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SPIFFS moves its festival to the great outdoors

From its beginning, the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society has drawn impressive crowds to its annual Folk Fair celebration. This year, SPIFFS has decided to let the sun shine in.

Fair organizers _ facing the dilemma of moving this weekend's 22nd annual event from its comfortable five-year home inside Tropicana Field (closed for renovations until 1998) _ decided that the only viable solution was to move it outdoors to Vinoy Park on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.

"We simply outgrew every other location in the area," said SPIFFS executive director Lotta Baumann, who thinks the move will benefit the event. "It means that we will actually have about three times more room than last year, and that's exciting for a lot of the vendors."

The fair, which runs today through Sunday, is one of the largest events of its type, attracting more than 75 different ethnic groups made up predominantly of bay area residents.

Visitors can watch costumed villagers demonstrate old-world artistry in food and handmade goods for sale from booths that will line the park.

New this year will be an All World Beer Garden, where patrons can order a taste of an English Pub or a German Oktoberfest, while being entertained by traditional music and dancing.

"One of the nice things about the Folk Fair is that it's truly an event that appeals to all tastes," said Baumann. "You can find something of interest to just about everyone."

Throughout the weekend, musicians and dancers representing all parts of the the globe will entertain on the main stage as well as several minor stages throughout the park. With this year's theme being "Heroes and Villain of the World," it won't be hard to find personalities.

King Henry VIII and his six wives will lurk about the English pavilion. The Swedish contingent will enjoy the company of Vikings.

The main stage will be the site of the daylong parade of ethnic musicians, singers and dancers, including acclaimed Celtic musicians Seven Nations, known for their cutting-edge interpretations of traditional music of the region.

As usual, the Folk Fair offers a delicious array of tastes from all over the world, from Greek pastries to tropical Caribbean delicacies _ which is a reason to go unto itself.

AT A GLANCE

The SPIFFS Folk Fair runs from 2-9 p.m. today at Vinoy Park, Fifth Avenue and North Shore Drive in St. Petersburg. Saturday's hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3.75 for seniors and $2.25 for children 6 to 14. Children under 6 are free. No coolers or pets are allowed. Parking is available at the Bayfront Center and The Pier with a free shuttle to the Folk Fair.

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