PLANT CITY — Without question, Florida Strawberry Festival board members are a positive bunch. They're touting this year's event as a grand slam even though six days remain until opening day.
At the bottom of the festival's 2019 insignia — which shows a character in the likeness of a strawberry sporting a FSF ball cap — are the boldly printed words: "It's A Hit! - February 28th – March 10th, Plant City, Florida.''
"We've got an all-star lineup that is sure to please," said Florida Strawberry Festival President Paul Davis.
An abundance of berries and an entertainment lineup that includes the Brothers Osborne, Pat Boone, Alabama and Martina McBride are expected to help draw close to a half-million people to the festival.
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</URL><CHARACTER style="$ID/Hyperlink">In addition, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer standout Mike Alstott will make an appearance as will several new food items. One example: The strawberry blast burger, which consists of a strawberry-flavored donut with layers of bacon, lettuce, Gouda cheese and onion drizzled with mayo and a sweet strawberry relish.
Also new to the festival: The Pompeyo Dog Show featuring husband and wife duo Jorge and Natalya Pompeyo and their talented canines. They were semifinalists in season 12 of America's Got Talent. And Jef and Jill Eaton, whose Kandu Magic Show has been presented at events nationwide, will incorporate live music, sight gags, comedy and audience participation during their appearances at the 11-day festival.
There will also be a first-ever Battle of the Bands, consisting of the top nine bands pre-selected from a field of 20 musical groups who were chosen via an online voting system. The grand prize winner will get $10,000 in prize money.
Of course, attendees can tour the livestock exhibits and visit the midway, where they'll find plenty of adrenaline-pumping rides.
Longtime Strawberry Festival volunteer and Plant City native Dawn Kicklighter hopes folks will stop by the Neighborhood Village, an exhibition she's chaired for the past four years.
First-time visitors, she said, are often pleasantly surprised by the displays of art pieces, needlework, jewelry, toys, dolls and other assorted crafts projects, plus baked goods from contestants whose work is judged in a competition held prior to the festival's opening.
"Every year I am blown away by the unique items people enter," said Kicklighter, who noted that none are for sale.
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Pam Warnock, a festival director and chairman of the eight information booths strategically positioned around the festival grounds, says volunteers typically field a wide variety of questions.
"We've had some people ask where the alcohol is and, of course, no alcohol is served at the strawberry festival," Warnock said. "But the most common question is, 'Where did I park,' and so we try to remind people when they come in to take note of the gate they entered."
And, yes, there are questions about the strawberries.
You'll find them in an assortment of drinks and other sweet treats, and most notably at the St. Clement Catholic Church booth where, according to parishioner and longtime festival volunteer Paul Hetrick, an estimated 72,000 pints of strawberries each year go into the preparation of the group's popular strawberry shortcakes.
Another crowd-pleasing feature at the festival is the voice of Plant City resident and retiree Randy Scott, who for more than a dozen years has belted out the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner as the gates open each morning. He also sings Happy Trails as guests leave the grounds at closing time.
"I was in the baby parade at the strawberry festival and I grew up singing "Davy Crockett on my stick horse," said Scott, who's been dubbed by many as the "Voice of the Festival."
The festival hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and gate admission is $10 for guests 13 and older and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Log onto www.flstrawberryfestival.com for the dates, times and show prices of the headline entertainers and for individual day's events and discounts.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at email@example.com.