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The arts thrive in Pasco

Audiences are growing at a number of venues for concert acts and stage shows.

Whoever thought that west Pasco County would one day be a destination to find good, professional entertainment? Aren't all the good music acts and all the big stage shows somewhere south of the Hillsborough and Pinellas county lines?

That might have been true five years ago, but things have changed, dramatically, (pun intended) in recent times.

First came the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson in October 1996, with a string of locally produced Broadway shows starring professional actors and a long list of nationally known stars doing special shows.

Before long, scores of tour buses and hundreds of cars from all over West and Central Florida became a regular sight at the 400-seat theater for the musicals, specialty acts and children's plays that owners Sal and Nick Sessa brought to the venue.

A second large entertainment venue arrived in August, when Greg Serio converted a former pool hall on U.S. 19 in Holiday into the 500-seat Bourbon Street Concert Club and started bringing in regional and national acts that brought people from across the Tampa Bay area and points north.

"Hubert Sumlin was the best crowd I have ever had here," Serio said of the legendary blues guitarist who appeared at Bourbon Street in late September. "It was a packed house with a line around the building, which I'd never had before."

Since then, Serio has had similar success with bluesman Lucky Peterson and his dad, James, and the Pat Travers rock 'n' roll band.

"After the first of the year, I plan to feature a national act every month," Serio said. Those acts draw people from Tampa, Sarasota, Gainesville, Ocala and all over Pasco County, helping Serio build a reputation as the place to go, similar to Club More in downtown Clearwater and Skipper's Smokehouse in north Tampa.

Even so, he plans to keep a solid schedule of local acts. "They pay the bills," he said.

Meanwhile, the crowds seem to grow and grow at the Show Palace. Attendance at the musicals went from a little more than 44,000 in 1999 to more than 69,000 in 2000, an increase of about 56 percent _ and that doesn't count the special shows, banquets, children's theater and other events held morning, noon and evening at the Palace.

In other arts and entertainment news for 2000, the Richey Suncoast Theatre continued its comeback from the brink of what looked like sure disaster only a few years ago.

New board chairman Charlie Skelton and company recruited many new volunteers and new play directors and brought back former ones in key spots. Several new people joined the theater's board of directors. Attendance at the Richey Suncoast shows was up so much that the Christmas show had to add a performance on a Thursday night.

Elsewhere, two different groups capitalized on the popularity of the PBS Antiques Roadshow craze and held record-setting appraisal shows themselves.

In early March, the Hudson Regional Library attracted more than 500 people to its Antique$ and Collectible$ Fair, where a man found out that a painting he thought was so ugly he had hidden it in a closet was actually worth around $4,000. Another showed up with a painting, which, to his surprise, turned out to be worth at least $10,000.

In October, the Pasco Arts Council held a similar fair, where about 700 objects were appraised for $5 a pop, raising $3,500 for local arts.

The arts weren't the only ones to set fundraising records in 2000.

In March, Monsignor Michael Devine sold more than 2,700 pairs of green socks to raise funds for the Florida Rainbow Company's project to bring Catholic and Protestant families from Northern Ireland together in Pasco County in the name of friendship.

That brought the membership in Monsignor Devine's Order of the Green Socks to 6,300, quite a few pattering feet for friendship.

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