NEW PORT RICHEY — Elsewhere, the start of spring might conjure up visions of tulips and cherry blossoms. In these parts, the return of Chasco Fiesta is a sure sign that things are about to heat up.
The annual event kicks off Friday, March 24, in downtown New Port Richey for a nine-day run, which will feature carnival rides and barbecue fare, boat and street parades, a varied lineup of daily music at Sims Park and the traditional Native American festival on the banks of the Pithlachascotee River.
At the same time, nonprofit organizations and charities in Pasco County will get a boost. Philanthropy is what got the festival started in 1922, when local residents decided to create a hometown festival to raise money for New Port Richey's library. This year, some 25 nonprofits will set up food and vendor booths to raise money for their organizations.
The event also recognizes the altruistic nature of two dedicated citizens who will be "crowned" King Pithla and Queen Chasco at a coronation ball held on Friday evening at Spartan Manor in New Port Richey.
Offerings for the 2017 Chasco Fiesta are much the same as in years past, with a couple of scheduling twists, said event director Geoffrey Kranich.
The country concert, which is typically on the final day of the festival, will be on the opening Saturday this year. The Native American Festival, a traditional opening event, has been shifted to the closing weekend, March 30 to April 1.
The Academy of Country Music Awards are being held on April 2 in Las Vegas, Kranich explained, which created a scheduling conflict for the festival's featured country artists, William Michael Morgan and NBC's The Voice finalist Barrett Baber.
Some highlights this year: the Parris Island Marine Band is back to march in the street parade which starts at 1 p.m. Saturday on Grand Boulevard, followed by a special performance in the newly renovated Sims Park. Newcomers to the parade include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Rays organizations and the Express Clydesdales pulling a stagecoach. Those who want a close-up view of the draft horses may also take in a meet-and-greet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
A full music lineup of jazz, blues, rock, funk and oldies bands will be featured daily throughout the event, with a performance by Jefferson Starship closing out the festival on April 1.
Other activities include car and bike shows, arts and crafts, a children's village, the longest-running boat parade in Florida and the Sertoma Foundation's traditional weekend barbecues in the park.