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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


  1. After hiatus, Ragbirds happy to head south for Stringbreak festival

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING HILL — It's been awhile since the Ragbirds have been on the road, and the band is eager to be making its way south for the 10th annual Stingbreak Music Festival, which runs through Sunday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch.

    "It's been a long, long, long, long cold winter," percussionist Randall Moore said from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

    Ten years ago, Moore founded the Ragbirds with his wife, front woman Erin Zindle, who also plays fiddle and mandolin and is the primary songwriter for the band. Until the birth of their daughter, Aviva, 18 months ago, touring was a way of life for the couple and the band, which got a reputation for ramping up audiences with an authentic, upbeat musical mix of Americana folk-rock, Latin, Middle Eastern and Celtic rhythms and African percussion....

    The Ragbirds will be hosts for the Last Island Dance and Limbo Contest during their Saturday evening performance.
  2. Still performing at age 75, Tommy Johnson says his musical ability is 'kind of a miracle'

    Human Interest


    After 60 years of performing professionally, Tommy Johnson knows what gets people going, and he aims to please.

    Donned in signature stage clothes, the hint of a silver ponytail sprouting from his black fedora, Johnson takes turns playing three digital keyboards positioned against a red velvet backdrop. Fingers bounce rapidly across black and white keys as he leans in to hold a chord or flip a switch to bring up the sound of a flute, clarinet, saxophone or percussion....

    Tommy Johnson with Liberace in Las Vegas during a talent search competition that Johnson was a finalist in.
  3. Pasco festival celebrates under-appreciated loquats


    NEW PORT RICHEY — So maybe you're wondering about that tree the landscaper planted in your yard, the one with the large, leathery leaves that's covered in bunches of small, yellow ripened fruit — that right this minute is being devoured by birds.

    Maybe you already know that tree is a loquat, but have no idea of what to do with all that fruit. Or perhaps there's an open spot in your yard just begging for planting. ...

    Market off Main owners Rose Mohr, right, and Jerry Kuss prepare a loquat pie Monday while testing recipes for Saturday’s festival. About 300 people attended last year’s event and Mohr thinks the event could grow.
  4. Festival brings bluegrass stars Tyler Williams, IIIrd Tyme Out to Hernando's Sertoma Ranch

    Music & Concerts

    BROOKSVILLE — When Tyler Williams takes the stage for his first appearance at Sertoma Youth Ranch's annual Spring Bluegrass Festival, event promoter Ernie Evans will be standing nearby, taking it all in.

    Not just the music, mind you, but the looks on the faces of the first-timers in the audience. Evans has watched it time and again — ever since he caught Williams' act about 10 years ago in Nashville, at a place called the Station Inn....

    Award winners Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out headline Saturday at the Spring Bluegrass Festival.
  5. Chasco Fiesta celebration set to start soon, raise money for nonprofits


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The party gets going this weekend as New Port Richey begins nine days of festivities associated with the 69th annual Chasco Fiesta.

    From carnival rides to boat and street parades to music in the park to a Native American festival, there's a lot to take in for both locals and out-of-towners looking for some fun.

    At the same time, nonprofit organizations and charities in Pasco County will get a boost. Philanthropy is, after all, the seed that got it all started in 1922, when some local do-gooders decided to create a hometown festival to raise money for New Port Richey's library....

    Troy Elvrum, of the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, Washington state, displays wares at the Chasco Fiesta in downtown New Port Richey’s Sims Park last year.
  6. For Florida folk fans, Will McLean Festival is 'like a family reunion'

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING LAKE — The strumming, picking and singing about Florida's natural charm and indigenous folklore is the main attraction of the annual Will McLean Music Festival.

    As is paying homage.

    McLean was the father of Florida folk — a storied, gentle-natured man; a black-hatted troubadour who roamed the state in dilapidated rides, writing and singing about what he saw with the thought of preserving it through song. ...

    Fan favorites at the annual Will McLean Festival at the Sertoma Youth Ranch include 2 PM members Mike Jurgensen, left, Pete Price and Pete Hennings.
  7. Annual festival at Anclote High gives culinary nod to Black History Month



    The aroma wafting down the hallway is like the cast of a fishing line, making you want to follow your nose with hopes of getting a sample of what's been cooking.

    Open the door to chef Robert Wright's culinary classroom at Anclote High School, and there's a beehive of activity. Kids in whites and a couple of volunteers are creating stick-to-your-ribs fare — fried chicken, pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, collard greens, mac and cheese, salmon croquettes and plumped-up corn bread muffins. Add to that some sweet offerings — sweet potato pie piped with whipped cream, red velvet cake, Sierra Mist cake and Mallory Baack's oatmeal crumb cookies....

    Joseph Wallace, 18, and Meagan Smith, 18, pull apart pork butt roasts seasoned with a mix of garlic, oregano and sugar.
  8. Port Richey woman moves on with life after two cancer diagnoses

    Human Interest


    Terri Hesse keeps the photo handy, ready to show to anyone with just a few finger swipes to her cell phone.

    "Does that look like skin cancer to you?" she asks, holding up the selfie she snapped of the small, pink and white spot that showed up on her backside a couple of years ago.

    To the average person, probably not.

    It resembled a blister, Hesse thought, the kind that tear up your heels when you're breaking in a new pair of shoes....

    Already fighting a type of leukemia, Terri Hesse didn’t worry much about the pink spot on her buttock. But it didn’t go away.
  9. Pasco class notes



    • March 13: End of third grading quarter

    • March 16-20: Spring break

    • March 23: Teacher planning day. No school for students.

    • March 30: Report cards are issued.


    • Pasco County eSchool student photography will be exhibited during March at the Downtown New Port Richey Gallery, 6231 Grand Blvd. An opening reception, which will include the work of various artists participating in the exhibit, "The Feminine Mystique," and featured artist Edith Huber, will be from 6 to 9 p.m. March 6. For information, call (727) 848-6500 or go to

  10. Pasco class notes



    • Student artwork from the VSA State Organization on Arts and Disabilities will be on display through Feb. 28 at the Downtown New Port Richey Gallery, 6231 Grand Blvd. For information, call (727) 848-6500 or go to

    Center for the Arts at River Ridge, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. (727) 774-7381

    • Mitchell High band pre-music performance assessment concert, 7 p.m. Feb. 25....

  11. Bigger, better Pasco Music Festival will assist nonprofits

    Music & Concerts


    Northern folks might be lamenting all the snow they've received, but trees are budding, flowers are blooming and festival time is in high gear in the Sunshine State.

    The Pasco Music Festival might just be the ticket — and an inexpensive one at that — for those looking to spend a day taking in an eclectic mix of rock, blues and country, all while giving a boost to local nonprofits....

    The Julie Black Band will perform at the Pasco Music Festival on Saturday and donate to the SPCA, the Red Apple School and more.
  12. Class notes



    • Progress reports will be distributed Friday.

    • Monday is Presidents Day, no school.


    • Student artwork from the VSA State Organization on Arts and Disabilities will be on display through Feb. 28 at the Downtown New Port Richey Gallery, 6231 Grand Blvd. For information, call (727) 848-6500 or go to

  13. eSchool allowed Pasco Outstanding Senior of the Year to set, reach lofty goals


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Alex Walker was about 12 years old when he made his mind up.

    He was going fly planes, and that was that.

    He was just that kind of kid, said his mom, Julie Walker.

    "He set high standards, and when he wanted something, he went after it. No one had to follow up on that."

    "He knew what he wanted to do, and he set logical achievable steps to making that happen," said his dad, Todd Walker....

    Alex Walker, 17, knew from a young age that he wanted to be a pilot. He is the first student from Pasco County’s eSchool to have been named the county’s Outstanding Senior of the Year.
  14. Pasco County Fair to kick off with Monday parade


    DADE CITY — "Country Roots and Cowboy Boots" is the theme for the 68th annual Pasco County Fair, which kicks off at 1 p.m. Monday with a rousing parade featuring floats and marching bands.

    The fair runs through Feb. 22 at the county fairgrounds on State Road 52 on the west side of Dade City.

    The annual event got its official start in 1947 and continues to celebrate the area's resources, along with plant, animal and art exhibitions; contests and pageantry; the thrill of midway rides; the wafting aroma of fried dough; and a variety of entertainment each day that's meant to tickle most anyone's fancy....

    Children soar above the midway at last year’s fair. This year’s edition kicks off at 
1 p.m. Monday with a parade featuring floats and marching bands. The fair runs through Feb. 22.
  15. Teacher of the Year prefers to open doors, not stand behind closed ones


    HUDSON — The dust had barely settled on the Friday night accolades, but it was back to business Monday morning for Hudson High School language arts teacher Beth Hess.

    On the lesson plan was some necessary instruction about the upcoming Florida Standards assessment test that students will be taking for the first time in March. Time was slotted for dissecting sentences, meant to strengthen students' writing skills. And there would be some deep delving into a couple of novels — Anthem for the sophomores and To Kill a Mockingbird for the freshmen....

    Beth Hess teaches language arts at Hudson High School.