Here comes the sun
By EILEEN SCHULTE
CLEARWATER -- Hoping to entice heavier weekend crowds, city officials have designed larger anchor events for Clearwater's 49th annual Fun 'n Sun Festival beginning today and running through May 5.
One of the largest, the kick-off event, is this weekend's third annual Sunsets Beach Fest at the Pier 60 Pavilion on Clearwater Beach starting tonight with a tropical-flavored show. It features Creig Camacho and the Caribbean Crew, whose frontman is from Trinidad, and The Landsharks, a Jimmy Buffet tribute band out of Orlando that regularly plays Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant.
The evening will be capped off with a fireworks spectacular from the end of the pier, a pyrotechnics show that will include more fireworks than last year's show, said Angie Sheridan, event coordinator.
"It's a really pretty (sight) off the water," Sheridan said. "You get such a nice glow and see all the colors in the water."
On Saturday, there will be music representing five decades of rock 'n' roll, beginning with Blue Joules (1990s to today) whose lead singer "is a little like Dave Matthews," said Sheridan. Following that band will be Stormbringer (1960s to 1970s) and Big Sky (1990s to today), a "popular college band from Gainesville," according to Sheridan. The headliner will be Firehouse (1980s to 1990s), a two-hit wonder band that did Love of a Lifetime and Don't Treat Me Bad.
Why Firehouse? Sheridan said the band's frontman, C.J. Snare, lives in Pinellas County.
On Sunday, the entertainment lineup includes the Streetlites, Barracudas and the featured act, the Cast of Beatlemania.
"They are one of the original bands that played the Broadway show," Sheridan said. "They have the hair, the glasses, the costumes -- the look of the Beatles. They sound eerily close."
When not touring, they are the house band at the England pavilion at Epcot.
The Pier 60 venue is unique, with the stage on the beach, rides at the foot of the pier and 50 craft booths on the pier itself, which juts out the length of two football fields into the Gulf of Mexico.
Stilt walkers, a magician, fire eaters and the Mystic Sheiks marching band from Busch Gardens will mingle with the crowds.
Over at another venue, the Clearwater Air Park, there will be an Open House and Neighbor Day Festival featuring children's activities, a display of vintage airplanes and free hot dogs. The Air Park was unable to get the Budweiser Skydiving Team again this year because a special skydiving plane was unavailable.
The big hit of the festival is not the jumpers, but the inexpensive ($15) airplane and helicopter rides. Copters and small planes seating four people will carry passengers to the beaches and out over the Gulf of Mexico, said Gordon Wills, Clearwater Air Park operations manager.
Even if you don't go up for a ride, just touching a parked airplane is a treat, Wills said.
Another venue for this weekend's festivities will be the Gulf of Mexico. The Grand Ole Opry Sportfishing King Mackerel Tournament has the largest payout of any Southern King Association tournament: $100,000. That's why it draws fishermen from all over the United States.
Last year, the winning mackerel was caught by Marcus Kennedy from Mobile, Ala. Kennedy caught the fish 90 miles west of Clearwater in the Middlegrounds. It weighed 47.65 pounds.
"But you never know," said Mike Vandiver, event director. "The mackerel have been running close (to shore). The big fish could be caught just a few miles from shore."
Vandiver said between 500 and 600 boats will participate in this year's tournament.
The entry fee is steep ($425) and although it's not really a spectator sport, "It's a real good time," Vandiver said.
At a glance
Three large Fun 'n Sun Festival activities are planned for this weekend at various locations:
The third annual Sunsets Beach Fest featuring live bands, rides and crafts will be from 6 to 11 p.m. tonight, 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday and 3 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Pier 60 Pavilion, Clearwater Beach. Free.
The Clearwater Air Park Open House/Neighbor Day featuring plane rides, demonstrations and exhibits will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the airport, 1000 Hercules Ave. N. Free.
The Grand Ole Opry Sportfishing King Mackerel Tournament with a cash prize of $425 will take place all weekend off the Clearwater coast. Call (727) 375-8862 for details.
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