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Concert, festival to duel Saturday

By sundown Saturday, the country music of the Snake, Rattle and Roll Jam should drown out any grumbling about the expansive charity concert and its impact upon the Rattlesnake Festival.

There have always been a few quiet complaints about the annual concert, put on by Darby's own country hit makers the Bellamy Brothers. Increased traffic and decibel levels prompt a few natives to shake their heads or even leave town for the day to avoid the crunch.

This year, a schedule change for the fourth jam concert has concerned organizers of the 26th Rattlesnake Festival, sponsored by Rattlesnake and Gopher Enthusiasts. The concert moved its starting time to 5 p.m., the same time the eight-hour festival closes its tents and exhibits.

Gates at 1 Pasco Place, just east of Interstate 75 on State Road 52, will open at 3 p.m., as they did last year when 15,000 fans attended.

There isn't any venom in the relationship between the two events, but RAGE president Edward Herrmann is concerned that downtown San Antonio may be deserted by those wishing to get a good seat at the concert four miles away.

"That probably will cut into us a little bit," Herrmann said recently, noting the open seating format of the jam. "The earlier you get there, the better.

"My first thought was that we wouldn't want them to start early, but we can't control when they start. If there's a reason for starting early, we won't stand in their way."

"The reasoning is to eliminate the mass rush (to the concert) all at once," Howard Bellamy said. "Let's face it, it's a big spill-in of traffic when you get 16,000 people parking all at once. If we can break that up a little bit, it'll work a lot smoother. I don't think it'll hurt anything."

Both Bellamy and Herrmann noted the events help each other. The festival gives the concert an identity hook, and the concert brings thousands of people to the festival who might not ordinarily attend.

Together, they provide Pasco County with a day of downhome fun and charity that has become an autumn tradition.

The Rattlesnake Festival begins at 8 a.m. with the 5-mile Rattlesnake Run through the hills of San Antonio. The $14 entry fee includes a race T-shirt.

Live music featuring local folk and bluegrass artists will begin at 8:30 a.m. Formal opening ceremonies are at 9:30 a.m., when concessions, arts and crafts dealers and environmental exhibits open for business.

For the first time, Dennie Sebolt's rattlesnake show won't be part of the festival. Sebolt retired from performing last year after four decades of handling serpents.

Instead, Dennis and Carole Moore's Snakes Alive show will educate visitors about Florida's poisonous snakes beginning at 10 a.m. Admission, the only fee for the festival, is $3.

Other protected wildlife exhibits include a live Florida panther and stuffed birds and animals killed by traffic in a collection of scenes titled Wildlife and the Road.

Toss in a few calorie-filled foods and some wood-and-string gopher tortoise races for children and you have a quaint country event that appeals to Crackers and city slickers alike.

"People from the city like the small town atmosphere; to see what the folks do in these little towns," Herrmann said. "They probably think _ inaccurately _ that we're all standing around petting our snakes or something."

A different kind of wildlife will be on display at 1 Pasco Place when the Snake, Rattle and Roll Jam kicks off at 5 p.m. with the Works Band from Tampa.

Jett Williams, the out-of-wedlock daughter of country legend Hank Williams, is also on the bill, along with Michelle Wright (Take It Like a Man).

Aaron Tippin, this year's country music discovery, is the featured guest of this year's jam. Tippin's conventional honky-tonk style has won raves from critics and steady radio airplay for his two albums.

Of course, the evening will conclude with a greatest-hits set by the Bellamy Brothers, who always seem to turn it up a notch in front of the home folks.

Proceeds will benefit victims of Hurricane Andrew and the American Red Cross, along with environmental causes.

The first three Jams raised more than $300,000 for Florida charities with a combined attendance that exceeded 35,000 concertgoers.