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San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival offers new attractions with old

SAN ANTONIO

Fans of scaly critters will slither in droves to the 47th Annual San Antonio Rattlesnake and Music Festival, taking place Saturday in San Antonio Park.

This year's festival features a reprisal of the biggest hits, including Jim Mendenhall's thrilling and educational rattlesnake show, snake exhibits, gopher races and, of course, the requisite spread of festival foods. But this year also brings some changes, as six east Pasco Rotary clubs take the reigns from former event organizers, the Rattlesnake and Gophers Enthusiasts Club, also known as RAGE.

The San Antonio, Dade City Sunrise, Zephyrhills Noon, Zephyrhills Daybreak, Wesley Chapel and Wesley Chapel Sunrise Rotary clubs have come together to give the well-known festival a facelift.

"In the past, it's kind of been the same thing every year. It kind of got a little stale," said Michael Mira, assistant governor for the local Rotary district. "It's something that has always been there, so people always went. But we just wanted to breathe some fresh life into it."

This year's event packs 11 hours of fun into one day, instead of spreading the festivities over two days. Patrons will now be able to enjoy a cold beer under the beer garden tent while listening to music from morning till night, with new bands taking the stage every hour. The event boasts a packed lineup of music, featuring the stylings of bluegrass band and festival staple Beaumont, the Saint Leo University professors who perform as Time Warp, Crabgrass Cowboys, Steel Horse and several others.

There will also be a couple of celebrities on hand at the fest. Radio personality Skip Mahaffey emcees the evening concert, and Billy Bretherton, star of the A&E reality show Billy the Exterminator, headlines the festival all day long.

The new Dade City's Wild Things wildlife show stars a Galapagos tortoise, alligators and a python but will also offer a respite from the cold-blooded critters with a cute and cuddly baby lynx, baby tiger and baby monkey. There will be a wildlife exhibit of big cats, in addition to a 4x4 truck show, myriad festival games and kids' activities, 70 craft vendors, business and nonprofit expos.

Last year's festival brought in 8,000 reptile aficionados, and this year, organizers hope to attract 10,000. Proceeds for the event go to scholarships and the Rotary's feeding program for disadvantaged schoolchildren.

Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or sfuchs@tampabay.com.

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