BROOKSVILLE — It was somewhat of a rebirth. After the highly-criticized Florida Blueberry Festival's departure from downtown Brooksville in 2017, the Brooksville Blueberry Festival was born.
Spearheaded by local restaurateur John Lee, last year's inaugural event proved to be a success — unlike its predecessor, which often drew criticism.
"Attendance was outstanding and really exceeded our expectations," said Lee, who owns Coney Island Drive Inn. "But the cool part about it is, everyone got involved."
When the Blueberry Fest returns this weekend, visitors can expect even more than last year. The two–day food and music festival runs Saturday and Sunday throughout the downtown area. Musical entertainment will be in Hernando Park. A kids' zone and other activities will be in the parking lot at Lykes Memorial Library. Nearly 200 vendors will line Fort Dade Avenue, Main Street and other parking lots.
The art gallery at Brooksville City Hall will be open during the event and feature a competition among plein air artists, with awards given out at 3 p.m. one Sunday.
And of course, there will be lots of blueberries.
Several local nonprofits will sell blueberry desserts as fundraisers: Brooksville Main Street will sell blueberry cheesecake; the Hernando High School band will sell blueberry shortcake; and the Lions Club will selling blueberry. There also will be more than 400 pounds of fresh blueberries available.
Other blueberry treats and items will include blueberry beer and wine, blueberry bread, blueberry honey, blueberry plants, blueberry soaps and blueberry art.
But festival-goers are in for even more of a treat with several new activities offered at no cost. They include an inflatable planetarium and The Butterfly Encounter.
"The collection is great, but it is so much more than just seeing butterflies," Lee said. It is an educational experience, where visitors learn about the life cycle, the species found in Florida, and the importance of butterflies to the environment.
There will be plenty of musical entertainment throughout the weekend at the band shell in Hernando Park. Nuthin' Fancy will headline on Saturday with a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute. And on Sunday, the festival will close with the Heather Gillis Band.
"We had so many local people reaching out and asking us to get Heather Gillis here," Lee said. "We're looking forward to having her. She's our hometown girl."
The best part of it all, Lee said, is that people will not have to spend a lot money to enjoy themselves, thanks to donations from business sponsors and local organizations.
"It is all free," Lee said. "Admission is free. Most parking is free. ... Nobody makes a penny. And we didn't ask for any money from the county.
"This allows us to be what we want to be," Lee said. "A great thing for the community."
If you go: The Brooksville Blueberry Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday throughout downtown Brooksville. Admission is free. Tickets and armbands for the Kids Zone will be available. Most parking areas are free (the Kiwanis will charge $5 for parking in the SunTrust parking lot). Bus and RV parking will be available.
10 a.m.: Blueberry pageant
11:30 a.m.: Just for Kix
Noon-2 p.m.: Randy McNeeley
2 p.m.: Hernando Youth League Cheerleading
2:20-3 p.m.: John Hindman and the Mustang Mafia
3-5 p.m.: Coverfire
5-7 p.m.: Tyler Creek Road
8 p.m.: Lynyrd Skynrd Tribute with Nuthin' Fancy
Noon-1 p.m.: Leesburg Blues Brothers
2-4 p.m.: Rebel Soul
4-5 p.m.: Shadow Ridge
5 p.m.: Heather Gillis Band
Contact Phyllis Day at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1408. Follow @pdaytimes.