Ron Paul fans work to put on festival just before Republican National Convention

Published May 23, 2012

TAMPA — Supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul are negotiating to hold a three-day festival of music, entertainment and activism at the Florida State Fairgrounds immediately before the Republican National Convention.

Paul Festival 2012 would run from Aug. 24 to 26, ending the day before the convention begins.

Details like ticket prices and who would be on stage have not been announced, but the festival could draw 20,000 or more people a day, estimated Deborah Robinet, an organizer who lives near San Diego.

"Ron Paul supporters are very enthusiastic, and there's going to be a bunch of them in Tampa," said Robinet, one of five directors of the nonprofit group Liberty Unleashed, which was incorporated this month in Florida to make arrangements for the festival.

Robinet and fair director of sales and marketing Terri Parnell said Tuesday that they expected a contract to be finished soon, possibly this week. Because the state fair property is one of the 73 official venues for the convention, Parnell said fair officials also have been in touch with the GOP's Committee on Arrangements, which is in charge of planning for the convention.

As discussed, the festival would include both indoor and outdoor events and could possibly use the fair's 88,000-square-foot Expo Hall, the 52,000-square-foot Sweetbay Entertainment Hall, or both.

The festival's entertainment is expected to include comedy acts, celebrity appearances, book signings, showings of documentaries on various issues, kids' activities, vendors and live music from country and classic rock to grunge, punk and hip-hop.

Robinet said she couldn't say who would be in that lineup, though it would not include singer Willie Nelson, who has spoken warmly of Paul but nonetheless sent his regrets.

Still, Robinet expects the variety to reflect a saying of the movement: "Diversity finds unity in the message of freedom."

"That's one of the things about Ron Paul," said Robinet, who helped organize a July 2008 march for Paul that attracted 15,000 in Washington, D.C. "He unites people from all over the political spectrum. You're going to see people at this event that you would never believe would come together."

The fair's 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre already has two concerts not related to the convention booked that weekend — Nickelodeon-based boy band Big Time Rush on Aug. 25 and Santana on Aug. 26 — but that is not expected to be a problem.

With 355 acres, the fairgrounds has room for both the festival and the concerts.

"It's not out of the ordinary to have two events going on the same day," fair spokesman Scott Merselis said.

On the festival's website — — lodging information is noted as "coming soon," but the fairgrounds has about 300 camping spaces available for recreational vehicles or tents, and Robinet said organizers have talked to local hotels about holding blocks of rooms.

They also have worked to line up transportation to Tampa. Vans carrying 12 to 15 passengers each are scheduled to leave a dozen cities as far-flung as New York, Los Angeles and Spokane, Wash., in the days before the convention.

In the lingo of the movement, those convoys of Ron Paul supporters are known as "Ronvoys."

While the festival would give Paul's supporters a big presence just as the RNC opens, chances are it won't be their only presence.

Paul last week said he was suspending active campaigning, but his followers have been working individual state GOP conventions to secure delegate positions at the national convention.

Still, festival organizing group Liberty Unleashed is separate from the campaign.

"We're just nonpaid grass roots activists who support Ron Paul's message of freedom," Robinet said. "We have nothing to do with the campaign."

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.