First, the bad news: Steven Tyler is out.
In case you hadn't heard, the wild-tongued Aerosmith frontman, who was expected to be the biggest draw at this year's Florida Strawberry Festival, backed out less than two weeks ago due to "unforeseen circumstances." He'll be replaced by Pitbull Toddler, a local rock band led by radio DJ Mike Calta, which is ... good for them? They're good and have a local following, but filling in for a legend like Tyler on short notice is a tall order. No doubt, many fans are still grumbling.
The good news is, the Strawberry Festival still has a deceptively eclectic slate of talent on tap. Like last year, there are no more first-come, first-served free bleacher seats to every show; prices vary by headliner. Here's a rundown.
Today: What better way to open this year's fest than a pair of perennial favorites, Jimmy Sturr (10:30 a.m., free) and Elvira quartet the Oak Ridge Boys at (3:30 p.m., $20)? Country legends Alabama (7:30 p.m., $45) will deliver some proper Mountain Music at night.
Friday: "If you're not a fan of Willie Nelson, there's something deeply inherently wrong with you," said Brothers Osborne singer John Osborne. Here's hoping that when Willie Nelson and Family (3:30 p.m., $45) play in the afternoon, one of the Brothers Osborne (7:30 p.m., $40) will pop in.
Saturday: Nashville's answer to Pentatonix, vocal sensations Home Free (3:30 p.m., $20) kick it off, with Jungle Boogie funksters Kool and the Gang (7:30 p.m., $30) starting a Celebration later.
Sunday: At least admission to see Steven Tyler's replacement, Pitbull Toddler (7:30 p.m.), is free. But maybe it would've been nice to see vintage country queens Terri Clark, Suzy Bogguss and Plant City's own Pam Tillis (3:30 p.m., $25) get bumped up to the prime-time headlining slot?
Monday: Can you imagine Elvis Presley playing the Strawberry Festival? Neither can we. But his squeaky-clean alternative Pat Boone (3:30 p.m., $20) is still going strong at 85. Nineties and 2000s heroine Martina McBride (7:30 p.m., $35) closes things out.
Tuesday: It's a vintage soul-a-palooza with the Drifters, Platters and Cornell Gunter's Coasters (3:30 p.m., $20) in the afternoon, then anthemic alt-Americana group Needtobreathe (7:30 p.m., $35) when the sun goes down.
Wednesday: The fest takes things back to the '70s on Humpday, with Love in the Hot Afternoon singer Gene Watson (3:30 p.m., $20) and Mr. Roboto prog-rockers Styx (7:30 p.m., $35) getting old school.
March 7: After a morning show by the Kingston Trio (10:30 a.m., free) and a performance by '60s vocal group the Lettermen (3:30 p.m., $20), the stage will burst to life with Australian Christian superstars For King and Country (7:30 p.m., $30), who sold out Amalie Arena in December.
March 8: If your heart ain't busy today, you can check out Tanya Tucker (3:30 p.m., $30). And if you've got money left over after buying you a boat, you can see Chris Janson (7:30 p.m., $30).
March 9: Local bands take center stage as the Strawberry Festival hosts a battle of the bands (3:30 p.m., free). Then at night, dress your grown 'n' sexiest for R&B star Keith Sweat (7:30 p.m., $30).
March 10: Legendary country songwriters "Whispering Bill" Anderson and Bobby Bare (3:30 p.m., $20) kick off the festival's final day. Then one of the lineup's hottest acts, CMA-winning Written in the Sand group Old Dominion, end things on a high note.
Dates and Hours
Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through March 10, with the midway open until 11 p.m. (and 2 a.m. March 8). Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 ages 6-12, 5 and under free with paid adult. Midway ride wristbands start around $20. Discounts vary by day. 303 N Lemon St., Plant City. (813) 752-9194. flstrawberryfestival.com.
More stuff to know
Food:In addition to shortcake and milkshakes, look for berry-centric sweets like Strawberry Fritters, Strawberry Fudge and a "Chocoberry Oreo," featuring deep-fried Oreo and Strawberry batter with sweet cream in the middle. Competitive eating contests include Amish donuts (2 p.m. Friday), strawberry spaghetti (5 p.m. Monday), corn dogs (1 p.m. Wednesday), strawberry shortcake (2 p.m. March 7) and strawberry mashed potato pie (3 p.m. March 8).
Free entertainment:While you have to pay to see top concerts, there's free music spread throughout the festival grounds, including dueling lumberjacks, Robinson's Racing Pigs and appearances by American Chopper's Paul Teutel Jr. (Friday and Saturday) and Mike Alstott (March 9-10).
Parking: $5 for cars, trucks and vans in lots off Ritter Street, off U.S. 92 or State Road 574. Parking is also available in lots around the festival ground.
Contact Jay Cridlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.