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Festival reels in food, music, crafts

(ran GB edition of Weekend)

Seafood gumbo. Grouper sandwiches. Fiddler crab races. Beach volleyball showdowns. Arts and crafts. Tons of live entertainment.

What can all of this mean? Only that it is time for the 15th annual John's Pass Seafood Festival, a traditional weekendlong celebration of all things fishy.

At least 100,000 people are expected to attend the festival. Non-stop events are scheduled for 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The theme of this year's festival is "Marine Science Education."

Delectable munchies will be available throughout the weekend, including shark nuggets, smoked mullet, steamed shrimp, scallops, oysters Rockefeller and seafood quiche.

The food will be served at 15 locations in John's Pass Village. The Southern Offshore Fishing Association will have a fish fry under the main festival tent. A complete meal should cost about $5, said Lyn Brawner, president of this year's John's Pass Seafood Festival.

The weekend's festivities begin Friday with a Halloween party and costume contest at 5 p.m. on the boardwalk stage, to be followed by trick or treating in John's Pass Village stores from 7 to 9 p.m.

New this year is a Dance-O-Ween Street Party from 7 to 9:15 p.m. Friday. Seven bands will play music to suit everyone's tastes. The bands include Rocky Ruckman and the Beat Heathens, T.C. Carr & the Catch, the Bamboo Buzzards and The Vagabonds. Friday's activities will conclude with a fireworks display.

Saturday and Sunday events include a Volley Ween Tournament, an arts and crafts show and sale with more than 150 exhibitors, clowns, a haunted house, kite exhibitions, a gumbo cook-off, a style show and continuous live entertainment on three stages.

The Volley Ween volleyball tournament will feature teams of two, four and six people playing in a round-robin format on Madeira Beach. There will be men's, women's and mixed divisions. For registration information, call 441-1069.

G. David Howard will perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday on the stage in the main festival tent. At 1 p.m. Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard will demonstrate an air-sea rescue in the water off John's Pass Boardwalk.

Environmental sightseeing boat tours will be offered each hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Hubbard's Marina. Marine biologists and ornithologists will lead the tours and describe the variety of plant and animal life in the Boca Ciega Bay estuaries and bird sanctuaries. Cost of a boat tour is $10 a person and $5 for children under 12.

Free parking is available at Madeira Beach Middle School, 591 Tom Stuart Causeway. Shuttle buses will take people to and from John's Pass Village for $2. Children under 12 may ride for free.

Money raised from this year's festival will benefit the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and Madeira Beach Middle School's marine science project.