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Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer

Michele Miller is a Tampa Bay Times writer in Pasco County. Miller coordinates and provides stories and photographs for Pasco entertainment features as well as the Top of the Class education feature.

Phone: (727) 869-6251

Email: miller@tampabay.com

  1. Area musicians delight students with Teach-In performance at Gulfside Elementary


    HOLIDAY — Looking back, Scott Myers figures he was pretty fortunate to grow up in Chicago during a time when arts programs were a given, right from the start.

    "In elementary school, we had a full jazz band and a full orchestra and a full dance program," said Myers, who spends a lot of time these days playing trombone with a well-known cover band called the Black Honkeys. "It kills me that (school) budgets are not funding those arts programs like they used to."...

    Gulfside Elementary music teacher Lisa O’Keefe takes the stage during a Nov. 18 concert by members of a band called Souled Out. The band, a collaboration of musicians, came together to support music education for the Great American Teach-In.
  2. Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival offers an alternative to holiday bustle

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING LAKE — The turkey and fixings will be designated to leftover status and then comes the music.

    The annual Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival, which began Thursday, continues through Saturday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, offering a toe-tapping, knee-slapping, get-up-and-dance alternative to the post-holiday hustle and bustle at local shopping centers.

    The music kicks off at 11 a.m. today with 11 bands performing over two days under an 8,000-square-foot covered pavilion. Those who go are welcome to purchase tickets by the day, or camp overnight in the ranch's woodsy setting....

    Sarah Harris, center, and the Trinity River Band play Friday at the Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival.
  3. Fifth annual Ecofest offers an opportunity to commune with nature in a single location


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Looking for a weekend respite? Yearning to spend a couple of days communing with nature? The fifth annual Pasco EcoFest at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park just might fill the bill.

    The two-day event this weekend, organized by Lia Gallegos and twin sisters Kacey and Kira Atkinson of Rock the Boat Productions, promises a schedule packed with activities meant to appeal to all ages....

    Pennsylvania herbalist Nathaniel Whitmore leads an edible mushroom walk at Jay B Starkey Wilderness Park during last year’s Pasco EcoFest.
  4. Pasco Fine Arts Council celebrates grand opening of new facility

    Visual Arts

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The boxes have been unpacked, there's artwork on the walls and the grand piano has found a place that flows well with the green sitting benches and the partitions that shield the long classroom tables splattered in paint.

    Art classes have been up and running since early September at the Pasco Fine Arts Council, now at 4145 Fairford Drive, all while volunteers and board members have worked furiously to spiff up the new digs in what once was the Grove Park Community Center....

    Jennifer Mathis, 34, works on the pottery wheel during a recent class. There will be a kiln opening and demonstrations.
  5. More student assessments? That's music to the ears of marching bands


    When it comes to high school marching bands, halftime is showtime. It's a brief performance window for well-practiced musicians, who often take the field on Friday nights just as the audience heads for the concession stand.

    Come Saturday, marching bands from Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties will have the spotlight all to themselves at the District 5 Florida Bandmasters Association MPA (Marching Performance Assessment) held from 2 to 10 p.m. at Hernando High School. ...

    High school marching bands from Pasco, Hernando and Citrus Counties will perfom Saturday at the District 5 Florida Bandmaster Association Marching Performance Assessment at Hernando High School. Pictured ( left to right )during a recent football game half-time performance are Gulf High Buccaneer Band trumpet players Matthew Drake, Adriana Hernandez and Jacob Hoppes.
  6. Downtown New Port Richey seeks to turn potential into profits

    Economic Development


    Market Off Main, a quaint restaurant and fresh market, nestled on the banks of the Pithlachascotee River, was a favorite spot for people hankering for locally grown vegetables and comfort food offerings.

    But there was always a feeling of being on the outskirts of downtown for business partners Rose Mohr, 68, and Jerry Kuss, 73. So when the opportunity came to relocate to the heart of downtown, they made the leap, and quietly moved their operation over Labor Day weekend to a space that once housed the Cafe Grand....

    Rose Mohr, above, and business partner Jerry Kuss quietly moved their operation over Labor Day weekend to a space that once housed the Cafe Grand.
  7. Riverhawk fest seeks fresh, family fun


    Keeping it fresh and family-friendly is the aim for organizers of the 14th annual Riverhawk Music Festival that runs Nov. 5-8 at the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville.

    The four-day music festival offers the opportunity to camp out and take in more than 25 nationally touring bands performing Americana, rockabilly, roots rock, bluegrass, Cajun and more on four stages.

    And while the lineup includes past acts, such as 2011 Grammy award winner Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band, no way is this a repeat of last year's show, said promoter Garrett Lind of Lind Entertainment Corp. in Polk City....

    Reverend  Peyton’s Big Damn Band will perform for the first time at the 14th annual Riverhawk Music Festival. The Indiana-based trio has also played at events around the country including Austin City Limits and Bonaroo.
  8. Retiring snake handler will make final appearance at annual Rattlesnake Festival


    SAN ANTONIO — Jim Mendenhall has been bitten seven times by venomous snakes, once by a baby water moccasin that left him with weeks of excruciating pain — "like having your hand slammed in a car door" — along with a hospital bill that was equally unpleasant.

    That kind of thing is bound to happen when you spend more than 60 years handling snakes. Mendenhall, who for 15 years has been the main presenter at San Antonio's Rattlesnake Festival, is the guy people have come to call on to remove elusive snakes that have slithered indoors or perhaps a poisonous variety that has gotten too close for comfort in someone's yard. As the owner of Squamata Reptiles, he also has spent a lot of time traversing the state to give educational presentations....

    San Antonio’s Rattlesnake Festival, Saturday in City Park, will be the last year for presenter Jim Mendenhall, 72. A bite last year and a hand tremor led to his family urging he retire.
  9. New River Elementary students place high in summer reading contest


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Students at New River Elementary School once again proved their prowess in page turning, answering the call in a big way for the international Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, which took place from May 4 to Sept. 4.

    For the second year in a row, the school's students in kindergarten through Grade 5 logged the highest number of reading minutes in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, earning 28th place in the world, according to the Scholastic website....

    Fifth-grader Asia Rios, 10, asks the Buccaneers’ Shelton Quarles a question during the New River Elementary’s celebration.
  10. Motorcyclists prepare to rumble in for annual Cotee River Bike Fest


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Get ready to hear the rumble as bikers from near and far roll into town for the annual West Pasco Chamber of Commerce Cotee River Bike Fest, which takes place Friday through Sunday.

    The main event will be in the historic downtown area and at Sims Park, with a second venue at Harley-Davidson of New Port Richey.

    Bike Fest is expected to draw some 25,000 to 35,000 motorcycle enthusiasts for three days of live music, contests, food and drink, and plenty of iron rides....

    New Port Richey is rolling out the red carpet for the bikers. Here a biker takes a ride down Grand Boulevard last year.
  11. For this group of artists, outdoors is the only place to be

    Visual Arts

    HOLIDAY — A gentle breeze blowing off the Gulf of Mexico and a midmorning appearance by the sun made for a productive day recently for the half-dozen members of the West Coast Plein Air group that had gathered to capture the landscape on canvas at Anclote River Park.

    While some artists favor a studio setting, others find a certain solace in painting outdoors — en plein air — a practice of revered impressionist painters such as Monet and Renoir that became the rage in the mid 1800s with the invention of the easy-to-tote French box easel and ready-mixed paints....

    Plein air artists Kathy Detrano, of New Port Richey, and Ed Barker, of Spring Hill, capture the coastal landscape on canvas at the Anclote River Park in Holiday. The group meets each Friday morning at various scenic locals from Dunedin to Hernando County.
  12. New River Ridge High band director has come full circle


    NEW PORT RICHEY — After a few weeks of work under the sweltering sun, the River Ridge High Marching Knights were well on their way to getting their halftime show down.

    New band director Chris Greco, perched high in the empty stands, was feeling good about the band's progress in ironing out the kinks of the 20th Century Fox intro while members of the school track team ran laps on the outskirts of the football field....

    River Ridge High band director Chris Greco counts time for band members during practice at the football stadium. Greco is a first-year teacher who is following the same path as his former high school band director, Bill Rutherford.
  13. Awards banquet will recognize people working in the trenches to help those with mental health issues


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Sometimes the call comes from a lawyer, a judge or an employee at the jail who senses something is off. Sometimes the call comes from a loved one, often a concerned parent.

    Vasilios "Billy" Major is the guy who takes those calls.

    For 11 years, Major has worked as a disposition specialist for the Public Defender's Office, often scrambling to find suitable solutions for individuals with mental illnesses who land in the legal system. ...

  14. Richey Community Orchestra announces shows for 2015-16 season

    Music & Concerts

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Tickets go on sale Thursday for the 2015-16 season of the Richey Community Orchestra, which will offer a combination of sit-down dinner and open seating shows at two locations starting in November.

    "We've done some great stuff in the past, but this year, I'm particularly excited about the shows we'll be doing," said orchestra president Denise Isaacson, who collaborated with director Stephen P. Brown on the season lineup....

  15. Grandparents recognized at Chester Taylor Elementary for their many contributions


    ZEPHYRHILLS — Ask Loretta Cummins how she feels about being a grandmother, and the smile that spreads across her face says it all.

    "There's no love like your grandchild," said Cummins, 59, as she huddled with her granddaughter, Gracie Murphy, 7, in the cafeteria at Chester Taylor Elementary School.

    "We're like peas and carrots, aren't we Gracie?" she said, pulling her granddaughter close for a squeeze. "We ride bikes. We go to the park. We go on vacations together."...

    Gracie Murphy, 7, takes a turn in a makeshift photo booth with her grandmother, Loretta Cummins, 59, during the third annual Grandparents Day Celebration at Chester Taylor Elementary School in Zephyrhills.