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Festival full of sights, sounds and sweat // ARTS & CRAFTS

Perfect weather, perfect place, perfect festival.

The 22nd annual Tarpon Springs Arts and Crafts Festival was perfect in nearly every way Saturday, as record crowds came to peruse and purchase the works of 233 artists from 27 states.

"I can't believe how many artists there are out here," said Sandi Marston, a Tarpon Springs resident who was at the festival with a friend. "There is a lot more of what I consider to be actual art than at other festivals."

Marston spent the better part of the morning at the festival, which organizers predict will pack 65,000 people in Craig Park during the event's two days.

Frank DiDonato, president-elect of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce and an event organizer, said this year's festival is expected to be the largest ever.

"We are about maxed out," he said. "I don't know how we could put any more (people) in here."

The festival is expected to raise $20,000 for the chamber, money that will be used to offset its operational expenses.

In addition to the arts and crafts for sale, 17 vendors served food ranging from crab cakes to chicken pitas. The stage was filled by bands providing music to shop by.

The artists are out to sell their work or win some of the $16,000 in prize money available in the juried art contest, including $2,000 for best of show.

The festival continues today from 10 a.m to 5 p.m., along with music by bands including the Manhattan Project at 1:30 p.m. and the Fender Benders at 3 p.m.

Near the entrance to the festival, visitors might want to stop and say hello to Robert Scholl, 15, Bert Seither, 15, and Jacob Karr, 10. From a table in the driveway of Bert's house, the three young entrepreneurs are selling hot dogs, soda and bottles of water. The trio hopes to net a couple hundred dollars.

They will even watch dogs for visitors attending the festival. "It's $5 an hour," Bert said. "Including a bowl full of water."

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