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Inaugural Freedom Fest Florida draws national music acts to Hernando while celebrating veterans

BROOKSVILLE — You shouldn't have an hour-plus drive to see a good show. And what better place to honor veterans than in a beautiful venue that's just a short drive from Bushnell National Cemetery?

Those are the thoughts behind the inaugural Freedom Fest Florida, "Let Freedom Sing," which kicks off Nov. 10 at Florida Classic Park.

The two-day festival, presented by SSL Talent and Production, in association with Jane's World Entertainment, promises a full lineup of musical entertainment that includes national touring acts, about 150 vendors, food trucks, as well as overnight camping at the 50-acre park. The event also benefits the nonprofit Wreaths Across America, to put wreaths at veterans' graves at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

"We really wanted to focus on doing things closer to home and felt that there should be more things to do in Hernando County," said Shawn Scheller, who is promoting the concert along with business partner, Scott Lockhart. "I've been around this town for the better part of 25 years, and this has always pretty much been home to me since I can remember, so I want to do my best."

This is their second effort, and a big leap from the Summerfried and Countryfied Music Festival held in September in Linda Pedersen Park in Weeki Wachee. That concert, billed as a family-friendly event with a southern feel, attracted about 1,500 people.

Scheller, a musician who grew up in the area, has heard complaints from others about having to make an hour-plus drive to concerts in the Tampa Bay area.

"This is my chance to say, 'No you don't,'" he said.

A main draw for the two-day music festival are the 1980s hard-rockers Night Ranger (Sister Christian, Sentimental Street, Don't Tell Me You Love Me). The band, which will appear in April 2019 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, has sold more than 17 million albums and is celebrating its 35th anniversary and the release of its latest studio album, Don't Let Up.

Other headliners include Canadian drummer Corky Laing from the 1960s band Mountain, Morgan Wallen (The Way I Talk, Whiskey Glasses, Up, Down) and Jimmie Allen, who recently landed as number three on the Emerging Artists Chart with his breakthrough single, Best Shot. Robby Steinhardt, an original member of Kansas (Carry on My Wayward Son, Dust in the Wind), also will be in the house, performing some of the band's songs.

Add to that tribute bands such as Diary of an OzzMan, Broken Hearts (Tom Petty tribute band) and local favorites Stonegrey, Southern Rumble, John Hindman & the Mustang Mafia, Ally Venable and Randy McNeeley.

The event has an altruistic slant, in that it will benefit the nonprofit Wreaths Across America to put wreaths at veterans' graves at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. Some of the musical acts also will be guests of honor in the Veterans Appreciation Parade which starts at 10 a.m. on Nov. 10 in Brooksville. There will be a Great Honor Tribute to veterans before the concert kicks off on Sunday.

"We're aiming for this to be an annual event, and we're hoping people come out," Scheller said, noting that his grandparents are buried at the national cemetery. His dad, James Scheller is a Purple Heart recipient, and he also has many friends who are veterans. "And there are 87,000 veterans in the tri-county area that I'm sure will appreciate being thought of."

Contact Michele Miller at mmiller@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.

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