wine bar and a beer garden.
Headlining the musical entertainment will be ZoSo, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, which will entertain at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and Nuthin' Fancy, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Other performers will include the Greg Billings Band, the Euphoria Emporium House Jam Band, Beatnik Brent, the Acoustic Roots, a hula-hoop dance troupe and the Nerdy Noah Show, a fun-filled comedy show for all ages that includes juggling, stilts and fire-eating.
And last, but not least, will be the blueberries.
The Florida Blueberry Festival is a private, nonprofit event sponsored by the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, now based in Brooksville.
The festival will feature a variety of blueberry treats, from blueberry pies to blueberry shortcakes to blueberry wine. Fresh blueberries will be available along Brooksville Avenue, near the wine bar. All blueberries are Florida grown.
This year, the festival coincides with the opening of the Hernando County Fair. But instead of it causing angst among each event's organizers, they have joined forces.
Can't make up your mind which event to attend? Family combo tickets are available for both events.
"This is something good for the community," said Shari Klimas, president of the Hernando County Fair Association. "The two events offer something different. There will be so much going on. It makes Brooksville a great place to come to."
"We're not competing," added Heard. "Instead we are working together. … It really will make for a great weekend in Hernando County and the city of Brooksville."