No offense to all the fests and fairs sprouting up in the Tampa Bay area this spring, but nothing makes me feel as proud to be a Sunshine Stater as slamming my maw into shortcake at the Florida Strawberry Festival. I love the whole dusty, down-home Plant City tradition. I also highly recommend catching a show while you're there; last year I was front row for Hank Jr., which was insane and dumb and really darn fun. I understand there's high demand on your music dollar, especially this time of year when every weekend seems to bring a big act to town. So here are my top five Strawberry Fest picks. Alas, all dudes — with the exception of Martina McBride on Tuesday, there aren't a whole lot of major female acts playing here. Ticket prices for reserved seats in parentheses are in addition to festival admission.
1. ALAN JACKSON, Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ($45) AJ is like the Abe Lincoln of country music. He's an elder statesman (57 Top 40 singles!) revered by traditionalists and newbies alike — plus he looks really great in a hat. Daniel Day-Lewis should start practicing Don't Rock the Jukebox, Chattahoochee and It's Five O'Clock Somewhere in the shower.
2. DWIGHT YOAKAM, Monday at 7:30 p.m. ($20-$25) One of my favorites, this low-hatted practitioner of the Bakersfield Sound has always stayed true to his outlaw creative ways, a reason, perhaps, he has never reached the upper-echelon of country stardom. Nevertheless, expect an epic show delivered at a breakneck pace, with such songs as Guitars, Cadillacs and Fast as You (plus covers of Cheap Trick and Elvis) coming at you fast, loud and twangy.
3. SCOTTY MCCREERY, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. ($25-$30) My American Idol-watching days are long behind me (sorry, Nicki); I ducked out back when people still knew who Taylor "Soul Patrol" Hicks was. But I caught a YouTube snippet of Season 10 champ McCreery's The Trouble With Girls video the other day and I was impressed. He looks like Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman but sounds like George Strait's tougher brother. Be interesting to see if he has the star power to carry a stage for 90 minutes.
4. HUNTER HAYES, March 10 at 3:30 p.m. ($15-$20) Nominated for best new artist at the 2013 Grammys (he lost to Fun.), the 21-year-old star from Breaux Bridge, La., has a massive hit with Wanted, which he co-wrote with Troy Verges. Hayes has serious chops plus he looks like a Disney Channel prince. Usually I'd be enraged with jealousy by someone like that, but I like this kid. This is a nice get, and it's especially cool that he's here the same day as ...
5. BLAKE SHELTON, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. ($55) I'm always impressed with the bookers at the Strawberry Festival who rely on tradition and savvy to lure major country acts to Plant City. This year's lineup pales a bit compared to years past, but you certainly can't question the headliner: Mr. Miranda Lambert is one of the biggest stars around these days, scoring hit TV shows (The Voice) and hit songs, his 2011 album Red River Blue still shooting out hot tracks. I've seen Shelton live, opening for Brad Paisley, and he was an all-around showman and a total blast. Fifty-five bucks is a new record for a concert ticket here, but he's worth it. Can't wait to see him again. But reserved seats are sold out, which means you'll have to take your chances with the 3,000 free grandstand seats that are first-come, first-served for each show. Be prepared to wait in line.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.