The Florida Strawberry Festival recently unveiled its new grandstand seating, marking the first time in the festival's history its headline acts will perform in a venue designed for concerts.
Since the festival began hosting headline performers with Dale Evans in 1972, concerts were held on the grounds of the old William Schneider Memorial Stadium. The stadium was once home to Plant City High School's football team, its backless concrete bleachers designed for football, not music.
The steep bleachers were uncomfortable and dangerous, Paul Davis, the festival president said. For years, the Florida Strawberry Festival Board knew it would have to upgrade the seating or lose entertainers and concert goers to places like Orlando and Lakeland. It was only a question of when.
Rascal Flatts closed the 2017 Florida Strawberry Festival with a sold out show on a Sunday night. The following Friday, the stadium came down to make way for the new seating.
"Our whole intention is to improve the experience of the festival. We've taken the festival one step further," Sandee Sytsma, board chairperson, said. "It's hard for us to go against history and go against what we know as being the festival, but it's our job to make it better all the time and look for ways to improve. We don't take that lightly."
The new seating comes with a number of upgrades aside from backed seats. Every aspect of the design and construction was meticulously planned for the optimum experience, Davis said. The new seating wraps around the Wish Farms Soundstage like an amphitheater, the furthest seat from the stage is now 12-feet closer than the old stadium's nearest seat.
"It's awesome. You see it in renditions and all this stuff, but to actually see it completed like this is just fabulous," said festival board member Mike Sparkman. "There's been so much comment from everybody that's driven by here and sees it, the red fits in with our strawberry theme and the view is excellent."
The Florida Strawberry Festival kicks off on March 1 and runs through March 11. There will be 22 paid concerts with 24 top performers including Jerry Lee Lewis (March 2), Reba McEntire (March 4), Josh Turner (March 5), Earth, Wind & Fire (March 9), Anthony Hamilton/Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds (March 10) and Brad Paisley (March 11).
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