RUSKIN — The emphasis may be on the shrimp, grouper and crabs, but it's the diverse entertainment that encourages guests to linger at the annual Ruskin Seafood Festival, according to Melanie Morrison, executive director of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, organizer of the annual event.
"I think one of the reasons for the festival's growth over the past 27 years is the effort we've made to take the festival to the next level each year," Morrison said. "What began as a little community event has evolved into a festival that attracts thousands of visitors from around the state."
Ranked among USA Today's top seafood festivals and promoted by Visit Florida, the state's official tourism arm, more than 25,000 seafood lovers are expected to storm the rural south Hillsborough County community Saturday (Nov. 5) and Sunday (Nov. 6) to sample seafood dishes from top Tampa Bay restaurants and food trucks.
"It's amazing," Morrison said. "It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Now we're getting national attention."
Beyond the crab cakes and coconut shrimp, Morrison believes the festival's lure lies in the chamber's efforts to provide activities and entertainment that appeal to all tastes and interests.
"When we began, we had maybe one local band and a DJ for entertainment," she said. "Now we've created a diversity committee that focuses on different musical genres. This year, we'll have nine bands perform throughout the weekend offering reggae, rock, country, oldies and jazz music."
Among this year's musical offerings is a trio of musicians that represents its own circle of diversity.
Pianist John O'Leary from Mexico, bassist Alejandro Arenas of Colombia and drummer Mark Feinman of Clearwater met while majoring in music at the University of South Florida 10 years ago.
"We played music together and became best friends," Feinman said. "Eventually, we decided to form La Lucha, which means 'the fight' or 'the struggle,' because everyone has their own struggle to overcome."
The Tampa Bay trio has won statewide acclaim performing a mix of Latin-inspired rhythms, jazz standards, "twisted arrangements" of pop songs as well as original compositions.
"We do concerts and festivals all around Florida but this is our first time at the Ruskin Seafood Festival," Feinman said. "We're really looking forward to it. We love performing at outdoor festivals and plan to play some high-energy jazz and Latin arrangements for the crowd."
La Lucha will take the stage from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 6.
Returning for an encore performance will be the Tampa-based reggae band, Spy vs Spy, led by Jay Roberts of Temple Terrace. Roberts said the band's mix of soca, zouk, reggae and calypso sounds are tailor made for the festival's tropical venue at E.G. Simmons Park on the shores of Tampa Bay.
Spy vs Spy will perform from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 5).
Also included in the musical lineup are Ronnie Davis, performing oldies; Kozmic Pearl offering classic rock and dance music; the 241 Band with more classic rock; Zebron & James playing Southern rock and country; the roots rock music of Sixgun Republic; and the Christian rock sounds of 3 O'Clock Rain.
"Every year we add a new element to the festival, and this year it's a saltwater fishing tournament," Morrison said.
Participating anglers will launch from Simmons Park on Sunday and meet back at the park for a 1 p.m. weigh-in.
Also new at the festival is a 90-foot ninja warrior kids and adults course, sponsored by Jubilee Gymnastics and The Shanobi School in Tampa.
"We've tried to provide a balance of activities for kids and adults," Morrison said. "We want this to be an event everyone will remember."
Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at [email protected]