Advertisement

Florida Strawberry Festival approaching pre-pandemic crowds

Early reports show the Plant City fair is back to its record-setting crowds as it makes a transition to a new president.
 
People take in the festivities at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City on Thursday.
People take in the festivities at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City on Thursday. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published March 7, 2023|Updated March 8, 2023

As we head into the second week of the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, early reports show crowds nearly returning to pre-pandemic levels for the state’s most attended fair in one of its smallest towns.

With a population of 35,000, the northeast Hillsborough County farming community can see as many as 50,000 people per day streaming in along Interstate 4 to fill up on shortcake and take in one of the best music lineups in the industry. More than 2,500 volunteers are on hand to keep it that way.

Related: Guide to this year's Florida Strawberry Festival: What to know before you go

The festival is also poised for a transition, with longtime festival president Paul Davis, 68, retiring after this year’s fair. Kyle Robinson, 51, who recently retired as a colonel in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, is taking over as festival president.

Kyle Robinson, left, will take the over as Florida Strawberry Festival president from Paul Davis, who has run the festival in Plant City for 25 years.
Kyle Robinson, left, will take the over as Florida Strawberry Festival president from Paul Davis, who has run the festival in Plant City for 25 years. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Depending on the star power of its music lineup, the festival has ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation in years past. More than 540,000 people attended in 2022, well ahead of the Florida State Fair (428,400), more population-dense Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition (483,312) and the South Florida Fair (335,579).

For its opening weekend, the festival drew around 250,000 people, early festival reports say, which puts it on track to equal pre-pandemic crowd size, Davis said.

Related: Opening day at the festival: strawberry shortcakes, fried food and more

Davis, who has run the fair for 25 years, said the music lineup is a big draw, but his main focus has been customer service that exceeds most fairs, with roving “ambassadors” in red vests ready to offer directions and maps to lost visitors. He also takes pride in personally answering any letter or call of complaint that he gets.

A tub of strawberries waits to be scooped on shortcake at Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
A tub of strawberries waits to be scooped on shortcake at Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

“I don’t know anybody else that does that, and Kyle does that as well. It’s all about customer service,” Davis said.

Robinson said he got a letter from a longtime fairgoer who complained that the restroom lines made her miss the start of a show. He took the letter to the board and they spent $1 million expanding the restrooms near the biggest concert venue.

“She was shocked when I called her, couldn’t believe it was the president calling,” Robinson said, “but the customer experience is our whole business.”

This week’s music lineup is:

Wednesday: Tanya Tucker (3:30 p.m., $35), The Pointer Sisters (7:30 p.m. $40)

Thursday: Bill Haley Jr. and the Comets (10:30 a.m. Thursday, free), Tommy James and the Shondells (3:30 p.m., $35), For King and Country (7:30 p.m., $40)

Planning your weekend?

Planning your weekend?

Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter

We’ll deliver ideas every Thursday for going out, staying home or spending time outdoors.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Friday: Wayne Newton (3:30 p.m., $40), Train (7:30 p.m., $50)

Saturday: Sawyer Brown (3:30 p.m., $30), Keith Sweat (7:30 p.m., $40)

Sunday: Country Gold Tour (3:30 p.m., $35) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (7:30 p.m., $60).

If you go

Florida Strawberry Festival: The Plant City festival celebrates the strawberry harvest with a midway, animal shows and a lineup of top country, pop and rock artists. It runs through Sunday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily at 303 BerryFest Place, Plant City. Concert tickets are in addition to gate admission, which is $10, $5 ages 6-12, 5 and younger free. Parking $5, cash only. flstrawberryfestival.com.