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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. In competition, young entrepreneurs put their creative minds to work


    NEW PORT RICHEY — For Taylor Townsend, it was time to take her shot — five minutes to pitch an idea along the lines of the television show Shark Tank.

    "How many of you have children?" Townsend, 17, asked the panel of three judges in the school media center.

    Then came a horrific laundry list of facts about children who have died of hyperthermia while left strapped into car seats in hot cars....

    Jackson Rossi, J.W. Mitchell High
  2. Cotee River Seafest promises three days of food, fun and music


    NEW PORT RICHEY — It will be boats, blues and more as the Cotee River Seafest takes place this weekend in Sims Park.

    The annual festival, presented by Main Street New Port Richey and Auto Enterprise, will feature three days of free music starting at 5 p.m. Friday with local favorites SPF 40, Barefoot Bob and the Hope and Sean Chambers on the Sims Park stage.

    Saturday comes with a full lineup, with six bands playing back to back starting at noon with Franc Robert, followed by Troy Youngblood & the Soulfish, Tampa Music Machine with Nitro, Sarasota Slim with LC Williams and the Driver, Albert Castiglia and multirecording artist Eric Gales....

    Tampa blues guitarist Selwyn Birchwood will perform at the Cotee River Seafest this weekend in Sims Park. He’s shown here at the 2015 Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa.
  3. Gallery's April exhibit gives a nod to spring

    Visual Arts


    The West Pasco Art Guild and Gallery is giving a nod to spring while preparing to wind down its seasonal shows with the exhibit "How Does Your Garden Grow?" this month.

    "We're really impressed with the showings for this exhibit," said guild board member Chuck Simmons, who headed the April exhibit with fellow artist Marilyn Wescott. "Most of our submissions are from local artists, and we have some faithful snowbirds as well."...

    Hollyhocks by local artist Carol Spicuglia is part of the “How Does Your Garden Grow?” exhibit.
  4. Eclectic mix on tap at Sertoma's annual Stringbreak Music Fest

    Music & Concerts


    More than 20 bands will take turns on stage at the annual Stringbreak Music Fest, which offers an eclectic mix of alternative country, Americana, rockabilly, Cajun and bluegrass in the serene, wooded setting of the Sertoma Youth Ranch.

    Among those performing over four days: 2011 Grammy Award-winners Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band playing funky zydeco; HuDost, a neo-folk world rock ensemble from Montreal and Kentucky, and some amusing sets from Hayseed Dixie. They promise to entertain with their hillbilly covers of popular hits such as Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Journey's Don't Stop Believin'....

    The Hummingbirds will bring their blend of Northern and Southern Americana.
  5. Canner operates in high gear for Florida Loquat Festival



    On a spring day that tempted many to open their windows, the aroma of hot, bubbling loquats drifted through Sue Andreski's modest kitchen and out her front door.

    "Come on in," Andreski said as she gave her stove-top pot a stir, adding that it would be about a half-hour before she would be ladling this batch of jam into jars.

    Harvesting, deseeding, peeling and canning fruit, it's been a busy time for Andreski, 61, of Holiday. She is one of three cottage industry canners who will be selling an assortment of loquat-inspired foods — jams, jellies and butter that spreads oh-so-smoothly over a piece of morning toast — at the annual Florida Loquat Festival on Saturday....

    Loquat preserves prepared by Sue Andreski, 61, of Holiday for the fourth annual Florida Loquat Festival to be held Saturday at Frances Avenue Park in New Port Richey
  6. Broadway's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes a little local flavor

    Human Interest

    It's a magical world for Ryan Sell, who has landed his golden ticket to Broadway.

    After months of rehearsals in the Big Apple, the 11-year-old from New Port Richey is stepping into the spotlight with a lead role in the new musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's bestselling novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    For those who haven't read the book or seen the two movies, the story follows the adventures — and sometimes misadventures — of a handful of children who, after finding a golden ticket tucked in a chocolate bar wrapper, are awarded a tour of the mysterious candy factory owned by the eccentric Willie Wonka....

    Ryan Foust, from left, Jake Ryan Flynn and Ryan Sell meet the press with Tony winner Christian Borle, who stars as Willie Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  7. Ridgewood High students teach French language to Calusa Elementary kids




    That's a new greeting for first-grade students in Jennifer Daly's classroom, one they are warming to nicely courtesy of the new French Foreign Language Experience program.

    Since early February, Ridgewood High School students have been making a trek each Thursday morning to Calusa Elementary School to impart a 30-minute lesson on the basics — French greetings, numbers and colors — along with some unfamiliar pronunciations of those words. It has many first-graders, as well as their teacher, favoring the color bleu these days, mostly because there's a funny facial contortion that seems to go with rolling the word off the tongue....

    Ridgewood High student Jessica Ruwell, 17, works with Eliza Curtis, 6, left, and Jaylene Duclos, 7.
  8. Local artist has put finishing touches on long-forgotten piece of work

    Visual Arts

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Fran McLean didn't quite know what she was getting into when she agreed to complete a painting that had been tucked away for decades in the back of another person's closet.

    The painting, though incomplete, was too good to toss. That's what Bobbi Armour, director of Gateway Gallery & Emporium, figured when she happened upon the three-paneled piece — called a triptych — while cleaning out an elder neighbor's belongings that were destined for charity....

    A before picture of the The Unfinished . . . Finished painting that was started by the late Tom Burrichter, formerly of New Port Richey, and completed by local artist Fran McLean, who is the featured artist for the April exhibit at the Gateway Galley & emporium in downtown New Port Richey.
  9. If it's spring, it must be Chasco Fiesta time


    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....

    The Chasco Fiesta includes carnival rides, music, boat and street parades, a Native American Festival and more.
  10. Coast lures environmental dawgs for outdoor learning

    Human Interest


    It's Saturday morning and the Gulf of Mexico calls. It's close to 11 a.m. when youngsters dribble into the Gill Dawg Marina to slather on sunscreen and load up on water in preparation for an outdoor adventure.

    The itinerary is simple: Food, fun and fundamentals of environmental education at Eco Dawgs, a fledgling adventure program for youths at Gill Dawg Marina.

    On this day, there is time to down a cheeseburger and french fries while taking in a 30-minute educational presentation by program director Dominique O'Connor. It's a preliminary lesson that touches on the water cycle, the important functions of the coastal wetlands, its inhabitants, and how to preserve both....

    Isaac Tavo, 13, front, Isaiah Tavo, 12, middle, and Alex Hochreiter, 13, get a feel for their kayaks before heading out on the Pithlachascotee River with the Eco Dawgs environmental program.
  11. Annual Will McLean tribute set for this weekend at Sertoma Youth Ranch

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING LAKE — Festival season is in full gear. And, as tradition would have it, the Will McLean Music Festival will offer a musical salute to the "Father of Florida Folk" with festivities kicking off on Friday in the wooded setting of the Sertoma Youth Ranch.

    McLean, who grew up in the Panhandle, would be right at home singing his heart out in those woods. He started out playing a gourd and cornstalk fiddle made by his grandfather and spent the better part of his life traversing the state, taking up a mission to preserve the land and waterways he loved through his music. By the time cancer took him in early 1990, McLean had written some 3,700 songs, stories and poems. ...

    “Mean Mary” James plays banjo, fiddle guitar and eight other instruments.
  12. With new leadership, Rattlesnake Festival will live on


    SAN ANTONIO — Just weeks after the announcement that a 50-year-old local tradition had come to an end, there's been a revival.

    Come the second weekend of October, the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival will go on as usual, this time under the direction of a local nonprofit organization, the Thomas Promise Foundation.

    "A lot of people in town are happy it is going to continue after 50 years," San Antonio Rotary Club member and former festival organizer Betty Burke said....

    The Thomas Promise Foundation will take over the annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival from the San Antonio Rotary Club.
  13. Dade City's historic Cox Elementary School celebrates 90th anniversary



    If walls could talk, the two-story, red-brick building on Martin Luther King Boulevard would have a lot to say.

    There are 90 years of storied history stashed inside the structure, which opened as Dade City Grammar School after winter break on Jan. 3, 1927, and which now is known as Rodney B. Cox Elementary School.

    It's a time capsule of sorts, traversing through 11 administrators, numerous teachers and thousands of students. Fathers and mothers have gone to school here. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, too. ...

    Rodney B. Cox Elementary School first opened as Dade City Grammar School on Jan. 3, 1927.
  14. For Most Outstanding Senior Max Keenan, helping others is a priority


    LAND O'LAKES — At 6-foot-2, Max Keenan cuts a tall figure as he walks the campus, save when he pauses mid-conversation to snatch a discarded cellophane wrapper blowing across his path.

    It's a small gesture — but one that speaks volumes about Keenan's character.

    And that's something that carries weight with the students and faculty who voted Keenan as the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior at Land O'Lakes High last fall, and with the panel of final judges that gave him the title of Most Outstanding Senior for the entire county....

    “People who have been given so many blessings — it’s sort of their job to take care of others.” Max Keenan, the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior for Pasco County schools
  15. Improvements promised for second SunWest Park Crab and Shrimp Festival


    HUDSON — If crabs are your thing, you're in luck this weekend.

    The SunWest Park Crab and Shrimp Festival kicks off Saturday with two days of live music, carnival rides, craft vendors, seafood and culinary offerings at the spring-fed water park in northwest Pasco County.

    Add to that the thrill of watching hermit crabs toting their painted shells to the finish line.

    A little bit of new and much improved is the motto for the second annual event, which admittedly got off to a rocky start in 2016....

    Racing hermit crabs will be among the featured activities at the second annual SunWest Park Crab and Shrimp Festival, which takes place Saturday and Sunday at SunWest Park in Hudson.