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Florida Strawberry Festival guide: Schedule, ticket deals, food highlights, concerts and more

Tyler MacMillan, Lorin Learn, Lane Whitaker, and Tiffani MacMillan enjoy fresh strawberry shortcake during opening day at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City in 2016. The massive festival returns Thursday, March 2. [ Luis Santana | Times]
Published Mar. 1, 2017

The Florida Strawberry Festival, founded in 1930, keeps its old-fashioned charm with an 80-ride midway, contests, agriculture exhibits and of course, strawberries in every form. There's no alcohol and festival organizers pride themselves on family-friendly, even corny, diversions and contests. The formula must work because the Plant City festival remains the second-largest in the state, just behind the Miami-Dade County Fair, and drew a record 560,387 visitors in 2016. Here are some basics if you head to this year's Florida Strawberry Festival:

Admission: $10, $5 ages 6 to 12, 5 and younger free. Concert tickets are extra.

Dates: March 2 through March 12.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Directions: The festival grounds are at 303 N Lemon St., Plant City. Every year, Interstate 4 comes to a crawl in Plant City, especially on the weekends or before a big concert. Avoid I-4 by taking State Road 60 through Brandon and using local roads. Find detailed directions for back roads here: tbtim.es/egv

Parking: There are three designated lots on the festival grounds, and numerous private lots and yards surrounding the festival for $5 to $15 depending on vehicle size.

Deals: Free Kids Day is Saturday, March 4 with free admission for kids through high school. Moonlight Magic Nights on Friday, March 3 and March 10 let you ride most midway rides for $30 from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. And Super Saturday Wristband Days on Saturday, March 4 and March 11 let you ride most midway rides for $25 from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Daily entertainment: There's a variety of free concerts, as well as a magic show, a circus show, racing pigs, cow milking, strawberry production exhibit, a pioneer village and Indian World.

For information: Follow the festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the hashtag #berryfest17. The festival also has a free app that has the day's schedule, a map and a tool to help you find where you parked your car. flstrawberryfestival.com. (813) 752-9194.

Related: Little Big Town part of big concert lineup at Strawberry Festival

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS

Smoothie record attempt: On Friday, Cabot Creamery will attempt to set a world record with a 1,000-gallon smoothie. Their tent near Gate 1 will use 250 gallons of vanilla yogurt mixed with ice, whey protein powder and 2,000 pounds of strawberries. For added showmanship, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., special guests will pedal bicycles in 15 minute intervals to power the Vitamix blenders whirring the 1,000-gallon holding tank. A $1 donation to the United Food Bank gets you a commemorative cup and a smoothie after the record is reached.

Contests: There are six different food contests over the 11-day festival including a corn dog eating contest March 8, a strawberry spaghetti eating contest (that's spaghetti in a strawberry sauce) on Monday, March 6, and strawberry shortcake eating on March 9. The kids compete on Sunday to be the first stemmer to pick all the green parts off a pack of berries. Adults will be speed-stemming on Tuesday.

Parades: The Youth Parade begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 4 and runs down Reynolds Street on the south end of the fairgrounds. Grand Parade Day is Monday, when the parade passes the festival grounds around 2 p.m.

FOOD

All about that berry: Plan to pick up a flat of berries because the Plant City farmers pride themselves on sending the very best strawberries to the festival. For more berry goodness, the festival is famous for its strawberry milk shakes, strawberry pie, a strawberry dessert pizza and the famous strawberry shortcake. The shortcake lines may be long, but they move swiftly. There's also odd takes on the berry, like Carousel's hamburger topped with crumbles of strawberry cookies, sandwiched between two pieces of French toast and topped with strawberries. And you can find strawberry lemonade, strawberry-flavored kettle corn and peanut brittle with a sweet strawberry twist.

Fair food: New this year are the deep-fried strawberry cream cheese balls topped with powdered sugar from Best Around Concessions. That stand is also bringing back the Oreo funnel cake (think two giant Oreo cookie funnel cakes sandwiching a cream cheese filling). Carousel's Hush Puppy Burger is back this year, buns replaced by hush puppy patties. Carousel also has a burger that uses strawberry shortcakes as buns. The popular Amish doughnut stand pushes out dinner plate-sized wheels of yeasty fried dough. Other returning favorites include roasted corn, giant turkey legs, massive pretzels, a variety of corn dogs and thick slices of bacon with a cup of chocolate dipping sauce.

CONCERTS SCHEDULE

This year's headline music performers include Willie Nelson and Family (March 3, 3:30 p.m.), early aughts stars 3 Doors Down (March 4, 7:30 p.m.), country band Little Big Town (March 5, 7:30 p.m.), rockers Needtobreath (March 7, 7:30 p.m.), country crooner Scotty McCreery (March 8, 7:30 p.m.), Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi as The Blues Brothers (March 9, 7:30 p.m.), Ex's & Oh's singer Elle King (March 10, 7:30 p.m.), the legendary Patti LaBelle (March 11, 7:30 p.m.) and country superstars Rascal Flatts (March 12, 7:30 p.m.).

Find the complete Florida Strawberry Festival concert lineup and more information about music at the festival here.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

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